Humans Caused Historic Great Barrier Reef Collapse

I hate headlines like this: “Humans Caused Historic Great Barrier Reef Collapse.” ‘Hate’ is a pretty strong word, so let me explain.

The content of this Yahoo News! story is dead on. It explains how a team of marine biologists from the University of Queensland (down under) became curious about how long human activity had been altering the ecology of the Great Barrier Reef. They determined that in addition to coral kills associated with snorkeling and climate change, agriculture activities that occurred over 50 years ago had fundamentally altered the coral reef community. They concluded that humans had been damaging coral reefs for far longer than previously believed.

But here’s the last two paragraphs of the Yahoo News! story:

While the findings suggest humans have been damaging reefs far longer than previously thought, the problem has a straightforward, local solution: Reduce polluted runoff into the ocean, Pandolfi said.

“Any kind of measures that are going to improve the water quality should help those reefs to recover.”

That’s the message we want. That’s the headline. “Any kind of measures…improve water quality…help those reefs to recover.” Compare that to “Humans Caused Historic Great Barrier Reef Collapse.” “Historic” and “collapse” used together in the headline = instant despair, doesn’t it?

You know, I started writing this post to explain how I hate the way they always write “humans caused” some environment mess, like the mess is due to the mere fact of human existence. I hate that tone – that environmental problems are hopeless as long as we humans are around. But that’s not the case, and never is. Most environmental problems are due to specific, identifiable, and thankfully correctable human activities. And just like the concluding paragraphs of this story – “any kind of measure … should help” – knowing that we are performing some environmentally destructive activity that is entirely correctable places back upon our broad and deep collective shoulders the emphasis and the responsibility and thank God the ability to fix these problems! That’s the right perspective, and is a far more positive message for those of us who care about the state of our environment. Let’s make that the headline.

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