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.)

Here’s Who’s Getting Paid to Destroy the Endangered Species Act (ESA)

GR: The 1973 U. S. Endangered Species Act (ESA) should have been a first step on the path to effective nature conservation. If the corporatists hadn’t been in charge of our country, the Act would have formed the core of a true nature conservation program. Instead, the Act has always been too subject to political influence to be very effective. It only protects a small percentage of truly endangered species.

The leaders in the impending attack on the ESA aren’t the only members of congress receiving money from the extractive industries; they’re just the ones that were chosen to lead the attack. However, they top the list of nature’s enemies. And by extension, they are the enemies of us all. Here’s a link for ideas on removing them from positions of power. 

Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY.), Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) and Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT) have received hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from the oil and gas industries.

“A small yet vocal group of congressmen are gearing up this summer to dismantle the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Campaign finance records of these lawmakers reveal that they have all taken significant money from extractive industries frustrated by the law’s protection of critical habitat for endangered species.

“The ESA has proven to be a powerful, effective conservation safeguard. More than 99 percent of species that have been designated for federal protection continue to exist in the wild today, including the bald eagle, grizzly bear, the leatherback sea turtle and the Florida manatee.

“But the work of the ESA has only grown more urgent as many scientists agree that the planet is either on the cusp of or already experiencing a sixth mass wave of extinction. A study last week by Stanford scientists found that a significant number of plant and wildlife populations are growing dangerously thin.

Earthjustice is working with coalition partners to oppose efforts on Capitol Hill to weaken protections for endangered species. The public can also make a difference in this fight—despite the big money from fossil fuel industries funding opponents of the ESA—by contacting their Congressional offices (use this call-in tool to reach your Senator).

The Anti-ESA Effort and the Money Behind It

“The assault on the ESA comes in the form of dozens of legislative proposals and amendments tacked onto spending bills. One bill that’s expected to be introduced in a matter of weeks is the handiwork of Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY), chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.” –Rebecca Bowe (Continue: Here’s Who’s Getting Paid to Destroy the Endangered Species Act.)

Why delisting of grizzly bears is premature | The Extinction Chronicles

GR: As the world’s wildlife species fade out of existence, government agencies responsible for their protection push them back to allow tourists to cover the land and for-profit companies to fill their place with domestic livestock. The political pressure on heads of government agencies comes from companies that give money to our elected representatives. And of course, almost all of our representatives are there dancing up and down with their little hands stretched out like beggars in a Calcutta alley. Here’s an excellent article from George Wuerthner that exposes the government lies. (Link to more about grizzlies)

Yellowstone Grizzlies (Daisy Gilardini -Getty Images)

“The Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has decided to delist the Yellowstone grizzly bears, removing them from the protection afforded by the Endangered Species Act (ESA). And state wildlife agencies in Wyoming and Montana are anxious to start sport hunting the bears.

“If you follow environmental politics, it is very clear why industries like the oil and gas industry, livestock industry and timber industry and the politicians they elect to represent their interests are anxious to see the bear delisted. Without ESA listing, environmentally destructive practices will have fewer restrictions, hence greater profits at the expense of the bear and its habitat.

“Delisting is opposed by a number of environmental groups, including Center for Biodiversity, Western Watersheds, WildEarth Guardians, Alliance for Wild Rockies, Humane Society, as well as more than 100 tribal people. Conspicuously absent from the list of organizations opposing delisting is the Greater Yellowstone Coalition.

“Proponents of delisting, including the FWS, argue that with as many as 700 grizzlies in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, thus ensuring the bears are now safe from extinction. Seven hundred bears may sound like a big number. But this figure lacks context.

“Consider that the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem is nearly 28 million acres in total area. That is nearly the same acreage as the state of New York. Now ask yourself if 700 bears spread over an area the size of New York sounds like a lot of bears?

“Many population ecologists believe 700 bears is far too small a number of animals to ensure long-term population viability. Rather than hundreds, we need several thousand bears.

“Keep in mind that the Yellowstone Grizzlies went through a genetic bottleneck when their population was reduced to an estimated 136 animals. Indeed, the Yellowstone grizzlies have the lowest genetic diversity of any bear population.

“This lack of diversity is exacerbated because dominant male grizzlies tend to breed with multiple female partners, further reducing the genetic diversity in the population.

“Add to this biological limitation is the changing food structure for the bear. Major food resources from elk to whitebark pine to spawning trout in Yellowstone have all declined, challenging bears to find new food resources.

“Plus, state wildlife management agencies are generally hostile to predators, seeing them hindering production of elk, deer, moose, and other animals desired by hunters.

“Without the protection of the ESA, and the loosening of restrictions on the killing of bears, more grizzlies will be killed for livestock depredations, as well as potentially by trophy hunters.

“Most predator biologists recognize that killing dominant animals, whether it is bears, wolves or cougars disrupts the social ecology of these animals, leading to more livestock depredation.

“In ecology, there is the “precautionary principle” which admonishes all of us to err on the side of caution. Instead of using the minimum estimates of what constitutes a “recovered” population, we should be careful and not rush to eliminate protections for an animal whose biological potential is low and is slow to recover from any declines.” –George Wuerthner (Why delisting of grizzly bears is premature | The Extinction Chronicles)

George Wuerthner is an ecologist who has authored 38 books, including “Wildfire: A Century of Failed Forest Policy.” He divides his time between Bend, Oregon, and Livingston, Montana.