Life on Mars?!

Learning about Mars


Mars Rover Curiosity

As Mars rover Curiosity gets closer to determining that life existed on Mars, people are getting excited.  Some hope that we will find a few of the last surviving pockets of the planet’s microorganisms.  Fascinating!  Should we invest more in the space program?  Oh, sorry; that was stupid.  Everyone knows we have to save life on Earth first.

Reports from around the world are describing the progress of a great environmental catastrophe.  Earth’s wild animals and plants are dying.  Efforts by the world’s governments and conservation organizations have failed to stop the accelerating catastrophe.  According to a January 2013 report by the AZ Game & Fish Department, more than half of the state’s native vertebrate species are imperiled.  Sadly, the status of the great majority of smaller species is unknown.

Conservation Status of Arizona Native Vertebrates*
Groups** Total
% Imperiled
Amphibians 33 23 70%
Bats 33 26 79%
Birds 548 264 48%
Fish 43 42 98%
Lizards 64 38 59%
Mammals 180 83 46%
Snakes 76 60 79%
Turtles 15 15 100%
TOTALS 992 551 56%
*Data from Arizona Game and Fish Department, 2013.

Human activities that kill wildlife and destroy its habitat are the main reasons for the wildlife decline.  In approximate order of importance, the activities are:

— Replacing habitat with buildings, roads, transmission corridors, reservoirs

— Introducing and dispersing foreign species (including diseases)

— Logging and ranching

— Releasing chemical wastes from cities, energy facilities, farms, and mines (hormones, fertilizers, pesticides, etc.) into the air and water.

— Altering the chemistry of the atmosphere to pass more short-wave radiation and block more long-wave radiation

— Damaging soils and habitats with wheeled and foot traffic

— Others:  Increasing noise levels, building barriers to movements and migration, collecting pets and specimens, building tall structures, installing reflecting windows, driving and hiking on unprotected soil, and more.  For example, the National Park Service reports that automobiles annually kill more than 30,000 animals in Saguaro National Park.

Species respond differently to human impacts.  For example, amphibians, because they have thin skin and because their eggs lack shells, are more sensitive to increasing short-wave ultraviolet radiation than other groups.  And yesterday, Brian Williams, NBC news, presented film and interviews detailing the decline of penguins and other species due to melting Antarctic ice.

Finding remnants of life on Mars probably will not help us save life on Earth.  Even the Stranger Michael couldn’t do that.  Anyway, let’s save the trips to Mars until we learn to control our population and our environmental impacts.


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