In recent decades, the effects of climate change and the prioritization of environmental protection has become increasingly present in education and culture–for good reason. Humanity’s impact on the Earth’s climate has been a pressing issue for some time, particularly since the Industrial Revolution more than a century ago. Even skeptics are beginning to realize the gravity of the issue at hand.
In recent years, the media has exacerbated this environmental revelation, informing the public of our very real problem through alarming headlines. For the most part, the proactivity of the media is a good thing. Climate change is the defining issue of this century, and it is imperative that the world be informed. However, some efforts to educate the public have had a negative influence on the environmental mindset of the human population.
On October 11, Outside Online published an obituary for the Great Barrier Reef, declaring the world’s largest coral reef system dead. The article claimed that the Great Barrier Reef, born 25 Million BC and dead 2016, has been, once and for all, killed by the heightened levels of carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere. The article presents an alarming reality, but one that is not upon us yet.
The Great Barrier Reef is not dead. Surely, it is dying – ocean acidification and climate change have made sure of that. A recent bleaching event also affected 93% of the reef and possibly “killed” 22%. As the Huffington Post argues, however, “the scientific community has become increasingly concerned that overstatements about the state of our planet...can cause people to lose hope.” If people believe that such an environmental monolith is dead, they will ignore any efforts to revitalize the region—efforts which are vital to the reef’s survival.
“Death” suggests that nothing can be done; “dying” suggests that something must be done, and soon.
The burden of the media at this critical point in environmental history is to show its audience how dire the situation is. More importantly, however, people must be made aware that this is a problem that can be solved with the support of the human population as a whole.
To be fair, environmental alarmism is a good thing. At this point, it seems that this alarmism is all that can possibly convince the public to take action in their daily lives towards saving the earth. But Jacobsen’s article caters to the frighteningly significant portion of humanity which has resigned itself to the demise of the world around them rather than recognizing the hope that still exists.
This hope is as necessary to environmental protection as alarmism itself. We must be alarmed and feel responsible and mourn the losses that have already been sustained—but we must also have hope and recognize what we can do to combat the effects of climate change.
The Great Barrier Reef is not dead, nor is the Earth at large. But both are dying, and the time for debate surrounding this issue is over.
Rather, the time for action has begun—and this action, at its core, relies as much upon hope as it does upon a recognition of the human-induced process that led us here.
The Earth is still very much alive, and we have not only the opportunity, but the responsibility, to keep it that way.