Should We Look on the Bright Side of the 6th Mass Extinction? – Animalista Untamed

GR: Here’s the case for optimism for the great loss of species and a literate response that the arguments supporting the case are rubbish. And rubbish they are. The optimistic professor making the case seems to forget that we can only be optimistic when we know fear. Our optimism can be cowardly (accepting) or courageous (challenging). Knowing what might happen and hoping for a better outcome, the courageous will fight for that outcome while the coward will sit smug waiting for the good to come. The optimistic professor appears to be on the smug side of this divide.

I have to assert that the professor’s optimism is more than just cowardly, it is based on inaccurate premises. Here’s one clear example: The result of humans behaving naturally may be the end of life on Earth. Our planet is truly like an isolated petri dish with limited resources. Humans are behaving naturally within the bounds of evolution and ecology as the professor says, but so are the bacteria that consume all the resources in their little dish and then die leaving behind no life at all.

The idea that we want to become acquainted with the few hardy species that will survive the Anthropocene and be our companions on the other side inspired me to write a book about weeds. I guess the work represents a cowardly response to fear but with resignation instead of smugness. Okay, that’s a bit pretentious. My book also represents simple curiosity and appreciation for the amazing plants that thrive in adverse environments. I plan to continue arguing for population and pollution control and a societal shift toward ecological restoration of damaged ecosystems. But that doesn’t seem truly courageous, it just seems like the natural thing to do.

Here’s Animalista Untamed’s critique of Professor Chris Thomas’s new book Inheritors of the Earth, How Nature is Thriving in an Age of Extinction.

Animalista Untamed.

“One man thinks we should. Stop worrying about what is happening to the planet – just kick back and enjoy the ride. That is the message of ecologist Chris Thomas’s new book ‘Inheritors of the Earth, How Nature is Thriving in an Age of Extinction”. “It is time” he writes, “for the ecological, conservation and environmental movement to throw off the shackles of a pessimism-laden, loss-only view of the world.”

“We’ve now become all too unhappily familiar with the ‘Anthropocene’, the word coined by Dutch Nobel Laureate Paul Crutzen to describe this new age, the age in which Man has played havoc with the entire functioning of the planet. We’ve altered the make-up of the atmosphere, the chemistry of the oceans, changed the climate itself. Glaciers are melting, sea levels rising. We’ve depleted biodiversity, plants and animals, and messed up their distribution. We’ve rerouted rivers, drained lakes, razed forests and covered the Earth in highways and cities. And all the while our own population has exploded, 7.4 billion today and an expected 9.7 billion by 2050.

“What is there not to be alarmed about?

“Anthropocenists (by that I mean the vast majority of ecologists who are concerned about the repercussions of human activity) propose that if we have the technology to so damage the planet, why can’t we turn technology to its healing? Hi-tech geo-engineering such as air cleaning plants, altering ocean chemistry to absorb more carbon, or capturing carbon emissions from power stations and factories. Maybe we could even modify the weather. A luxury travel company that promises perfect wedding weather for the big day thinks we can. Expert opinion says otherwise: “The scale of the Earth’s atmosphere is far too great to tamper with—at least for now.” according to meteorologist Bruce Broe.

“But Professor Chris Thomas’s thinking runs on altogether different lines, and he’s nothing if not a glass-half-full man. In this age of mass extinction, he says, nature will do what it always does – fight back.

“A quick summary of his thinking –

  • “Man is an animal and just as much a part of Nature as a bird or a fish
  • “Contrary to what we are constantly being told, Nature is thriving. There are biodiversity gains as well as losses, and “the number of species is increasing in most regions of the world”
  • “The essence of life is eternal change  – everything lives, evolves, dies. There is no stasis in Nature. We need to embrace the change and forget about trying to hold back the hands of the clock

“Taking each of those points in turn:” –Animalista Untamed. (Should We Look on the Bright Side of the 6th Mass Extinction? – Animalista Untamed.)

