Death of a natural wonder

By Hannah Ritner

“Australia’s Great Barrier Reef meets its demise, sending a climate change wake-up call”

Rising water levels, increasing temperatures, ocean acidification, the melting of the arctic — we are alltoo- frighteningly familiar with the apocalyptic images of our Earth’s rapidly changing climate.

To many, it seems as though climate language has become almost trite. While Tacoma is witness to some of these effects, the majority of us have not directly experienced the consequences of climate change at its full magnitude. At times, global warming seems a very distant and abstract phenomenon.

Yet, the terrifying reality of climate change is this: it is happening at this very moment, and at a profound magnitude.

The New York Times (NYT) reported a study in early March that found over two-thirds of the North Great Barrier Reef, one of the world’s natural wonders, now entirely bleached as a result of rising ocean temperatures. When ocean temperatures increase, coral expels the zooxanthellae living in its tissues, which makes it more fragile and sensitive.

“We didn’t expect to see this level of destruction to the Great Barrier Reef for another 30 years,” scholar and researcher Terry P. Hughes said to NYT. The coral reef has been labeled the “rainforest of the sea” because it is home to a large diversity of species that are critical to the survival of the larger ecosystem. 400 million people rely on the existence of coral reefs for employment and food — the absence of reefs would be catastrophic.

The most alarming fact surrounding this research is that the bleaching of the reef is merely a symptom of a larger problem, and only the beginning of larger reverberations that will be felt sooner than we would like to think.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) tells us to shorten showers, recycle our bottles and leave the water off while we brush our teeth. These actions are important but not nearly enough to operate on the urgent timeframe posed by large-scale warming. Large-scale water and power usage from factories that then release mass amounts of greenhouse gases, deforestation, overfishing — all these enormous contributors need to be brought to the forefront.

Trump’s recent “Energy Independence” executive order, signed just this past Tuesday, marks a massive step back in terms of Barack Obama’s efforts to prevent climate change. Slashing the EPA budget is paramount in this executive order.

The EPA is critical to successfully combating climate change; it has played a valuable role in patching the ozone hole, cracking down on lead, controlling pesticides and protecting endangered species. The risk of losing the pressure we have on representatives to pass climate policy cannot be overstated.

The people least responsible for global warming, such as residents on low lying islands, are impacted the most by the rapidly rising sea levels and rogue weather patterns, which links warming to a structural violence impact. Nations that lack the infrastructure to adapt to the changing climate are left to absorb the most immediate impacts, while nations most responsible are allowed to continue polluting and abusing resources.

Just because you may not be experiencing the effects of global warming on a large scale does not mean others have the same privilege. This also does not mean that we will not feel the effects in the very near future.

It’s easy to overlook a problem when the repercussions are not directly harming you but it is critical to push representatives for comprehensive and immediate action on global warming. As a nation largely
responsible for climate change, we need to play our part.