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Last Updated: Monday, 28 May 2007, 14:04 GMT 15:04 UK
'Pessimist in paradise' warning
Gareth Jones
By Gareth Jones
BBC Wales business editor

A coral reef near the beach at low tide in Zanzibar, Tanzania
Steve Jones says coral is particularly threatened by climate change
Steve Jones spent much of his childhood in the cluttered family home in Newquay on the Ceredigion coast surrounded by maritime memorabilia.

His father was descended from a long line of seafarers who brought back reminders of their voyages.

His grandfather had returned with a brooch of brown coral plucked from the Indian Ocean.

It fired the boy's imagination then and stimulated the writings of the man, now professor of genetics at University College, London.

But it was what he learned writing his latest book, Coral, that led Prof Jones to add its subtitle A Pessimist in Paradise: for the Aberystwyth-born biologist is now convinced the planet is in mortal danger.

"It's very hard to deny that global warming's here and it's getting worse more quickly than even the gloomiest pessimists imagined 10 years ago," he said at the Hay Festival in Powys.

"I think things are bad. Particularly so on reefs - I've visited many of them.

The purist notion that an ecosystem is somehow forever is wrong
Steve Jones

"The Seychelles, which were a magnificent living coral reef 10 years ago, are now a corpse, gone. I do feel we face real global problems and I no more have the solutions than anyone else," he told me.

Unfortunately, according to Prof Jones, some of the proposed solutions to global warming are themselves bad for the marine environment.

For example, he said we should take a step back before agreeing to proposals to build a barrage across the Severn Estuary to produce tidal energy.

Rich in wildlife

"The Severn's an environment rich in certain kinds of wildlife and once it's gone, it's gone forever. Wales is a small country and we should be careful with the environment we've got."

However, he also suggested that some environmentalists can become too precious.

"People are always talking about 'unique environments,' but we shouldn't overdo this.

"There's hardly an environment in the world that's not artificial because humans are part of the ecosystem. The whole Welsh countryside is artificial.

"The purist notion that an ecosystem is somehow forever is wrong."

So what about the Welsh Assembly Government's desire to exploit the coast by encouraging more offshore windfarms, marinas, tourist developments and businesses?

"They'll shoot themselves in the foot because there's a limit," he said.

"The coastline is even more fragile than the countryside yet people seem to care even less about it. It's easy to ruin an environment: look what windfarms have done to the landscape."

But it's the rather bigger issue, the future of the planet itself, to which Prof Jones returns.

He says the plight of his beloved coral reefs reminds us that unless we somehow mend our ways "our future is very gloomy indeed."

Inquiry call on offshore windfarm
30 Apr 07 |  North West Wales

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