Human Beliefs and The Ecocentric Alliance

Black-headed Grosbeak and two Lazuli Buntings.
These Grosbeaks aren’t as large as Robins, but they are big enough to have trouble perching on bird feeders. Young birds flutter and flap and sometimes end up hanging upside down as they learn to use the feeder. (Birds of Dewey-Humboldt, Arizona. GarryRogers.com. Photo: Male by GR.)

The Future of Human Understanding of Nature

If we come through global warming, overpopulation, and overuse of the Earth, our experience will have reforged our view of the world. I think we will have a clearer understanding of the limits of nature. This post discusses one probable shift in our post-anthropocene view of the world.

Those of you that have read about nature ethics and conservation are probably familiar with the two principal points of view, the human-centered or homocentric, and the nature-centered or ecocentric. The first views nature as socially and economically valuable because of the benefits for humans. The second views nature as intrinsically valuable independent of any benefits for humans. Near the end of a long career in the U. S. Forest Service, Aldo Leopold wrote:

“[A] land ethic changes the role of Homo Sapiens from conqueror of the land-community to plain member and citizen of it. It implies respect for his fellow-members, and also respect for the community as such.”  Aldo Leopold, 1949.

Monarch Butterfly caterpillar on a milkweed outside my office.

The homocentric view has always dominated organized land use and management. The view calls for protecting the health and integrity of ecosystems so that their use is not interrupted–the sustainable idea. However, opening all of nature to attempts at economic use has led to mistakes and abuses. Moreover, it justifies changing the land for human benefit. Cities and farms remove and replace nature for human benefit. Thus, as our population and needs have grown, the extent, health, and integrity of ecosystems has declined. One symptom of this that is visible to us all is the decline in wild animals. Extensive counts and recounts have shown that more than half of all Earth’s amphibians, birds, fish, mammals, lizards, and turtles has disappeared over the past 45 years.

Alexander helping build the dog-proof fence around the garden.

The Ecocentric Alliance, formed from the ideas of Leopold and others of the same mind, is working to explain why we must shift to the ecocentric approach to nature if there is to be a real hope for survival of Earth ecosystems and us humans. The Alliance gives rational explanations of ecocentrism, and provides a venue for peer-reviewed discussions and analysis of the concept.  The Ecological Citizen is an online journal that addresses the central issue of our time: how to halt and reverse our current ecocidal course and create an ecological civilization.

The Ecocentric Alliance is a youthful organization that is still concerned with understanding its role in conservation. For this reason, we should ignore the introspective flavor of the explanations below.

Defining Ecocentrism

“Ecocentrism is a worldview that: (1) extends ethical considerations to all components — biotic and abiotic — of Earth’s living systems (the Ecosphere), as well as the dynamics of their interactions; and (2) values non-human nature independently of any benefit it may have for humans specifically.

“Ecocentrism brings with it new standards for thought, conduct, and action on such seemingly intractable problems as loss of habitat for non-human nature, degradation of living systems, and overpopulation and overconsumption by humans.

“Ecocentric ethics can provide moral guidance to corporate and governmental policy-makers, as well as to individuals across the globe, on reversing the decline of non-human nature and on building economic systems and communities that are in harmony with the Ecosphere.” –The Ecocentric Alliance.

The outline below gives a clear explication of the concepts and goals of the Alliance,

Ecocentrism Concepts and Goals

Eight ideas from this article

1: The well-being and flourishing of the living Earth and its many organic and inorganic parts have intrinsic value, that is, value in themselves. Such values are independent of the usefulness of the non-human world for human purposes.

2: The richness and diversity of Earth’s ecosystems, including the organic forms that they nurture and support, contribute to the realization of these values and are also values in themselves.

3: It is wrong for humans to reduce the diversity of Earth’s ecosystems and their vital constituents, organic and inorganic.

4: The creative flourishing of Earth and its multitudinous nonhuman parts, organic and inorganic, requires a substantial decrease in human population. The flourishing of human life and culture is compatible with such a decrease.

5: Present human interference with the non-human world is excessive, and the situation is rapidly worsening.

6: The pattern of human activities must therefore be changed. These changes will affect basic economic, technological and ideological structures. The resulting state of affairs would be deeply different from the present.

7: An important part of this change is appreciating all life and its intrinsic value rather than mainly pursuing endless economic growth.

