You are a Scientist
I heard someone ask “why do scientists lie so much.” Thinking about how I would answer, and with my grandchildren in mind, I composed the following statement:
I heard someone ask “why do scientists lie so much.” Thinking about how I would answer, and with my grandchildren in mind, I composed the following statement:
Present day human impacts are causing global extinctions comparable in number to the dinosaur extinction of 65 million years ago. Research reports across all plant and animal groups are documenting falling numbers, and the losses are speeding up.
The loss of species and ecosystems is at least as dangerous as climate change. People cause both as we use and harvest soils, plants, animals, and fossil fuels. Soon we will begin to reach the limits of nature’s reserves. As marine fisheries and farming regions lose their productivity, there will be moments when the failure of one region to meet the needs of people will cause demands to shift to other regions. Then, like falling dominos, the cascading failure of ecosystems will force the same desperate international migrations that have already begun due to climate change. The great danger is that once it begins, the cascade of extinction and ecosystem failure will ripple around the world and will be unstoppable.
Here’s a story about the status of international efforts to halt biodiversity loss. As you can see, the extinction emergency is not being treated as an emergency. We need another Greta Thunberg to arise and lead the protest against extinction. And we need it now.
“The world must thrash out a new deal for nature in the next two years or humanity could be the first species to document our own extinction, warns the United Nation’s biodiversity chief.” —The Guardian.
“Humanity is on a collision course with Nature.
A damaged Nature will survive. We may not.
We must change course to avert an ecological disaster.”
GR: Here’s a thoughtful article about the absolute necessity to reject the global “growth at all costs” philosophy that dominates our businesses, governments, and churches. Because we have failed to choose our actions objectively, we are approaching major “tipping points” where choices will slip away. We might still avoid the crash by learning to use basic reasoning. Our children (and adults) should learn to recognize the many forms of faulty reasoning, the fallacies, that obscure truth. We must all learn the value of skepticism and we must learn to ask how (will we get Mexico to pay for the wall) and why (do we need a wall), and we must learn to insist on verifiable facts offered as proof.
“Techno-industrial society is in dangerous ecological overshoot—the human ecological footprint is at least 60% larger than the planet can support sustainably (Wackernagel et al. 2002; Rees 2013; WWF 2016). The global economy is using even renewable and replenishable resources faster than ecosystems can regenerate and filling waste sinks beyond nature’s capacity to assimilate (Steffen et al. 2007; Rockström et al. 2009; Barnosky et al. 2012). (Even climate change is a waste management problem—carbon dioxide is the single greatest waste by weight of industrial economies.) Despite the accumulating evidence of impending crisis, the world community seems incapable of responding effectively. This situation is clearly unsustainable and, if present trends continue, will likely lead in this century to runaway climate change, the collapse of major biophysical systems, global strife and therefore diminished prospects for continued civilized existence (Tainter 1987; Diamond 2005; Turner 2014; Motesharrei et al. 2014).
“The proximate drivers are excess economic production/consumption and over-population—human impact on the ecosphere is a product of population multiplied by average per capita consumption—exacerbated by an increasingly global compound myth of perpetual economic growth propelled by continuous technological progress (Victor 2008; Rees 2013). While there is evidence of some ‘decoupling’ of economic production from nature, this is often an artifact of faulty accounting and trade (e.g., wealthy countries are ‘off-shoring’ their ecological impacts onto poorer countries). Overall, economic throughput (energy and material consumption and waste production) is increasing with population and GDP growth (Wiedmann et al 2013; Giljum et al. 2014). Consequently, carbon dioxide is accumulating at an accelerating rate in the atmosphere (NOAA 2017) and the years 2014, 2015 and 2016 sequentially shared the distinction of being the warmest years in the instrumental record (Hansen et al. 2017).
