Global coral could disappear in one lifetime, after millions of years on Earth. Listen to the Director of NOAA’s Coral Reef Watch Program Derek Manzello. Then Dr. Eric Pineault on Social Ecology, and the dangerous metabolism of Capitalism. Will we expand until it all explodes?

Listen to or download this Radio Ecoshock show in CD Quality (57 MB) or Lo-Fi (14 MB)




Most of what we think about coral bleaching is wrong. New research shows white coral is not necessarily dead… yet. And Corals may not be killed directly by excess heat. Since around 25 percent of ocean species depend on reefs, we better get this right, – before coral disappears from this blue planet.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration – NOAA – has a Coral Reef Watch Program. Overseeing that is marine biologist Dr. Derek Manzello. He is co-author of a recent paper with a bleak outlook for coral: “Coral reefs in peril in a record-breaking year – Climate change and its impacts on coral reefs have reached uncharted territory”. It was published in Science December 7, 2023.

Listen to or download my interview with Derek Manzello in CD Quality or Lo-Fi


Corals are tiny animals that depend on algae to feed. That is symbiosis. When ocean water gets too hot, or due to other stresses, the corals release the algae – the algae that gives coral reefs their vibrant colors. Now the “naked” coral reef is white, or “bleached”.

Manzello tells us if the heat event is not too long, or repeated too often, the algae may return and reef life continues. By the way, Manzello tells us coral does not have to bleach to be dying. The paper says:

Increasingly, stress levels are killing corals irrespective of their bleaching status.” And this becomes a problem when relying on aerial surveys of bleaching as a sign of coral health…

“Consequently, identifying reef stress through observations of mass coral bleaching (especially with aerial surveys) will become increasingly challenging as corals decrease and specific coral groups die without bleaching. “

But bleaching weakens corals. In that weaker state they may get diseases which actually kill them some time after the bleaching event, but related to it.

The Caribbean is known for many coral diseases, and waters there are record hot. Some mainstay species of corals, like the Elkhorn, has already experienced mass die-off. Florida has been amazingly hot recently, reaching up to 115 degrees Fahrenheit, 46 C. on land. The prognosis for coral off Florida and all around Caribbean islands and shores is not good.

In fact, some models suggest that on our current path of heating, all coral reefs could be dying, in most of the world. Some deep cold water coral species may survive. But the nursery of up to one quarter of all ocean species could die off. Eventually the ocean levels them to become the new bottom of the sea.

Here is just one frightening example from the December 2023 paper: “…a single thermal event in the Galápagos Islands in 1982–1983 drove levels of coral mortality to 95 to 99% and the complete loss of coral reef structures over 10 years with no recovery.

Bio-explorer Charles Darwin was stuck by the lack of coral around the Galapagos Islands, in the Pacific off the coast of South America. More recent on-site research found significant coral there. But little is left.

Just as wildfires are coming earlier in the season as the planet warms, coral bleaching events are also appearing earlier than before. Keep in mind, before 1980, there are no recorded coral bleaching events that I can find. The paper says:

Individual coral reefs reached record levels of heat stress up to 12 weeks ahead of previously recorded peaks.”

Meanwhile, as we covered on Radio Ecoshock some years ago, some reefs have the additional stress of seas rising faster than corals can build up the reef. These tiny animals and their plant friends require a certain amount of light for photosynthesis. If the surface rises, corals are weakened. This has happened in past ages as documents in step reefs off the coast of Texas.

Obviously both hotter oceans and rising seas have the same cause: our fossil burning economy and general damage to natural systems.


We discuss “assisted evolution”. Here heat-resistant coral species are identified and replanted elsewhere. It is possible genetic design can identify the traits and “improve” ability to survive climate change. But Manzello warns the total area of coral under the sea is larger than the sub-continent of India.

Realistically, I think there is little hope of replanting all the world’s coral reefs with new species. Given all the needs on land, as set by a single ravenous species, coral will not be “save” by any human action other than slashing emissions and fast-tracking carbon dioxide removal on a massive scale.

Coral is an ancient, ancient species. Some corals have gone extinct before, being replaced by other reef-building animals millions of years later. Is there a tipping point when so much coral has been damaged, so often, that reef-builders become extinct?

From the paper in Science:

The persistence of coral reefs beyond the next few decades remains in serious jeopardy. Rising sea temperatures, coupled with other stressors such as ocean acidification and pollution, have severely weakened the resilience of coral reefs. Changes are insidious yet fundamental.

