Why the ocean you know and love won’t exist in 50 years

Can sensitive coral reefs survive another human generation?

DAVID WALLACE-WELLS: I think there's basically no chance that coral reefs survive another generation. I think that we're looking at the total extinction of those biospheres by 2050 or so. There are some scientists who think there's some hope, and there have been some coral reefs that have recovered. But the impacts are so fast and so catastrophic, and we're so far from really changing course on carbon, it's hard for me to imagine that they endure, which means that the trips that we're now taking now to view those, we'll be taking really on the brink of mass extinctions.

And it's important to keep in mind that globally, we are living already through mass extinction. The World Wildlife Fund says that 60 percent of all vertebrate mammals have died since just 1970. There have been studies that say that insect populations may have fallen by as much as 75 percent over the last few decades. Animals are dying globally at rates never before seen in planetary history, and we are living through that and imposing those costs on the planet ourselves. The ocean is a particularly vulnerable system. It's not just the coral reefs. It's also the circulation patterns. It's the fish populations. And it happens we're also polluting the oceans with enormous amounts of plastic, which are really damaging. I think those people who really love the oceans should be quite terrified.

I think these ecosystems will be transformed really dramatically, very quickly, so that populations of fishermen that lived for decades on a particular fish community offshore will now have to find an entirely different way of life, because those fish will be swimming in totally different waters. And that is true at every level of the ocean ecosystem. The suffering there is not going to be any different than the suffering on land or the suffering experienced by humans. It will be quite catastrophic if we don't radically change course very, very quickly. And this is in part because the oceans do a lot to absorb warming. So the impacts are felt most intensely there.

If it were not for oceans, the planet would probably be already several degrees warmer than it is, but so much of the additional heat that we've been hot housing the planet with over the last few decades has been taken up by the ocean, and that means that the ocean has been totally transformed by that temperature.

  • Coral reefs may not be able to survive another human decade because of the environmental stress we have placed on them, says author David Wallace-Wells. He posits that without meaningful changes to policies, the trend of them dying out, even in light of recent advances, will continue.
  • The World Wildlife Fund says that 60 percent of all vertebrate mammals have died since just 1970. On top of this, recent studies suggest that insect populations may have fallen by as much as 75 percent over the last few decades.
  • If it were not for our oceans, the planet would probably be already several degrees warmer than it is today due to the emissions we've expelled into the atmosphere.

Photo: Luisa Conlon , Lacy Roberts and Hanna Miller / Global Oneness Project
Sponsored by Charles Koch Foundation
  • Stories are at the heart of learning, writes Cleary Vaughan-Lee, Executive Director for the Global Oneness Project. They have always challenged us to think beyond ourselves, expanding our experience and revealing deep truths.
  • Vaughan-Lee explains 6 ways that storytelling can foster empathy and deliver powerful learning experiences.
  • Global Oneness Project is a free library of stories—containing short documentaries, photo essays, and essays—that each contain a companion lesson plan and learning activities for students so they can expand their experience of the world.
Keep reading Show less

5 charts reveal key racial inequality gaps in the US

The inequalities impact everything from education to health.

ANGELA WEISS/AFP via Getty Images
Politics & Current Affairs

America is experiencing some of its most widespread civil unrest in years following the death of George Floyd.

Keep reading Show less

Ask an astronomer: What makes neutron stars so special?

Astrophysicist Michelle Thaller talks ISS and why NICER is so important.

  • Being outside of Earth's atmosphere while also being able to look down on the planet is both a challenge and a unique benefit for astronauts conducting important and innovative experiments aboard the International Space Station.
  • NASA astrophysicist Michelle Thaller explains why one such project, known as NICER (Neutron star Interior Composition Explorer), is "one of the most amazing discoveries of the last year."
  • Researchers used x-ray light data from NICER to map the surface of neutrons (the spinning remnants of dead stars 10-50 times the mass of our sun). Thaller explains how this data can be used to create a clock more accurate than any on Earth, as well as a GPS device that can be used anywhere in the galaxy.

Four philosophers who realized they were completely wrong about things

Philosophers like to present their works as if everything before it was wrong. Sometimes, they even say they have ended the need for more philosophy. So, what happens when somebody realizes they were mistaken?

Sartre and Wittgenstein realize they were mistaken. (Getty Images)
Culture & Religion

Sometimes philosophers are wrong and admitting that you could be wrong is a big part of being a real philosopher. While most philosophers make minor adjustments to their arguments to correct for mistakes, others make large shifts in their thinking. Here, we have four philosophers who went back on what they said earlier in often radical ways. 

Keep reading Show less

Ashamed over my mental illness, I realized drawing might help me – and others – cope

Just before I turned 60, I discovered that sharing my story by drawing could be an effective way to both alleviate my symptoms and combat that stigma.

Photo by JJ Ying on Unsplash
Mind & Brain

I've lived much of my life with anxiety and depression, including the negative feelings – shame and self-doubt – that seduced me into believing the stigma around mental illness: that people knew I wasn't good enough; that they would avoid me because I was different or unstable; and that I had to find a way to make them like me.

Keep reading Show less