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Will killing coral kill us, too? March 28, 2010

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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Our friend Ben was horrified to read this week of the decline of the coral reefs worldwide. Scientists estimate that at least 19% of the world’s coral reefs have already been killed, with an additional 15% due to die out in the next 20 years. They predict that all the oceans’ coral reefs will be dead in 100 years.

The cause? Us. Global warming, pollution, fishing boats that drag the ocean floor, coastal development: All are implicated in the mass extermination.

Well, gee, you might be thinking, that’s too bad. Coral reefs are beautiful, and I’d really like to take the family snorkeling around one some day. But really, what’s the big deal?

How about this, for starters: Coral reefs aren’t just about the coral, but about all the fish and other creatures who make their homes in the reefs. If coral dies, it will take out almost half the fish humans eat along with it. It will destroy the livelihoods of billions of people, causing “hunger, poverty, and political instability” worldwide, according to an AP article by Brian Skoloff.

The scientists interviewed in the article were clearly appalled by the prospect of coral extinction. “Unimaginable,” “enormous economic damage,” “scary,” and “complete collapse” are just some of the views expressed. But the enormity of the crisis seemed to leave scientists at a loss to draw an appropriate analogy, a comparison that would help people who might never have a chance to even see a coral reef in their lifetimes imagine what their extinction could mean.

Our friend Ben, by contrast, is never at a loss for words. The analogy that immediately sprang to my mind was this: Imagine if all the trees on earth suddenly died. Trees are certainly one of the most beautiful things God ever put on earth. But the loss of their beauty would pale by comparison to the loss of their value.

Imagine no forests, no shade trees, no fruit trees. Imagine billions of species deprived of their homes and food sources. Imagine humans, deprived of important sources of medicine, of fruits and nuts, of fuel for warmth and cooking, of building materials, of paper (including toilet paper, tissues, napkins, paper towels, and on and on), of shade, of a source of livelihood for billions.

Imagine the earth itself, no longer contained by tree roots, washing away through erosion and silting up rivers, lakes, and other water sources. Imagine a huge loss of the oxygen we need for life because there were no trees to breathe in nitrogen and breathe out oxygen. Imagine the loss of spices like cinnamon, materials like cork, olive oil. Imagine a landscape grown silent, as birds die off with no place to nest and raise their young.

Even so, could we survive the extermination of the trees? Probably, though the loss would be incalculable. But could we survive the loss of the coral reefs?

Our friend Ben doesn’t think so. Life originated in the oceans, and our friend Ben thinks there’s still a link that binds all life on earth to the primordial waters from which we came. By creating a thousand-mile-wide island of plastic trash floating in the Pacific, by dumping tankers full of oil into the water, not just killing ocean life but flagrantly wasting a precious and dwindling resource, by insisting on eating whales and dolphins and tuna and so many other aquatic species, even if it leads to their extinction, by pretending that our heedless behavior doesn’t lead to global warming and carbon emissions, that mindless greed doesn’t drive us, we bring ourselves and all life ever closer to extinction.

It comes down to this: If we kill our oceans, all life on earth will die. Are we truly so selfish and lost that we don’t even care, as long as it doesn’t happen in our lifetime? What about our children and their children? What about all life? What about our responsibility to the Creator who made earth a paradise and gave humans the job to preserve it for the benefit of all life and the glory of God Who made it?!

Our friend Ben is sadly no more prescient or omniscient than the average bear. I have no idea what we can do to turn this oceanic tide of immanent disaster and save our beautiful, wonderful, unimaginably glorious world. I can’t say what we could do to save the coral reefs. But I can say this: Without a vital ocean, our first home, we will be lost. Then, with all life, we will die. And unlike other creatures, who live in the day-to-day, we alone will know what we have done, as we fail the great Creator and let our world fade to black.

Let us hope that someone better and smarter than our friend Ben proposes a solution, and that we as a responsible species, as part of the whole glory of creation, set aside our differences and limitations and pettiness and adopt it, before it’s too late.

God save the coral. God save us.



1. mr_subjunctive - March 28, 2010

I think we’d be better off to come up with ways to save the coral ourselves: God’s kinda flaky on stuff like this. Ask the Neanderthals.

You lead, I’ll follow, Mr. S.! Most of the time I feel pretty much like a Neanderthal myself.

2. Elephant's Eye - March 28, 2010

God gave us the coral. We said no thanks, we’d rather eat whales. Like the trees in Paradise, with a fruit for each month of the year (ask the original Amazon rain forest inhabitants). We said no thanks, we’d rather have soy plantations and hamburgers. Have you read Raj Patel ‘Stuffed and starved’? I must read it again, lots to think about.

Like Silence, I am vegetarian.

Thanks for the recommendation, Diana! That sounds like a must-read!

3. Adrian - March 31, 2010

Got here via Elephant’s Eye and loved this post, though sad. I heard Raj Patel on the radio the other day, and was so impressed by his deeply coherent statements I now mean to read his book.

Thanks so much and welcome, Adrian! I have Raj Patel’s book on my must-read list now, too!

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