Disappearing Wildlife and Nature Conservation

GR: This is an urgent message that everyone should receive: We must act to stop the global deterioration and loss of forests, shrublands, grasslands, soil, and wildlife. Human activities–plowing the land, cutting the forests, grazing the grassland, warming the air, and exposing soil to wind and water erosion–are destroying our planetary life-sustaining ecosystems. Over the 40-year period to 2012, more than half the animals on Earth disappeared. Unless we make an immediate and powerful response, vegetation and soil losses will continue until they strip the planet’s surface bare. Without soil, much of the Earth will become as lifeless as the moon. Barren and silent but for whispering wind, pockets of weeds, clouds of wildfire smoke, and the distant cries of a few remaining animals.

Bessie Parker farm, Leon, Iowa. The erosion in these fields has reduced the value of the farm to the point where all but 40 acres have been taken over for taxes. Erosion has not stopped. Cattle grazing and sporadic hay mowing will continue to expose soil (photo: public domain, U. S. National Archives).

The source of the information on wildlife decline is the World Wildlife Fund: “Global biodiversity is declining at an alarming rate, putting the survival of other species and our own future at risk. The latest edition of WWF’s Living Planet Report brings home the enormity of the situation – and how we can start to put it right. The Living Planet Index reveals that global populations of fish, birds, mammals, amphibians and reptiles declined by 58 per cent between 1970 and 2012. We could witness a two-thirds decline in the half-century from 1970 to 2020 . . .”

Without soil, there will be no farms, freshwater will runoff to the sea, vegetation will disappear, and wildlife will die (photo © Kelly Sillaste / Getty Images / WWF).

Wildlife decline: Living Planet Report 2016 | WWF

Switch to Renewable Energy

Storm Coming (NASA)

GR–Ode to concerned scientists: They see the danger, they blow the horns and clang the bells, and they wait. But the ramparts remain empty. They turn to their family and friends, but dreamlike their voices are too soft and none respond.

“Fifteen thousand scientists have issued a dire warning to humanity about impending collapse but virtually no-one takes notice. Ultimately, our global systems, which are designed for perpetual growth, need to be fundamentally restructured to avoid the worst-case outcome.

“For a moment, the most important news in the entire world flashed across the media like a shooting star in the night sky. Then it was gone. In November, over fifteen thousand scientists from 184 countries issued a dire warning to humanity. Because of our overconsumption of the world’s resources, they declared, we are facing “widespread misery and catastrophic biodiversity loss.” They warned that time is running out: “Soon it will be too late to shift course away from our failing trajectory.”

“This is not the first such notice. Twenty-five years ago, in 1992, 1,700 scientists (including the majority of living Nobel laureates) sent a similarly worded warning to governmental leaders around the world. In ringing tones, they called for a recognition of the earth’s fragility and a new ethic arising from the realization that “we all have but one lifeboat.”

“This second warning contains a series of charts showing how utterly the world’s leaders ignored what they were told twenty-five years earlier. Whether it’s CO2 emissions, temperature change, ocean dead zones, freshwater resources, vertebrate species, or total forest cover, the grim charts virtually all point in the same dismal direction, indicating continued momentum toward doomsday. The chart for marine catch shows something even scarier: in 1996, the catch peaked at 130 million tonnes and in spite of massively increased industrial fishing, it’s been declining ever since—a harbinger of the kind of overshoot that unsustainable exploitation threatens across the board.” –Jeremy Lent (What Will It Really Take to Avoid Collapse?).

How Many of You Switched to Renewable Energy?

In recent posts, I described the warnings of impending disaster. I didn’t expect to have an impact, and I wasn’t wrong. As Jeremy Lint points out in the article above, the media avoidance of unappetizing topics is too complete. And of course, our leaders in power avoid the subject in their subservience to wealth. My first hint that good advice for avoiding collapse would be futile was the minimal response to my discovery of the simple and inexpensive means for everyone to switch their homes from fossil fuel energy to renewable energy. Like Pangloss, I’ve remained hopeful. But I read that book, and now I’ve turned to a more practical concern; the post-anthropocene survivors, the weeds, have absorbed my attention. Today’s weed is Shepherdspurse, a foreign but familiar little mustard that feeds butterflies and yields medicines for us humans.

