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.”
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.
Permanent Protection with a Conservation Easement
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:
- Arizona Wildlife Notebook
- Birds of Dewey-Humboldt, Arizona
- Butterflies of Dewey-Humboldt, Arizona
- Weeds of Dewey-Humboldt, Arizona
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: 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: 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: 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.
“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.)
GR: While we’re on the subject, here’s more evidence that deforestation is not stopping anytime soon. The research reported below found that 69% of deforestation came from small-scale projects.
“The clear-cutting of giant swathes from the globe’s tropical forests has long been understood to be a major force behind global warming, but new research finds that smaller-scale forest loss—from minor logging and fires—is an even more powerful driver of climate change.
“On Thursday, scientists at the Woods Hole Research Center and Boston University published a study in the journal Science that says the planet’s tropical forests are releasing more carbon dioxide than they can store, mostly due to “fine scale” degradation and disturbance that previous studies haven’t captured.
“The finding means tropical forests may not act as carbon “sinks” unless both deforestation writ large and this more subtle degradation is stopped or slowed.
“The researchers looked at tropical forests across Asia, Africa and Latin America using a trio of tools—remote sensing, field observations and satellite imagery—that gave them a more comprehensive and detailed picture over a period of eleven years, from 2003 to 2014.
“This approach allowed them to measure not just large-scale deforestation, largely from agriculture, but smaller-scale degradation and disturbances that have, until now, been especially difficult to gauge.
“Collectively, these fine-scale losses have been very difficult to quantify,” said Wayne Walker, an associate scientist at Woods Hole and one of the report’s authors. “While they don’t seem like much in any given place, when you add them up across an areas as big as the tropics, they can be huge.” –Georgina Gustin (Death by 1,000 Cuts: Why the Forest Carbon Sink Is Disappearing | InsideClimate News).
GR: With the chemical industry in control of Congress and government regulators, every plant and animal of every country on Earth is in danger. Toxic chemicals added to the land, air, and water cause death, disease, and disruption of natural ecosystems. They poison the insects and spread through the food chain weakening and killing wildlife. As biodiversity declines, natural flood control and soil protection is lost and air and water filtering declines. The result is a great loss productivity and ever-increasing toxicity of the environment.
BLYTHEVILLE, ARK. — “Clay Mayes slams on the brakes of his Chevy Silverado and jumps out with the engine running, yelling at a dogwood by the side of the dirt road as if it had said something insulting.
“Its leaves curl downward and in on themselves like tiny, broken umbrellas. It’s the telltale mark of inadvertent exposure to a controversial herbicide called dicamba.
“This is crazy. Crazy!” shouts Mayes, a farm manager, gesticulating toward the shriveled canopy off Highway 61. “I just think if this keeps going on . . .”
“Everything’ll be dead,” says Brian Smith, his passenger.
“The damage here in northeast Arkansas and across the Midwest — sickly soybeans, trees and other crops — has become emblematic of a deepening crisis in American agriculture.
“Farmers are locked in an arms race between ever-stronger weeds and ever-stronger weed killers.
“The dicamba system, approved for use for the first time this spring, was supposed to break the cycle and guarantee weed control in soybeans and cotton. The herbicide — used in combination with a genetically modified dicamba-resistant soybean — promises better control of unwanted plants such as pigweed, which has become resistant to common weed killers.
“The problem, farmers and weed scientists say, is that dicamba has drifted from the fields where it was sprayed, damaging millions of acres of unprotected soybeans and other crops in what some are calling a man-made disaster. Critics say that the herbicide was approved by federal officials without enough data, particularly on the critical question of whether it could drift off target.
“Government officials and manufacturers Monsanto and BASF deny the charge, saying the system worked as Congress designed it.” –Caitlin Dewey (Continue: Weed killer designed to save farms is devastating them).
Thanks to Bob Vella the Secular Jurist for finding this story.
Pesticides Poison Children of All Species
GR: The article below focuses on human children. Many of us would like to focus on wildlife as well. All young creatures are especially sensitive to pesticide poisons. The massive decline in numbers of wild animals is our fault. We need to teach or remind children, parents, teachers, and schools that our wild neighbors need our protection. Everyone is aware of the plight of the bees and Monarch butterflies. However, many other species also suffer from the toxic materials we spread across the land. Without focused effort on wildlife and nature conservation, silence will spread across the Earth like the Nothing in the Neverending Story. Let’s ban pesticides and then move on to eliminating our other destructive impacts too. Neighborhood schools are a great place to start.
“School policies must protect children from pesticides by adopting organic land and building management policies and serving organic food in cafeterias. At the start of the school year, it is critical for school administrators to make sure that students and teachers are learning and teaching in an environment where no hazardous pesticides are used in the school’s buildings or on playing fields. It is also essential that children have access to organic food in food programs and manage school gardens organically.
Send a letter to your local officials urging them to tell school districts to adopt organic management and serve organic food to students.
“In addition, there are other things you can do:
“Whether a parent, teacher, student, school administrator, landscaper or community advocate, there are steps that should be taken to make sure the school environment is a safe from toxic chemicals, as the new school year begins.
For Parents and Teachers
“Because children face unique hazards from pesticide exposure due to their smaller size and developing organ systems, using toxic pesticides to get control insects, germs, and weeds can harm students much more than it helps. The good news is that these poisons are unnecessary, given the availability of practices and green materials that do not poison people or the environment.
“Studies show children’s developing organs create “early windows of great vulnerability” during which exposure to pesticides can cause great damage. This is supported by the findings of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), which concluded, “Children encounter pesticides daily and have unique susceptibilities to their potential toxicity.” You can help to eliminate children’s exposure to toxic chemicals by urging school administrators to implement organic management practices that use cultural, mechanical, and biological management strategies, and, as a last resort, defined least-toxic pesticides. See Beyond Pesticides ManageSafeTM database for managing all insects and weeds without toxic pesticides.” –Beyond Pesticides (Continue reading: Gmail – Action of the Week: Protect kids from pesticides as they go back to school.)