Bleached! Managing Coral Catastrophe
Futures (2016), DOI: 10.1016/j.futures.2016.06.001
20 Pages Posted: 28 Jul 2016 Last revised: 4 Aug 2016
Date Written: 2016
Corals have recently emerged as both a sign and a measure of the imminent catastrophic future of life on earth and, as such, have become the focus of intense conservation management. Bleached! draws on in-depth interviews and participatory observations with coral scientists and managers to explore the management of the corals’ ecological catastrophe to come. The article starts by describing the unique life of corals, the importance of calculability in catastrophe management, and the coral scientists’ preoccupation with classifying, counting, and seeing in their attempt to comprehensibly monitor corals and anticipate their decline. Algorithmic models and elaborate temporal analyses are central to this governmental project of “knowing bleaching.” What happens after such bleaching events are foreseen is the topic of my next exploration, which highlights the emergence of yet more monitoring as the central coral conservation “action” in the face of the looming catastrophe. The “resilience” concept is of growing importance in the world of coral management. Since it underlines unpredictability and nonlinearity, resilience as well seems to fly in the face of any anticipatory action, instead scientifically justifying forms of inaction. Finally, Bleached! discusses the heated debates among coral scientists about whether to focus present actions on “buying time” for corals, or whether the only way to prevent or limit imminent coral catastrophe is to deal directly with the elephant in the room: the global regulation of climate change. I argue that, in the case of corals at least, scientific knowledge is not power. Quite the contrary, the real political story here seems to lie in the ways in which scientists’ knowledge is neutralized and prevented from having political effects, such that it does not lead to anticipatory action to restore the ecological order. As one of the prominent coral scientists I interviewed for this project put it: current conservation efforts are akin to reorganizing the chairs on the Titanic, rather than to changing the ship’s deadly course.
Keywords: Coral management, Anticipating bleaching, Catastrophe governance, Calculability, Resilience, Climate change
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