Scientists Warn of Global Dangers
“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.”
“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.”
We know and love weeds for their ability to spread to and cover bare soil exposed by fires and floods, but we hate them when their natural abilities spread them into crops and gardens. In nature, weeds are like band-aids on skinned knees, protecting soil from erosion by wind and water. This is good, and should be good enough for us to be selective (not stereotyping) in our attitude toward weeds. But it isn’t. The reason for our persistent hatred is that weeds can compete with and replace crop and garden plants, they can replace native vegetation, and they can block vision and even travel. And, as you will see in the first article below, some weeds have toxic chemicals for defense and aggression and can inflict serious injury to grazers or innocent passersby.
People used to use the techniques of organic gardening to prevent and eradicate weeds. However, in the middle of the last century, science gave us herbicides, chemicals that interfere with weed growth and reproduction. What a pleasure to wave our spray wand over weeds and watch them shrivel and die. For decades, agricultural scientists have improved herbicides. They have even paired them with genetically modified crop plants that aren’t hurt by the magic spray that kills invading weeds.
Herbicides disrupt nature and cause cancer in humans. The chemical industry claims that reduced cost of food production justifies herbicide use. However, herbicides are growing stronger and farmers are applying them more heavily. This increases the harm to nature and human health.
Weeds are not defenseless against herbicides. Most of them produce seeds for the next generation in a single year, and this allows natural selection of herbicide-resistant plants within a few years. As described in the second article below, weed resistance is exceeding the power of the herbicides. As the gap between herbicide efficacy and weed resistance grows, farmers will return to the old organic gardening techniques. Though this will be less harmful to nature and people, it will increase the cost of farmed produce. Consequently, we may have to reduce meat production, a major consumer of farm crops, and, eventually, we will have to reduce human population size.
The articles below include recent discussions of weed problems.
In 1997, my wife and I purchased a small farm beside the Agua Fria River. The farm includes a section of the river, three large ponds, and many trees, shrubs, grasses, and weeds. Since the property crosses the Agua Fria River, we decided to name the place Coldwater Farm.
Coldwater Farm is in a rural area where we get frequent glimpses of wildlife that urban dwellers never see. In early evenings when the moon is full, we often see raccoons, skunks, javelina, rabbits, and foxes foraging for the sunflower seeds we scatter for the birds. Under the last full moon, the Pink Moon of spring, a young skunk and a young raccoon searched for seeds side by side, the tips of their fur occasionally brushing seemingly unnoticed. In the spring and through the summer and fall, deer spend their days and sometimes their nights at one of our ponds and in our yard. They and the other animals we see brighten our lives. And they evoke our sympathy.
The Central Arizona Land Trust (CALT) has accepted responsibility for establishing and monitoring a Conservation Easement for Coldwater Farm. The easement will protect wildlife habitat by preventing future development. Though we can’t add any buildings or damage the wildlife habitat, we can continue to live on the farm and we can leave it to our children. Neither our children nor any future owners of the farm can build on the land or damage the habitat. CALT has launched a fundraising campaign to cover the costs of surveys, appraisals, and a permanent trust fund to pay for annual monitoring.
After we moved to the farm, we began listing wildlife species that we saw. Our bird list has 129 species and includes the Yellow-billed Cuckoo and the Southwest Willow Flycatcher, both on the U. S. Endangered Species list. We have summarized our observations on the farm and its surroundings in four books:
If you’ve been watching the news, you know Earth is in the early stages of the Sixth Mass Extinction of wild plants and animals. Some scientists warn that the continued loss of species coupled with global warming, droughts, and large wildfires will remove much of the vegetation that protects the soil from wind and water erosion. Soil is our most fundamental biological resource. It anchors and feeds the roots of plants, and it absorbs and stores rain and snow melt. Without soil, even small rains cause floods. Without soil, Earth would be as barren as the Moon.
We know that our house, sheds, and pastures replaced habitat that wild animals could use. As we have learned the importance of wild plants and animals for healthy ecosystems, we have realized that the land was not ours to use without regard for the consequences for wildlife. Though we cannot replace the lost habitat, we can protect what remains.
The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) reports that since 1970, the average size of all plant and animal populations on Earth has fallen by over 50%. WWF predicts that by 2100, the decline will reach 90%. As populations fall, soil becomes more vulnerable and extinctions climb. All those beautiful, innocent creatures that are ours to see by the wonder of millions of years of genetic trial and error, gone forever. Edward O. Wilson and other naturalists believe to stop the losses we must set aside one-half of Earth’s land and seas exclusively for wildlife. Could we do that?
We could, but we need a united global effort.
Conservation easements are important in the global effort to preserve wildlife. Twenty-seven percent of the United States is already federal protected land—forests, multiple-use lands, parks, monuments, and wilderness. If we make small landuse adjustments to restrict livestock grazing and recreation, we will be half way to the level of conservation needed for wildlife populations to halt their decline and begin to increase. Simple arithmetic shows that if the people of the United States and other countries redirected their taxes to conservation, we could buy back the land needed to reach 50% within a few years. If, during the same period, we incentivized renewable energy and phased out fossil fuels, we could assure that wildlife would survive as human civilization continued to advance. My wife and I want to do our part. Though tiny compared to the global need, our conservation easement is a symbol. It is a step in the right direction. We hope that many other landowners will be inspired to use conservation easements to help protect their land.