When the Global Wildlife Decline Reaches Zero

Questions About Climate Change and Wildlife Decline

GR: The research and the various projections of how Earth is warming and how the warming will manifest in planetary events and conditions is based on studies of conditions recorded in sediments and fossils deposited during Earth history. Specialists have calibrated and tested the records in many ways and believe they are reliable. So I want to pose a question:

What do we do to prevent a climate cataclysm that threatens life on earth?

We can stop arguing over the cause of the current and forecast warming. It is important only in the way that understanding the cause might help us prevent the catastrophe. There’s some discussion of this question following my prediction of the year that life ends.

Animals & Plants Photography

The Global Wildlife Decline

We must also deal with a related issue. Records of wildlife numbers show that a global decline in large and small animals and plants is underway. The creatures that process fallen leaves, branches, and animals to create soil, the creatures that pollinate the plants that cover and protect the soil from erosion, and the animals that feed on the smaller creatures and prevent pockets of explosive population growth are all disappearing – rapidly. The records are based on thousands of studies conducted over decades and are generally accepted as reliable. Here’s the question:

What are we going to do to prevent an ecological disaster that follows the loss of stable soil and vegetation?

The answer to this question has more dimensions than the climate question. We have to look at species and species groups to see what is causing their decline. We should begin now, because the current direction is toward total disappearance of life on Earth.

It is customary for climate scientists to predict the consequences of global warming and place time scales on the changes. I haven’t seen any detailed studies where scientists projected animal declines to devise time scales for the changes. Here’s a simple scale based on the assumption that the future may be predicted from the past: It’s based on the work of a consortium of groups led by the World Wildlife Fund. The groups have traced changes in animal numbers since 1970. During that period, total numbers of fish, birds, mammals, amphibians, and reptiles declined 58%.

The End of Life on Earth By the Numbers

For my prediction, I’m using the average rate of decline from 1970 to 2012 to predict the year that all vertebrate animal life on earth is gone. The average annual decline the World Wildlife Fund Group observed is 1.38% per year (58% divided by 42 years). If the decline continues at 1.38% per year, numbers would fall by 11% to 69% [58+ (1.38*8)] in the eight years from 2012 to 2020. A simple justification for using the average decline is that animal populations go through cycles of increase and decrease. During the period 1970-2012, some populations probably increased while most declined. An average number (1.38% per year) should blend the increases and decreases.

If the average rate of decline holds steady at 1.38%, the total decline of vertebrates will reach 80% by 2028, 91% by 2036, and 100% sometime in 2042. Since it’s too fantastical to believe that all animals will be gone by 2042, we have to expect that the rate of decline must decrease. However, it is difficult to guess at what point it might stabilize.

Animal numbers will probably continue to fall for at least the next three years. So, by 2020, roughly only three out of the ten animals around us in 1970 will remain. The number will continue to fall, but probably at a slower rate.

Failure to answer either the climate or the wildlife question and pursue the solution will result in global disaster. Much that is beautiful, peaceful, and reliable will go away.

Answering the Climate Question

We’ve known for some time that 2-degree Celsius global warming would result in destructive storms, droughts, and sea-level rise. Below I’ve included part of a European Geosciences Union article from a couple of months ago that provides a bit more explanation of what the warming means for our future and our children’s future, and what we have to do to prevent the problems.

Removing CO2 from the air required to safeguard children’s future

“Reducing greenhouse-gas emissions is not enough to limit global warming to a level that wouldn’t risk young people’s future, according to a new study by a team of scientists who say we need negative emissions. Measures such as reforestation could accomplish much of the needed CO2 removal from the atmosphere, but continued high fossil fuel emissions would demand expensive technological solutions to extract CO2 and prevent dangerous warming. The study is published today in Earth System Dynamics, a journal of the European Geosciences Union.

“Continued high fossil fuel emissions would saddle young people with a massive, expensive cleanup problem and growing deleterious climate impacts, which should provide incentive and obligation for governments to alter energy policies without further delay,” says lead-author James Hansen, a professor at the Columbia University Earth Institute in the US, formerly at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies. The team estimates that today’s young people may have to spend up to 500 trillion euros on technologies to extract carbon dioxide from the air, if high emissions continue.

