This week it was revealed that since 2011, when current Florida governor Rick Scott took office, all climate officials in the State Department of Environmental Protection were ordered to never use the term “climate change” or “global warming” in official communications. Florida is recognized as the most vulnerable region of the country to the harrowing effects of climate change. Rising sea levels with other meteorological factors have wiped out highways, various studies predict many coastal communities in Florida to be underwater by the end of the century, and Florida’s coral reefs stand a grim chance of survival and health in the coming centuries.
South Florida’s vulnerable coral reefs hold a dim future considering current political inaction. What governor Scott doesn’t understand is that his failure to take action will hurt his political standing in the long run, because coral reefs in Florida are key to the state’s economic prosperity. The vast majority of marine species that are critical to Florida’s fisheries depend on healthy reefs, and the reefs attract thousands of tourists every year. The harm that increasing climate change exerts on coral reefs is widespread: warmer waters trigger coral bleaching, increasing ocean acidification vastly slows coral growth, rising sea levels are “drowning” reefs to levels with insufficient sunlight, and bigger storms caused by global warming threaten vulnerable reefs. The interesting biology question to ask here is–Could adaptation save coral reefs? There is a lot of scientific debate over this, but the general consensus is that coral reefs are able to adapt when the drastic climate change is spread over millennia, but that it is uncertain how corals can respond to such rapid change (Professor Gretchen Hofmann here has done some really interesting work with this question, but with sea urchins instead). It’s important to note the ecological implications here; decreasing coral reef health will trigger a cascade of harm and destruction across many marine ecosystems.
If the increasing amount of scientific research projecting future damage from climate change is to have any impact, this depressing incompetency in our nation’s capital must be overcome. A 2007 Science article (linked below) provides insight into likely futures for reefs across the world. The most important message from these projections is that under current CO2 emission trends, what will remain of coral reefs across the world will be no more than a “crumbling framework” of one of the most extremely biodiverse and beautiful ecosystems in the world. I can’t help but wonder, are the phrases “U.S. legislators” and “acknowledgement of scientific fact” forever incompatible?
See the article about banning the term “climate change” in Florida government discourse here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/03/08/florida-global-warming_n_6826824.html
See here a depressing video of scientists from universities all across Florida failing to convince governor Scott of the harmful effects of increasing anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HH4pXNtMYnk
For a very informative scientific report from 2008 about the current vulnerability of coral reefs in Florida, go here: http://www.edf.org/sites/default/files/8767_corals-and-climate-change.pdf
See the aforementioned 2007 Science paper about the future of coral reefs here: http://www.sciencemag.org/content/318/5857/1737