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The greatest challenge humanity faces is not an environmental one. It is a challenge that goes deeper than the intellectual acknowledgment that the earth is currently in a state of great crisis -- it is a challenge to understand the very meaning of what it means to be a human. 

Science tells us that we are dependent on the earth's bio systems to survive -- we exist in delicately balanced ecological networks that have been fine tuned over hundreds of millions of years. When these eco systems get thrown out of balance, we not only destroy animal and plant life, we threaten our own existence on the planet too. To describe the earth as our "Mother" is not New Age woo, but hard scientific fact.  

Without the six inches of topsoil from which our food grows, we would all be dead. Without the Amazon rainforest and healthy plant life in oceans, we would not have enough oxygen to breathe, and we would all be dead. Mistreating the earth then is literally like mistreating ourselves. 

So when we discover that man made global warming has now killed more than a third of corals on the Great Barrier Reef -- the biggest single structure made by living organisms on the planet -- it might be time to start taking up the challenge of discovering what it means to be a human, and get around to putting a stop to this madness.  Reported the Huffington Post: 

The worst bleaching event ever seen on the Great Barrier Reef has killed more than a third of corals across wide swaths of the region, scientists announced on Sunday.

Those numbers continue a streak of horrifically bad news for the largest living structure on the planet. Just a month ago, researchers said 93 percent of the reef had been affected by the mass bleaching event.

The latest statistics apply specifically to the northern and central parts of the Great Barrier Reef, where scientists said they had “never seen anything like this scale of bleaching before.”

Terry Hughes, convenor of the National Coral Bleaching Taskforce and the scientist responsible for the latest aerial surveys of the reef, said in a press release this was the “third time in 18 years that the Great Barrier Reef has experienced mass bleaching due to global warming, and the current event is much more extreme than we’ve measured before,” spurred by an unusually strong El Nino weather event.

The only good news is that the corals can recover if temperatures drop -- a glimmer of hope for the approximately 25% of all marine life on the planet that can be found in them. Because if we don't, the effects will be catastrophic. Here is how the Earth Institute at Columbia University describes a future without coral reefs:

If we reach 450 parts per million of C02 in the atmosphere (as of 2010, we were at 388 ppm) ocean temperatures will rise 2˚ C, calcium carbonate levels in the oceans will decrease, and we will largely destroy all our coral reefs. Coral reefs provide us with food, construction materials (limestone) and new medicines—more than half of new cancer drug research is focused on marine organisms. They offer shoreline protection and maintain water quality. And they are a draw for tourists, sometimes providing up to 80% of a country’s total income. Losing the coral reefs would have profound social and economic impacts on many countries, especially small island nations like Haiti, Fiji, Indonesia, and the Philippines that depend on coral reefs for their livelihoods.

The impact on the general health of our oceans would have so many unforeseen consequences that it is impossible to accurately predict just how bad it would be -- but as we have learned through the decimation of our rainforests, they won't be good. As we heat the planet, we also destroy its ability to regulate its temperatures. Healthy rainforests and oceans absorb CO2 easily, whereas unhealthy ones do not, as a report in Time Magazine declared:

As the ocean absorbs more and more carbon, it acidifies — think of the acidic fizz in a carbonated beverage. That injures ocean life — especially the vulnerable coral reefs that are home to wildly diverse marine species. And as the ocean warms because of climate change, it will be less able to absorb carbon too

In other words, the worse it gets the worse it will get. 

"Man is the most insane species," Canadian astrophysicist Hubert Reeves once said. "He worships an invisible God and destroys a visible Nature. Unaware that this nature he’s destroying is this God he’s worshiping.”

If regarding nature as the divine is a leap too far, then at least regard nature for what modern science tells us it is: you.