“There is widespread general support for the notion of ‘clean production and consumption’ but in present circumstances, this must soon translate into less production and consumption by fewer people (Rees 2014). It complicates matters that modern society remains highly dependent on abundant cheap energy still mostly supplied by carbon-based fuels. Despite rapid technological advances and falling costs, it is still not clear that renewable energy alternatives, including wind and photovoltaic electricity, can replace fossil fuels in such major uses as transportation and space/water heating in the foreseeable future. Nevertheless, in the absence of effective carbon sequestration technologies, reducing fossil fuel use remains essential to avoiding catastrophic climate change. Resolving this energy-climate conundrum will require major conservation efforts, the prioritizing of essential non-substitutable uses of fossil fuels and the banning of frivolous ones.
GR: Here’s an article that I hope at least my friends and family read. If it doesn’t worry and motivate you, then you are a victim of “willful blindness” a cognitive condition that can be either conscious or subconscious. You can recover from the subconscious condition, but it’s usually after you’ve fallen in a hole and wonder “why didn’t I see this coming.” However, you can make a conscious effort to reassess your beliefs and act to avoid the hole. And I assume that this is what’s going to happen as demonstrations like the massive climate march that just filled Pennsylvania Avenue continue to grow.
“While apocalyptic beliefs about the end of the world have, historically, been the subject of religious speculation, they are increasingly common among some of the leading scientists today. This is a worrisome fact, given that science is based not on faith and private revelation, but on observation and empirical evidence.
“Perhaps the most prominent figure with an anxious outlook on humanity’s future is Stephen Hawking. Last year, he wrote the following in a Guardian article:
Now, more than at any time in our history, our species needs to work together. We face awesome environmental challenges: climate change, food production, overpopulation, the decimation of other species, epidemic disease, acidification of the oceans. Together, they are a reminder that we are at the most dangerous moment in the development of humanity. We now have the technology to destroy the planet on which we live, but have not yet developed the ability to escape it.
“There is not a single point here that is inaccurate or hyperbolic. For example, consider that the hottest 17 years on record have all occurred since 2000, with a single exception (namely, 1998 [hottest on record to that point]), and with 2016 being the hottest ever. Although 2017 probably won’t break last year’s record, the UK’s Met Office projects that it “will still rank among the hottest years on record.” Studies also emphasize that there is a rapidly closing window for meaningful action on climate change. As the authors of one peer-reviewed paper put it [PDF paper published in Nature, Climate Change]:
The next few decades offer a brief window of opportunity to minimize large-scale and potentially catastrophic climate change that will extend longer than the entire history of human civilization thus far. Policy decisions made during this window are likely to result in changes to Earth’s climate system measured in millennia rather than human lifespans, with associated socioeconomic and ecological impacts that will exacerbate the risks and damages to society and ecosystems that are projected for the twenty-first century and propagate into the future for many thousands of years.
“Furthermore, studies suggest that civilization will have to produce more food in the next 50 years than in all of human history, which stretches back some 200,000 years into the Pleistocene epoch. This is partly due to the ongoing problem of overpopulation, where Pew projects approximately 9.3 billion people living on spaceship Earth by 2050. According to the 2016 Living Planet Report, humanity needs 1.6 Earths to sustain our current rate of (over)consumption — in other words, unless something significant changes with respect to anthropogenic resource depletion, nature will force life as we know it to end.
“Along these lines, scientists largely agree that human activity has pushed the biosphere into the sixth mass extinction event in the entire 4.5 billion year history of Earth. This appears to be the case even on the most optimistic assumptions about current rates of species extinctions, which may be occurring 10,000 times faster than the normal “background rate” of extinction. Other studies have found that, for example, the global population of wild vertebrates — that is, mammals, birds, reptiles, fish and amphibians — has declined by a staggering 58 percent between 1970 and 2012. The biosphere is wilting in real time, and our own foolish actions are to blame.” –Phil Torres (Continue: It’s the end of the world and we know it: Scientists in many disciplines see apocalypse, soon – Salon.com.)