8: Those who subscribe to the foregoing points have an obligation to participate in the attempt to implement the necessary changes.

Ecocentrism Principles

From this article

CORE PRINCIPLES

1: The Ecosphere is the center of value for humanity.

2: The creativity and productivity of Earth’s ecosystems depend on their integrity.

3: The Earth-centered worldview is supported by natural history.

4: Ecocentric ethics are grounded in awareness of our place in nature.

5: An ecocentric worldview values diversity of ecosystems and cultures.

6: Ecocentric ethics support social justice.

ACTION PRINCIPLES

7: Defend and preserve Earth’s creative potential.

8: Reduce human population size.

9: Reduce consumption of Earth’s vital constituents.

10: Promote ecocentric governance.

11: Spread the message.

Practical basis for agreement

1: We have arrived at our perspective regarding the ultimate value of Earth and its systems via diverse routes, including science, intuition, literature, poetry, various spiritual traditions and experiences in nature. Ecocentrism is holistic, encompassing the best scientific evidence as well as the deepest intuitions and realizations of our human status on this planet.

2: We agree that giving the highest priority to Earth’s ecological integrity and health (i.e. ahead of economic considerations) is the wisest survival strategy for all species, including our own.

3: The sense of the ultimate values of Earth and her systems comes from a combination of plain living, observing, and experiencing the obvious wonders and profound beauty of nature in all natural ecosystems.

4: Our ethics follow from valuing Earth and its constituents, inclusive of human beings.

5: Human welfare, as well as the possibility of a desirable future, absolutely requires functioning ecosystems.

6: While it is of course legitimate for all living beings, including humans, to live and enjoy living, we have to do so in ways that don’t damage the time-tested regenerative systems of Earth.

7: Sometimes it makes sense to appeal to human self-interest. However, narrow human self-interest cannot override the requirement of respect for the Earth’s health and integrity.

Links:

Forty-five Years of Wildlife Decline

The Ecocentric Alliance

The Ecological Citizen

 

 

Trump Administration One Step Closer to Approving Seismic Airgun Blasting

GR: Seismic prospecting harms marine creatures. The danger is so severe that no reasonable person would permit the practice. However, the corporate assault on nature is taking full advantage of Trump’s presidency. Apparently, Trump offers no resistance to any economic scheme that would harm wild creatures. He appears to be at the egotistical center of the homocentric mind. There, none have concern for other people and probably none for nonhuman creatures. Trump has never had a pet, and is only considering a bringing a dog into the Whitehouse for the sake of appearances. Of course, Obama was willing to permit seismic testing. Public intervention stopped him.  Let’s hope that the public outcry that stopped Obama will be successful with Trump. Sign the petition here.

“The Trump administration issued Monday a draft Incidental Harassment Authorizations for seismic airgun blasting in the Atlantic Ocean, an extremely loud and dangerous process used to search for oil and gas deposits deep below the ocean’s surface. By issuing these draft Incidental Harassment Authorizations for public comment, Oceana said the federal government is giving another gift to the oil industry—moving forward with the permitting process that gives geophysical companies permission to harm or disturb marine life in the pursuit of offshore oil.

“According to the government’s own estimates, seismic airgun blasting in the Atlantic could injure as many as 138,000 marine mammals like dolphins and whales, while disturbing the vital activities of millions more.

“This threat is real and it’s coming fast,” said Nancy Pyne, campaign director at Oceana. “Coastal communities have the most to lose, but unfortunately their overwhelming opposition may be ignored by the Trump administration. The threats of seismic airgun blasting alone are bad enough, but it’s also the first step to offshore drilling, which could lead to the industrialization of coastal communities and the risk of another BP Deepwater Horizon-like disaster. The time to protect our coast is now.”

“In late April, President Trump signed an executive order aimed at expanding offshore drilling and exploration in U.S. waters. Specifically, the order calls for a review of the Five-Year Program (2017-2022) for oil and gas development on the Outer Continental Shelf , and directs the administration to fast-track the permitting process for seismic airgun blasting. Following that directive, the Trump administration re-initiated the permitting process for seismic airgun blasting in an area twice the size of California, stretching from Delaware to Florida, reversing a decision by the Obama administration to deny these permits.

