So it seems like Walther Starck (with his post graduate training and “professional experience in fisheries biology“) has come running to the rescue with a critique entitled “The Great Barrier Reef prophets of doom”, in response to a recent online piece by Charlie Veron (“The plight of the Great Barrier Reef”):

Although Charlie Veron is a highly respected coral taxonomist many of the statements he made regarding climate change are at best doubtful. Like most biologists he appears to have accepted the “consensus” view of catastrophic climate change without being aware of a vast body of peer reviewed non-biological research that casts doubt on or directly refutes all of the major climatic claims he asserts as unqualified facts.

Good to see Starck again criticising someone else on the lack of peer-reviewed research whilst failing to cite anything in response. Perhaps a reference or two from the peer reviewed scientific literature would help us evaluate the veracity of his claims.

Living, subfossil and fossil corals all indicate that bleaching associated with high temperatures is a common occurrence in reef corals. There is no evidence to indicate that either the frequency or severity of such events has increased.

Huh? Where are the papers to back up those rather sweeping statements?

The fact that Starck responds to Veron’s comment “(Corals)… once survived in a world where carbon dioxide from volcanoes and methane was much higher than anything predicted today. But that was 50 million years ago. The accumulation of carbon dioxide then took millions of years, not just a few decades.” by using the throw-away sentence “Many current reef coral genera survived this event” highlights his complete ignorance of the geological history of reefs. I’m fascinated by statements like these – corals have survived throughout geological history (over 500 million years) and have indeed gone through several extinction events. However, what interests me is that this fact is often used as support for coral longevity. Don’t worry about the loss of entire reef systems (as we are seeing world-wide) – Starck implies that as long as some species of coral within a genera survive, we can ignore the issue. Even though reefs as we know them today (and as Charlie points out) will be long gone – “survival” simply isn’t enough.

It seems like the same old story all over again. As a final point worthy of mention, Walther doesn’t seem to have a full grasp of the scientific literature:

Although there is credible evidence for past carbon dioxide levels greater than any increase we may experience before all fossil fuel is consumed there is no evidence to indicate that past such increases took place much slower than the present one or that slower or faster would make any real difference

Starck again confuses the rate of change with the limit of change. I would direct him to Table 1 in our recent Science article. Here we calculated the rate of change over the past 420,000 years and found that the rate of change over the past 136 years was up to 1000 fold higher any previous rate of change. Stands to reason given that it took 30,000 years for atmospheric carbon dioxide to change by 100 ppm in the past, and we have just changed the atmosphere by a similar amount in only 100 years!

table-1.jpg

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