GR: Nature rarely forms straight lines or even distributions. Global warming, just like biodiversity, is not even. The study reported below suggests areas that need our greatest conservation efforts. However, we have to try to save more than just the best areas. We also need to save some of the intervening regions.
“The research, published in Science Advances, identifies six marine “hotspots” of “exceptional biodiversity” in the tropical Pacific, southwestern Atlantic, and western Indian Oceans.
“Warming sea temperatures, weakening ocean currents and industrial fishing means these areas are at particular risk of losing many of their species, the researchers say.
“From the cold depths of the Arctic waters to the colourful reefs of the tropics and subtropics, the oceans play host to tens of thousands of different species. But they are not evenly spread across the world.
“Using data on 1,729 types of fish, 124 marine mammals and 330 seabirds, the new study estimates how varied the species are in each part of the oceans. They call this the species “richness”.
“You can see this in the map from the study below. It shows an index of species richness, from the lowest (dark blue) to the highest (red).
“From this process, the researchers identified six hotspots where the number and mix of species is exceptionally high. These are outlined in the map above.
“The six hotspots are predominantly in the southern hemisphere. Three are closely packed together around southeast Asia (4), southern Australia and New Zealand (5), and the central Pacific Ocean (6). The other three are more spread out, covering Africa’s southeastern coastline and Madagascar (3), the Pacific waters of Peru and the Galapagos Islands (1), and the southwestern Atlantic ocean off the coast of Uruguay and Argentina (2).” –Robert McSweeney (Continue reading: Marine hotspots under dual threat from climate change and fishing.)
GR: Worth noting that even in developed countries with slowing population growth, wildlife decline continues. In Britain, many people do small things to make their gardens more wildlife friendly. However, habitat loss and farming continue to cut carrying capacity for most wildlife species. Hedgehog and other species’ declines are accelerating, suggesting that many wildlife populations are no longer self-sustaining and are falling toward extinction. The Guardian story below includes ideas and links for steps to take to support wildlife. Unfortunately, it does not mention the big step, human population control. Without drastic efforts to cut our needs and begin returning the land and seas to their natural state, most of Earth’s wildlife species will disappear (more on human population impact).
“The plight of the hedgehog in Britain appears to be worsening, with a new survey revealing a further decline in garden sightings.
“The spiky creature was once a common sight, with the population estimated at 30 million in the 1950s. But that has plummeted to fewer than one million today, with a third of this loss thought to have taken place in the past decade.
“The latest survey, conducted with more than 2,600 people by BBC Gardeners’ World Magazine, found that 51% of people did not see a hedgehog at all in 2016, up from 48% in 2015. Just 12% saw a hedgehog regularly.
“The poll’s result is in line with an in-depth analysis in 2015 by the People’s Trust for Endangered Species which found urban populations of hedgehogs had fallen by up to a third since 2000 and rural populations had declined by at least a half. Results from a citizen science survey run by the RSPB in June 2016 also revealed a falling number of sightings.
“The decline is not entirely understood but the main factors are thought to be the loss of their habitat in Britain’s towns and countryside – where farming has intensified – as well as road deaths. The fragmentation of habitat is also a problem as hedgehogs roam up to a mile every night to look for food and mates. A possible rise in badger numbers, which can eat hedgehogs, has also been suggested as a possible cause.” –Damian Carrington (More: Hedgehogs now a rare garden sight as British populations continue to decline | Environment | The Guardian.)
I agree with the 20 items included in the Justice Democrats platform. My concerns for nature conservation lead me to suggest an addition.
Defend natural systems from damaging uses. The Earth’s reserves of fertile soil, dense forest, fresh water, and wild animals and fish are declining. Overuse driven by commercial exploitation and by simple need is stripping the lands and seas of life. Biodiversity is declining and ecosystems are collapsing. For the benefit of humanity and all other living creatures, we must insist on proper land use. We must insist that national land management agencies in all nations are empowered to monitor, repair, and regulate the use of the land, water, and life without which human life would be impossible.