GR: In this study, the investigators analyzed global biomass, a common measure of animal and plant abundance, to estimate changes in the abundance of organisms. They found that humans and livestock account for 96% of all vertebrates on Earth. Previous global estimates have used numbers, not biomass, to estimate abundance. The results agree, but the new study was able to extend estimates farther back in history. Both approaches conclude that more than half of all animals have been lost since 1970. The investigators in the new study found that since human civilisation arose, 83% of wild mammals have disappeared.
The Guardian added excellent graphics to illustrate the research findings. Highly recommended!
“Humankind is revealed as simultaneously insignificant and utterly dominant in the grand scheme of life on Earth by a groundbreaking new assessment of all life on the planet.
“The world’s 7.6 billion people represent just 0.01% of all living things, according to the study. Yet since the dawn of civilisation, humanity has caused the loss of 83% of all wild mammals and half of plants, while livestock kept by humans abounds.
“The new work is the first comprehensive estimate of the weight of every class of living creature and overturns some long-held assumptions. Bacteria are indeed a major life form – 13% of everything – but plants overshadow everything, representing 82% of all living matter. All other creatures, from insects to fungi, to fish and animals, make up just 5% of the world’s biomass.
“Another surprise is that the teeming life revealed in the oceans by the recent BBC television series Blue Planet II turns out to represent just 1% of all biomass. The vast majority of life is land-based and a large chunk – an eighth – is bacteria buried deep below the surface.
“I was shocked to find there wasn’t already a comprehensive, holistic estimate of all the different components of biomass,” said Prof Ron Milo, at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel, who led the work, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
“I would hope this gives people a perspective on the very dominant role that humanity now plays on Earth,” he said, adding that he now chooses to eat less meat due to the huge environmental impact of livestock” –Damian Carrington, The Guardian.
GR: Most of us take for granted that national land management agencies work to protect wildlife refuges and other public lands. However, at every turn, for instance livestock grazing in wilderness areas, we find that destructive commercial enterprises are using the land. In a new report, the Center for Biological Diversity reveals pesticides are being used in national wildlife refuges.
“WASHINGTON— America’s national wildlife refuges are being doused with hundreds of thousands of pounds of dangerous agricultural pesticides every year, according to a first-of-its-kind analysis by the Center for Biological Diversity.
“The Center report, No Refuge, reveals that an estimated 490,000 pounds of pesticides were dumped on commodity crops like corn, soybeans and sorghum grown in national wildlife refuges in 2016, the most recent year for which data are available. The analysis was conducted with records obtained by the Center under the Freedom of Information Act.
“These refuges are supposed to be a safe haven for wildlife, but they’re becoming a dumping ground for poisonous pesticides,” said Hannah Connor, a senior attorney at the Center who authored the analysis. “Americans assume these public lands are protected and I think most people would be appalled that so many pesticides are being used to serve private, intensive agricultural operations.”
“The pesticides include the highly toxic herbicides dicamba and 2,4-D, which threaten the endangered species and migrating birds that wildlife refuges were created to protect. Refuge pesticide use in 2016 was consistent with pesticide applications on refuges over the previous two years, the Center analysis showed.
“America’s 562 national wildlife refuges include forests, wetlands and waterways vital to thousands of species, including more than 280 protected under the Endangered Species Act.
“Yet intensive commercial farming has become increasingly common on refuge lands, triggering escalating use of highly toxic pesticides that threaten the long-term health of these sensitive habitats and the wildlife that depend on them.
“In 2016 more than 270,000 acres of refuge land were sprayed with pesticides for agricultural purposes. The five national wildlife refuge complexes most reliant on pesticides for agricultural purposes in 2016 were:
Additional findings from the report:
“These pesticides are profoundly dangerous for plants and animals and have no place being used on such a staggering scale in our wildlife refuges,” Connor said. “The Interior Department needs to put an end to this outrage and return to its mission of protecting imperiled wildlife, not row crops.”
Source: Hannah Connor, (202) 681-1676, email@example.com. Analysis: 490,000 Pounds of Toxic Pesticides Sprayed on National Wildlife Refuges
My weed book is in print. It focuses on the weeds in Dewey-Humboldt, a small town in central Arizona. There are 40 families, 163 genera, and 214 species of weeds present in Dewey-Humboldt now, or expected soon. The book includes descriptions and illustrations of 149 species. Buy from Amazon and most other bookstores. You may also down a free PDF copy.
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.
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 . . .”
Wildlife decline: Living Planet Report 2016 | WWF
GR: In this article, E. O. Wilson gives numerical estimates of the relationship between the protected area of the Earth’s surface and the number of wildlife species saved. Wilson’s estimates are probably very conservative. They probably do not include predicted impacts of global warming.
