The Sad Side of Pantone's Happy Color of the Year

Video screen capture. PANTONE

Billed as 'animating and life-affirming,' Pantone 16-1546 Living Coral is also a stark reminder of humankind's folly.

Each year, the color experts at the Pantone Color Institute crown a new hue as Color of the Year. 2018 was the year of Ultra Violet; 2017 the year of Greenery. And now we have the latest, the selection for 2019: Living Coral.

Part swinging-retiree-in-Florida, part millennial-pink-on-steroids, Pantone describes the color as "fan animating and life-affirming coral hue with a golden undertone that energizes and enlivens with a softer edge."

And the intentions are good, no doubt.

“With everything that’s going on today, we’re looking for those humanizing qualities because we’re seeing online life dehumanizing a lot of things,” Laurie Pressman, the Pantone Color Institute’s vice president, told the Associated Press. “We’re looking toward those colors that bring nourishment and the comfort and familiarity that make us feel good."

Here, here! As someone who can't resist the lure of the cage match that is political Twitter, I could surely use a dose of Living Coral's “emotional nourishment" and its "big hug,” as Pressman describes it.

But here's the thing. I just can't get past the name. When did "coral" become "living coral"? Was it when we first became aware of coral bleaching, in which rising water temperatures make coral sick and cause it to turn white? Bleached coral is still alive, but it is stressed and vulnerable. Should color nomenclature now include "sick coral" and "dying coral" as well?

In a UNESCO’s World Heritage Centre report published last year – the first global scientific assessment of climate change impacts on World Heritage coral reefs – experts concluded that "soaring ocean temperatures in the past three years have subjected 21 of 29 World Heritage reefs to severe and/or repeated heat stress, and caused some of the worst bleaching ever observed at iconic sites like the Great Barrier Reef (Australia), Papahānaumokuākea (USA), the Lagoons of New Caledonia (France) and Aldabra Atoll (Seychelles)."

The bottom line of the report is thus: World Heritage coral reefs are likely to disappear by 2100 unless CO2 emissions are drastically reduced.

Meanwhile, recent scientific reports have found that global emissions of carbon dioxide are reaching the highest levels on record. "Between 2014 and 2016, emissions remained largely flat, leading to hopes that the world was beginning to turn a corner," reports The Washington Post. "Those hopes appear to have been dashed. In 2017, global emissions grew 1.6 percent. The rise in 2018 is projected to be 2.7 percent."

“We are in trouble. We are in deep trouble with climate change,” United Nations Secretary General António Guterres said at the opening of the 24th annual U.N. climate conference.

If we can't get a handle on climate change, we're not going to have real live living coral anymore. Not to mention the problems of coral-killing sunscreen and plastics. In the meantime, we're seeing a whole lot of wan colorless coral that has nothing to do with Pantone 16-1546. Future conversations might go something like this, "Mom, why does the color called 'coral' look pink when we all know that coral is really white?" Or even worse, "See this color called 'coral,' honey? The oceans used to be filled with it before we killed it all!"

Pantone says, "Sociable and spirited, the engaging nature of PANTONE 16-1546 Living Coral welcomes and encourages lighthearted activity."

Which is great ... but here's the TreeHugger, take: "Sociable and spirited, the engaging nature of PANTONE 16-1546 Living Coral welcomes and encourages climate change activism."

Let's work to ensure that swatches of Living Coral don't end up in some sad future compendium of colors that once existed in nature.