Coal Mines and Coral Bleaching: The War on Climate Change

by ahall12 on November 10, 2017 - 6:08pm

This article addressed the issue of coral bleaching. The Australian people, along with many others across the world, have been devastated by the news of extensive coral bleaching in the Great Barrier Reef. For Australians, the reef is part of their identity. For others, it is a place of wonder where many dream to visit in their lifetime. Scientists that study the reef claim that climate change is the cause of the bleaching. These scientists are concerned that not enough is being done to reverse the effects of climate change and stop the temperature of the land and sea from rising to dangerously high levels. If water temperatures get too high, corals can no longer live and therefore become bleached. There is increasing concern that governments aren’t taking this matter seriously, as they continue to encourage extraction and consumption of fossil fuels that are causing the temperatures to rise.

Value conflict is a factor in the case of the Great Barrier Reef coral bleaching. It is known that the reef is very fragile and dying due to climate change. However, things like dredging, to sustain beaches and promote tourism, pollution, runoff, and development are still taking place which only further damages the already vulnerable reefs. Some may value the reef for its intrinsic value or the biodiversity that it provides. Others may only see the reef as an economic benefit for tourism or fishing.

In Australia, the government has proposed plans for one of the worlds largest coal mines to be developed just inland from the reef. Some scientists believe the development of this coal mine will be one of the largest threats to the survival of the reef. Coal produces greenhouse gas emissions when burned and coal mines produce localized pollution to water and soil, both of which will affect the reef. Right now, the Australian government is walking a thin line between resource extraction and economic growth, and environmental conservation and climate change. 

Value conflict could also be present when we consider that there is a cost both environmentally and economically that will be misplaced because of coal mining. The profits lost in tourism and the loss of biodiversity, from the dying reefs, is not being paid for by the mining companies that are causing further environmental degradation. Those costs will then be absorbed by the tourism industry and those who directly depend on the reef, with no compensation or direct responsibility on the mining companies.

Scientists believe that coral bleaching and the death of reefs will continue to happen across the world, not just in the Great Barrier Reef. They fear this could have dangerous consequences as hundreds of millions of people depend on these reefs as a food source. If this food source is lost, there could be deaths and massive conflict, especially in poorer countries where there is already unrest. When people depend on the reef for money, food, recreation, etc. once this is gone, pressure may shift to other resources to compensate.

Professor Hughes, from James Cook University in Australia, says that climate change is not a problem of the future, but rather it has been wreaking havoc on the reefs for over a decade. Scientists believe this issue is not being taken seriously and they fear that people like Donald Trump, who deny climate change, will inhibit meaningful change from taking place. With the Paris agreement now jeopardized because of Donald Trump, they fear that these global initiatives will crumble. Professor Hughes insists there is nothing that can be done on a local scale to treat the affects of bleaching, the only way to treat this problem is to tackle climate change.


Cave, D., Gillis, J. (2017, March 15). Large sections of Australia’s Great Reef are now dead, scientists find. From

Other Sources:

Roth, R. (2017) Lecture Notes. From


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