We have to respond. One thing we can all do is insure that Progressives sweep the upcoming elections. We need them to guide the U. S. and other countries to take action for nature conservation of the drastic intensity needed to protect nature and insure that human civilization can continue to advance.
“DURING the summer of 1940, I was an 11-year-old living with my family in a low-income apartment in Washington, D.C. We were within easy walking distance of the National Zoo and an adjacent strip of woodland in Rock Creek Park. I lived most of my days there, visiting exotic animals and collecting butterflies and other insects with a net that I had fashioned from a broom handle, coat hanger and cheesecloth. I read nature books, field guides and past volumes of National Geographic. I had already conceived then of a world of life awaiting me, bottomless in variety.
“Seventy-six years later, I have kept that dream. As a teacher and scientist I have tried to share it. The metaphor I offer for biological diversity is the magic well: The more you draw, the more there is to draw.
“But today the dream is at risk. Civilization is at last turning green, albeit only pale green. Our attention remains focused on the physical environment — on pollution, the shortage of fresh water, the shrinkage of arable land and, of course, the great, wrathful demon that threatens all our lives, human-forced climate change. But Earth’s living environment, including all its species and all the ecosystems they compose, has continued to receive relatively little attention. This is a huge strategic mistake. If we save the living environment of Earth, we will also save the physical, nonliving environment, because each depends on the other. But if we work to save only the physical environment, as we seem bent on doing, we will lose them both.
“So, what exactly is the current condition of the living environment, in particular its biological diversity and stability? How are we handling this critical element of Earth’s sustainability?
“With data on the best known vertebrate species, and a lot of additional information from fossil studies and genetics, we can put the fraction of species disappearing each year at upward of a 1,000 times the rate that existed before the coming of humans.
“Most of this loss is occurring in tropical countries, and especially tropical forests on islands. But to bring it home to the United States, consider that from 1895 to 2006, 57 species and distinct geographic races of freshwater fishes were driven to extinction, which is 10 percent of the total previously alive; hence the rate of extinction was just under 900 times that which existed before the coming of humans.” — E. O. Wilson, New York Times.
GR: Visit the Times article to see the chart showing the numerical relationship between land preserved and species saved.
GR: Today is National Weed Appreciation Day. Yay weeds!
The following is from the National Day Calendar. The weeds mentioned are present in D-H and everywhere else.
“Did you know that some weeds are beneficial to us and our ecosystem? National Weed Appreciation Day is observed on March 28 of each year, and it is a good day to learn more about weeds and their benefits.
“Humans have used weeds for food and as herbs for much of recorded history. Some are edible and nutritious while other weeds have medicinal value.
“Do you remember as a small child the fun you had with dandelions? Well, these bright yellow flowers serve a purpose. Dandelions are a food source for insects and some birds. Humans eat young dandelion leaves and enjoy tea and wine made from the leaves and flower. The Native Americans used dandelions to treat certain ailments. Nutritionally, dandelions contain a source of vitamin A and C, calcium, iron and fiber.
“There are also other edible and medicinal weeds, some of which include: Yellow Dock/Burdock: The taproot of young burdock plants can be harvested and eaten as a root vegetable. Immature flower stalks may also be harvested in late spring before flowers appear. The flavor of the young stalk resembles that of an artichoke. It is a good source of dietary fiber and certain minerals, including calcium and potassium. It is also used as a medicinal herb.
“Lamb’s Quarter: (also known as goosefoot) The leaves of lamb’s quarter are excellent added to lettuce salads or cooked and used as a replacement for spinach. Lamb’s quarter seeds are also edible. They are a good source of protein and vitamin A.
“Amaranth: (also known as pigweed) Amaranth species are cultivated and consumed as a leaf vegetable in many parts of the world. The leaves can be cooked, and its seeds can be harvested and cooked the same as quinoa. The root of mature amaranth is a popular vegetable. It is white and usually cooked with tomatoes or tamarind gravy. It has a milky taste and is alkaline. It is high in vitamins and minerals, including vitamins A, K, B6, calcium and iron, and the seeds are a good source of protein.
“Purslane: It may be eaten as a leaf vegetable, but is considered a weed in the United States. It has a slightly sour and salty taste. The stems, leaves and flower buds are all edible. Purslane may be used fresh as a salad, stir-fried or cooked as spinach is, and because of its sticky quality, it also is suitable for soups and stews. It is an excellent source of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants and is high in omega-3 fatty acids. Purslane can be found growing in all 50 states.” Source: NATIONAL WEED APPRECIATION DAY – March 28 | National Day Calendar
Eat your lawn on National Weed Appreciation Day
GR: Taking a longer view of this subject, the demise of Phoenix and its satellite towns might be good for the land and for people because it will give natural systems an opportunity to recover. Recovery might not occur, however, because of the intensity of our impacts. The vegetation preceding Anthem, for instance, was hardly “virgin” when the bulldozers came. Intense livestock grazing had gone on for decades. Invasive fuelweeds from Eurasia are well established in the desert and were already at work replacing native plants when Anthem was just a gleam in a developer’s eye.