GR: Deforestation is a major cause of climate change and of biodiversity decline, extinction of amphibians, arthropods, birds, mammals, and reptiles. Economists and agritechnologists talk of reversing it now, but even in the U. S., forest harvest continues. In poorer countries, the immediate needs for cash and land for crops is not going to end with the advent of more productive crops and efficient farming methods. Such symptom treatments will not end deforestation. It will not stop until we reverse human population growth. Of course, reducing need isn’t the only problem, we might also have to control our greed, a much more difficult task.
“If you want to see the world’s climate changing, fly over a tropical country. Thirty years ago, a wide belt of rainforest circled the earth, covering much of Latin America, south-east Asia and Africa. Today, it is being rapidly replaced by great swathes of palm oil trees and rubber plantations, land cleared for cattle grazing, soya farming, expanding cities, dams and logging.
“People have been deforesting the tropics for thousands of years for timber and farming, but now, nothing less than the physical transformation of the Earth is taking place. Every year about 18m hectares of forest – an area the size of England and Wales – is felled. In just 40 years, possibly 1bn hectares, the equivalent of Europe, has gone. Half the world’s rainforests have been razed in a century, and the latest satellite analysis shows that in the last 15 years new hotspots have emerged from Cambodia to Liberia. At current rates, they will vanish altogether in 100 years.
About 12% of all man-made climate emissions now comes from deforestation, mostly in tropical areas
“As fast as the trees go, the chance of slowing or reversing climate change becomes slimmer. Tropical deforestation causes carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas, to linger in the atmosphere and trap solar radiation. This raises temperatures and leads to climate change: deforestation in Latin America, Asia and Africa can affect rainfall and weather everywhere from the US Midwest, to Europe and China.
“The consensus of the world’s atmospheric scientists is that about 12% of all man-made climate emissions – nearly as much as the world’s 1.2bn cars and lorries – now comes from deforestation, mostly in tropical areas. Conserving forests is critical; the carbon locked up in Democratic Republic of the Congo’s 150m hectares of forests are nearly three times the world’s global annual emissions.” –John Vidal (Continue reading: We are destroying rainforests so quickly they may be gone in 100 years | John Vidal | Global Development Professionals Network | The Guardian.)
GR: Sad times if you care for wildlife. The researchers explain that Ring-Tailed Lemurs declined to this point with no outcry because no one was watching. Around the world at this crucial time for wildlife, there are too few scientists monitoring populations. “The two most prolific Lemur researchers, Alison Jolly and Robert Sussman, have died and we are the only descendants with active research in Madagascar,” said researcher Tara A. Clarke of the organization Lemur Love.
“Madagascar’s beloved ring-tailed lemurs (Lemur catta) have all but disappeared from many of the island nation’s forests. According to two worrying new studies, the species’ population has fallen to between 2,000 and 2,400 animals—a shocking 95 percent decrease since the year 2000.
“To put that number in context, there are now fewer ring-tailed lemurs living in the wild than there are living in zoos around the world.
“Factors driving the decline include rapid habitat loss, hunting, and the illegal pet trade, according to a paper published last month in the journal Primate Conservation and a second paper published today in Folia Primatologica.
“The situation is so bad that many ring-tailed lemur sub-populations now contain fewer than 30 individuals. In addition, the animals have completely disappeared from at least 15 sites they once called home.
“The now-empty forests are “very sad, quiet and dusty,” says Marni LaFleur, lead author of the second paper and a co-director of the conservation organization Lemur Love. “There was a thick layer of crunchy leaf litter on the ground, and dust on top. Some trees were heavy with ripe and rotten fruits. Without birds or mammals to consume them, the untouched fruits just rot in and around the trees. Normal aspects of a forest, which as a biologist I have a fairly keen eye for—footprints, scat, bite marks, sleeping spots, calls—are absent.” —John R. Platt