“As of today, 125 East Coast municipalities, more than 1,200 elected officials, numerous commercial and recreational fishing interests, and an alliance representing more than 41,000 businesses and 500,000 fishing families have publicly opposed offshore drilling and/or seismic airgun blasting. An Oceana report in 2015 found that offshore oil and gas development in the Atlantic could jeopardize the nearly 1.4 million jobs and more than $95 billion in gross domestic product that rely on healthy ocean ecosystems, mainly through fishing, tourism and recreation.

“Seismic airguns create one of the loudest man made sounds in the ocean,” said Dr. Ingrid Biedron, marine scientist and campaign manager at Oceana. “Seismic airguns fire intense blasts of compressed air every 10 to 12 seconds, 24 hours a day, for weeks to months on end. The noise from these blasts is so loud that it can be heard up to 2,500 miles from the source, which is approximately the distance of a flight from New York City to Los Angeles.” — Oceana (Continue reading: Trump Administration One Step Closer to Approving Seismic Airgun Blasting.)

The Business of Biodiversity

GR: Biological conservation usually focuses on human benefits. Wild plants and animals only have value if they add to our wealth or convenience. This attitude might have been excusable a century ago when President Teddy Roosevelt initiated national conservation programs. Nature was so much greater than the deforestation, soil erosion, water pollution, and wildlife genocide that Roosevelt saw. Unfortunately, the homo-centric conservation Roosevelt and others instituted led to steady decline of life and Earth’s carrying capacity.

Too few people have realized that plants and animals have a right to exist independent of our needs. Accepting human equality with other species could have saved the Earth from the spreading pollution, devastating warming, and rapid species loss that we see today. Sadly, our species is controlled by its desires and fears and has never been able to forsee the consequences of our actions. Where is Klaatu? We’re running out of time.

The toco toucan is the largest species in the toucan family and inhabits many regions of South America. (Photo by Olaf Oliviero Riemer)

Down to Business

“The benefits of environmental conservation and restoration reach far and wide, and across all sectors. More businesses need to realize the positive effects biodiversity has on their bottom line—and more governments need to pass legislation that protects biodiversity.

An aerial shot shows the contrast between rain forest and deforested land in Brazil. (Photo courtesy of CIFOR)

“Visiting Brazil’s Atlantic forest last August—the second-most diverse ecosystem on the planet after the Amazon—I saw the impact of deforestation firsthand. In a habitat where 85 percent of the original forest has been cleared, a toucan stood out in the foliage due to its golden, oversized beak. This iconic bird is unusual not only because of its appearance, but also because it is well adapted to deforestation, preferring open land to dense jungle.

“Most plants and animals unfortunately do not have the same evolutionary advantage. The current rate of extinction across the planet is 1,000 times higher than the natural rate. The world is losing 150-200 species daily; in the time it takes you to read this, we will have lost one more.

“Conventional biodiversity arguments make the case for saving great beasts such as elephants and tigers because they inspire awe and contribute to healthy ecosystems. Biodiverse environments have better soil health, more stable climates, and greater resilience against natural disasters such as floods.

“But a growing body of scientific evidence and real-life examples points to yet another benefit: substantial economic value. In fact, biodiversity is critical to the sustainability of businesses around the world. If the biodiversity crisis continues unabated, for example, the food, commercial forestry, and ecotourism industries stand to lose a collective $338 billion a year.

“Biodiversity’s economic value starts at the dinner table. Fresh produce, in addition to being a vital part of our diet, yields $61 billion in annual sales. Without honeybees, this figure would be much lower. The hard-working pollinator is responsible for one of every three bites of we eat in the United States: We rely on honeybees to pollinate apples, oranges, almonds, and around a hundred other foods. But between 2015-16, 44 percent of honeybee colonies died. This raised prices for American-grown nuts, fruits, and vegetables. Our food supply shows that ecosystems are complex and interconnected; changes at one end have a cascade effect along the chain.” –Sofia Faruqi (More:  The Business of Biodiversity | Stanford Social Innovation Review.)