Background for World Conservation Day

Nature Conservation Background

World Conservation Day is just around the corner. Here’s a series of background reports on global carrying capacity and human impact from the Millennium Alliance for Humanity and the Biosphere (MAHB). Stock your neurons with useful information. I haven’t finished reading these reports, but the bits I’ve scanned indicate they are important contributions. My pieces on conservation here and here cover some of the ideas. My ideas are less focused on humanity than on the plants and animals of the natural world, but all approaches to conservation have merit. We need them all now.

Cherokee National Forest, Tennessee (Country Living)

More articles from MAHB.


Earth’s Sixth Mass Extinction Event Under Way

GR: Let’s say we get control of our greenhouse gas emissions and hold global warming to two-degrees. There will be deep long-lasting droughts, coastal flooding, mass migrations, and many deaths due to heatwaves, floods, and fires. Nevertheless, humanity will survive. Can we count this as our greatest triumph? Not really. Most of Earth’s beautiful forests, natural grasslands, and countless wild animals and plants will not survive. Here are two articles that lay out some of the details of the greatest human failure of all; the failure to care for and protect our planet’s precious biological heritage.

Damian Carrington– A “biological annihilation” of wildlife in recent decades means a sixth mass extinction in Earth’s history is under way and is more severe than previously feared, according to research. [The article includes a “video report” and example maps of the dwindling range of the lion.]

Patrick Bentley male lion

“Scientists analysed both common and rare species and found billions of regional or local populations have been lost. They blame human overpopulation and overconsumption for the crisis and warn that it threatens the survival of human civilisation, with just a short window of time in which to act.

“The study, published in the peer-reviewed journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, eschews the normally sober tone of scientific papers and calls the massive loss of wildlife a “biological annihilation” that represents a “frightening assault on the foundations of human civilisation”.

“Prof Gerardo Ceballos, at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, who led the work, said: “The situation has become so bad it would not be ethical not to use strong language.”

“Previous studies have shown species are becoming extinct at a significantly faster rate than for millions of years before, but even so extinctions remain relatively rare giving the impression of a gradual loss of biodiversity. The new work instead takes a broader view, assessing many common species which are losing populations all over the world as their ranges shrink, but remain present elsewhere.The scientists found that a third of the thousands of species losing populations are not currently considered endangered and that up to 50% of all individual animals have been lost in recent decades. Detailed data is available for land mammals, and almost half of these have lost 80% of their range in the last century.

“The scientists found billions of populations of mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians have been lost all over the planet, leading them to say a sixth mass extinction has already progressed further than was thought.Billions of animals have been lost as their habitats have become smaller with each passing year.The scientists conclude: “The resulting biological annihilation obviously will have serious ecological, economic and social consequences. Humanity will eventually pay a very high price for the decimation of the only assemblage of life that we know of in the universe.” (Source: Earth’s sixth mass extinction event under way, scientists warn | Environment | The Guardian)


You Don’t Need a Scientist to Know What’s Causing the Sixth Mass Extinction

Paul R. Ehrlich– It’s simple. It’s us. The more people there are, the more habitats we destroy. Human civilisation can only survive if the population begins to shrink

A peacock butterfly rests on a thistle. ‘Cropland is generally not rich in food plants suitable for the caterpillars of the 15,000 butterfly species with which we share the planet.’ Photograph: Silas Stein/AFP/Getty Images

“One should not need to be a scientist to know that human population growth and the accompanying increase in human consumption are the root cause of the sixth mass extinction we’re currently seeing. All you need to know is that every living being has evolved to have a set of habitat requirements.

“An organism can’t live where the temperature is too hot or too cold. If it lives in water, it requires not only an appropriate temperature range, but also appropriate salinity, acidity and other chemical characteristics. If it is a butterfly, it must have access to plants suitable for its caterpillars to eat. A lion requires plant-eaters to catch and devour. A tree needs a certain amount of sunlight and access to soil nutrients and water. A falciparum malaria parasite can’t survive and reproduce without Anopheles mosquitos in its habitat and a human bloodstream to infest.