“In contrast, if rapid phase-down of fossil fuels starts soon, CO2 could be removed from the atmosphere at relatively low cost. Better agricultural and forestry practices, including reforestation and improving soils, would then be able to achieve most of the CO2 extraction needed to prevent global-warming’s most dangerous consequences.

A safe target

“Impacts of climate change include more frequent and severe heat waves, storms, floods and droughts, as well as sea-level rise, which could affect millions of people living in coastal areas. “Sea-level rise this century of say half a metre to a metre, which may be inevitable even if emissions decline, would have dire consequences; yet these are dwarfed by the humanitarian and economic disasters that would accompany sea-level rise of several metres,” the team writes in their study, which has been peer-reviewed.

“We show that a target of limiting global warming to no more than +2°C relative to pre-industrial levels is not sufficient, as +2°C would be warmer than the Eemian period, when sea level reached +6-9 metres relative to today,” says Hansen. The Eemian ended some 115,000 years ago and was a warm period in the Earth’s history between two glacial ages.

“The danger, according to the Earth System Dynamics study, is that a long-term global average temperature of +2°C – or even of +1.5°C, the other temperature limit discussed in the 2015 Paris Agreement – could spur ‘slow’ climate feedbacks. In particular, it could lead to partial melting of the ice sheets, which would result in a significant increase in sea-level rise as happened in the Eemian [see note].

“The Hansen-led team says that atmospheric CO2 should be reduced to less than 350 parts per million (ppm) from its present level of about 400 ppm. Global average temperature reached +1.3°C above pre-industrial levels in 2016 and will increase at least a few tenths of a degree more during the next few decades because of the delayed response to past increases in CO2 and other gases. Reduction of CO2 below 350 ppm will cause temperature to peak and slowly decrease to about +1°C later this century. This goal requires negative CO2 emissions, that is, extracting CO2 from the air, in addition to rapid phase-down of fossil fuel emissions.” –European Geosciences Union (EGU – News & Press – Removing CO2 from the air required to safeguard children’s future.)

Accounting for Individual Animals and Animal Welfare in the Anthropocene

GR: This article by Brandon Keim includes calls on people to apply the concept of animal welfare to wild animals. Applying animal welfare doesn’t mean that animal needs are more important than human needs. However, it does mean that we should not cause animals unnecessary pain or death and that we should treat animals as humanely as convenient. Go here for more on animal welfare and animal rights, the idea that animals have rights equalling ours.

Matt Reinbold (CC 2.0)

“When land is converted to human use, the environmental impacts are typically measured in terms of pollution and populations and species. Unless they’re endangered, the fate of individual animals doesn’t enter the discussion. They’re practically invisible. Given the vast scale of human development and the care given to domestic animal welfare, it’s a big inconsistency.

“Development’s consequences are not limited “to impacts on the environment and biodiversity,” says Hugh Finn, an environmental law professor at Australia’s Curtin University. “The concept of harm should include harm caused to the welfare of individual wild animals.” Writing in the journal Wildlife Research, Finn and Nahiid Thomas, a wildlife pathologist at Murdoch University, call for animal welfare to be included in environmental impact statements.

 

“The welfare of wild animals, however, is still a niche issue, though not for the animals themselves. As Finn and Thomas point out, animals are frequently killed by machinery, earth-moving and vegetation-clearing. Those who survive often find themselves without homes, competing in a radically transformed landscape that’s been stripped of food and laid open to invasion. They experience physical pain and psychological distress. In the Australian states of Queensland and New South Wales alone, Finn and Thomas estimate that converting habitat to human use kills 50 million mammals, birds and reptiles each year. Globally those numbers hit the billions.

“By the standards applied to domestic animals, these are clearly welfare issues, and ignoring that “is an act of wilful blindness,” write Finn and Thomas. They urge governmental bodies “to require decision-makers to take animal welfare into account when assessing land clearing applications.” –Brandon Keim (Continue reading: Accounting for individual animals in the Anthropocene | Anthropocene.)