Is it possible that anyone born after year two thousand could be the last generation able to see the multi-colored splendor of the reefs? I can’t imagine a world without coral. Can you?


The December Science article says:

Large-scale coral mortality is much more destructive to reefs than large-scale bleaching. Dead coral skeletons are broken down by the combined effects of physical, biological, and chemical erosion, with recovery impeded by the instability of the resulting reef framework.

As the architecturally complex, three-dimensional reef structures are eroded, the vital habitat that many coral reef–associated species depend on disappears, leading to ecosystem collapse. Importantly, this could undermine the persistence of as much as 25% of ocean biodiversity.




Climate change impact on coral reefs reach ‘uncharted territory’ | Jeff’s Climate Classroom

Jan 11, 2024 WFLA News Channel 8

WFLA’s Chief Meteorologist and Climate Specialist Jeff Berardelli is joined by Derek Manzello, Ph.D., a coordinator of NOAA’s Coral Reef Watch program in College Park, Maryland, who co-authored a recent study in Journal Science. In this episode, they discuss how this past summer’s heat stress contributed to mass coral bleaching.




If space aliens examined this fossil-powered civilization would they see a single organism? Are we something that consumes our home planet, converting it to dead waste? Can we change that?

Dr. Éric Pineault is a Professor in the Department of Sociology and the Institute of Environmental Sciences at the Université du Québec à Montréal. Over many years, Pineault compiled his book “The Social Ecology of Capital”, published in 2023. It examines the “metabolism” of our current age.

Listen to or download my interview with Eric Pineault in CD Quality or Lo-Fi



We think of metabolism as actions and reactions in an organism that sustain life. What do you mean by “social metabolism”? Marxist academics, including Karl Marx himself, compared the Capitalist system to metabolism in plants and animals.


Trying to grasp something with a thousand handles, while we live in it, is very hard. Starting in the 1840’s, in Germany – until he was expelled as a radical – Karl Marx set out to capture the enigma of Capitalism. He analyzed world trade. Eric also gathered an impressive catalog of charts and graphs not easily found in one place, like “Global material flows, 1970–2017” and “Global primary energy consumption by source, 1800–2020”. The book is helpful for that alone.

I loved Eric’s quick illustration of food versus waste. Pineault writes: “… in 2015 the food represented a flow of 4.3Gt per year, while mine tailings represented a flow of 4.8Gt. It is interesting and telling to note that, as societies advance into the Great Acceleration, the mass flow of mine tailings surpasses the mass flow of food!” Everybody talks about production and consumption. Nobody wants to talk about the waste.  It seems likely Earth capacity to absorb our waste is a greater limit than shortage of resources.  The atmosphere is just one example.

Among the many facts and insights in the Pineault book: we discover the human economy has moved from gathering surface food and materials to foraging underground. The majority of our energy comes from underground storage. Humans mine out mountains of rocks and sand for cement and road building. We have become a species that feeds on the underground.

Humans developed a technical civilization by becoming a boring animal. The majority of our powers now come from under the Earth’s surface, from new landscapes previously closed off to us. It is like harvesting from another planet.

Historians have argued the wealth of these centuries arose due to the discovery of continents new to Europeans and wide areas to harvest long-built up natural resources, from animals to trees to new croplands. Once those new resources were used, there could have been a crash, I think, or at least stalling – except we learned how to mine and drill deep below the Earth. Fracking is a relatively new addition to those underground harvesting techniques. We are, in part, a subterranean species.


the measure of advancement of “advanced capitalism” has become the efficacy with which waste can be generated and dissipated on a monumental scale.”

– István Mészáros, “Beyond Capital”

The last chapter in “The Social Ecology of Capital” is called “Emancipation Amid The Ruins Of Fossil Metabolism“. That says a lot about where we are.

In the end, Pineault suggests all we have to change is everything: our habits and modes of living, the institutions of growth and waste, all of it. One proposal is Degrowth, purposefully shrinking our needs and impacts on the planet. But this isn’t the book with a formula for change.

Eric makes the case that expecting never-ending growth is suicidal. Although this book is a difficult read for those not accustomed to Marxist academic writing, through it I finally understood the mechanics of what makes “growth” the imperative of Capitalism. With that we comprehend why the answer to problems of growth – given by politicians of every party, the media, the whole system – is more growth. Our group insanity is itemized in this work.


Andreas Malm,
“Fossil Capital: The Rise of Steam Power and the Roots of Global Warming”. London: Verso, 2016,

I recently wrote to Andreas Malm for an interview. However he is declining all new interviews as he works on a new book and other teaching commitments.


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