“The human population has grown so large that roughly 40% of the Earth’s land surface is now farmed to feed people – and none too well at that. Largely due to persistent problems with distribution, almost 800 million people go to bed hungry, and between one and two billion suffer from malnutrition. As a consequence of its booming population, Homo sapiens has taken much of the most fertile land to grow plants for its own consumption. But guess what? That cropland is generally not rich in food plants suitable for the caterpillars of the 15,000 butterfly species with which we share the planet. Few butterflies require the wheat, corn or rice on which humans largely depend. From the viewpoint of most of the Earth’s wildlife, farming can be viewed as “habitat destruction”. And, unsurprisingly, few species of wildlife have evolved to live on highways, or in strip malls, office buildings, kitchens or sewers – unless you count Norway rats, house mice, European starlings and German roaches. Virtually everything humanity constructs provides an example of habitat destruction.” (

We’ll Soon Be Using More Than Earth Can Provide: How Myopic Humanity Committed Suicide  

Soybean farm in Brazil.

GR: Each year, the Global Footprint Network calculates the date at which we humans have used as much biomass as the Earth/Sun system produces in a year. In other words, it’s the date after which we live by overdrawing our resource bank account. This year its August 2.

There is much that we need to do. Here’s a sample.

“Four days after President Trump announced the U.S. would withdraw from the Paris climate agreement, the Global Footprint Network (GFN) reported that Earth Overshoot Day 2017 will fall on Aug. 2. Most Americans likely have no idea what that means.

“The basic point is quite simple: From Jan. 1 to Aug. 2, the world’s 7.5 billion people will have used as much of Earth’s biological resources—or biocapacity—as the planet can regenerate in a year. During the remaining five months of 2017, our human consumption will be drawing down Earth’s reserves of fresh water, fertile soils, forests and fisheries, and depleting its ability to regenerate these resources as well as sequester excess carbon released into the atmosphere.

Stated slightly differently, humans are depleting living Earth’s capacity to support life.

“The GFN methodology can also generate an ecological footprint for individual cities, states and nations, based on the burden each generates relative to its local biocapacity. It can also compare a personal footprint generated by a distinctive lifestyle to both national and global averages.

“The U.S. has a relatively abundant per capita biocapacity compared to most other nations. We are also one of the world’s highest per capita consumers. Consequently, the net outcome is a total national biocapacity deficit second only to that of China—a country with a population roughly four times ours.

“Knowing that, collectively, the world is consuming far more than the planet can sustain, how do we bring ourselves into balance with Earth’s capacities? GFN outlines four critical global priorities:” –David Korten (Continue: We’ll Soon Be Using More Than Earth Can Provide.)

The Economics of 7.5 Billion People On One Planet

GR: Joe Bish of the Population Media Center directed my attention to this story published last week. It is a clear, short exposition of the population problem that I highly recommend. Note that the best solution to overpopulation is freedom, the freedom to choose. Are women just maids and baby producers or are they individuals with rights of their own?

“The most disheartening story in today’s Seattle Times is about the 38 million pieces of trash, almost all plastic, strewn on remote and uninhabited Henderson Island in the Pacific Ocean. When some future alien starship discovers post-apocalyptic Earth, their first impression will be, “What a bunch of slobs once lived here.”

“This story can be told in many ways: A runaway consumer culture, globalization and the 10,000-mile supply chain, more affluence even in developing nations, environmental catastrophe from polluting the oceans. But don’t forget the latest estimate of the planet’s population: 7.5 billion. At the turn of the 19th century, it was only 1 billion. It took more than another century to add another billion. Since then, the billions have been piling on with astonishing speed. The world held “only” a little more than 6 billion in 2000.

“Virtually every major problem, from climate change and wars to mass migrations and resource scarcity has its root in too many people. Economics are not immune. The lowered prospects of the politically potent white working class, for example, have much to do with millions overseas who can do the same jobs for a fraction of the cost. When you hear about theories of “secular stagnation” and the like, think 7.5 billion.

“The enormous and growing costs of human-caused climate change are juiced by those 7.5 billion. Globalization has created large middle classes in nations such as China and India — and its members want the sprawly car-dependent “American lifestyle” and the rights to their share of the atmosphere to heat in order to get it. The greatest deprivation, and lost economic potential, happens in countries with the biggest population overshoot.” –Jon Talton (Continue reading:  The economics of 7.5 billion people on one planet | The Seattle Times)/