Monday, July 25, 2016

Do We Care; Is Nature Truly Agnostic?

The world is roiling and seething. Violence is everywhere. Global warming is wreaking havoc. Growing populations in resource-impaired lands, natural forests, grasslands and jungles leveled for agricultural/mining and other resource extraction often with no or limited ecological concerns, uncontrolled tourism and general toxic pollutants released globally are the signature occurrences of our times. And perhaps, what makes this so much worse, is the notion of individual powerlessness… the notion of “I’m just one person, what can I do?” The multiplier effect of that sentiment has become the “great aggravator” of recent entropic history.
Nature started with a barren planet, a few ingredients for life raw and undeveloped. Whether by God’s plan or some other powerful force, the earth generated increasingly sophisticated plant and animal life, eco-diversity proliferated, over incalculable spreads of time – eons. Nature/God’s infinite patience, the ability to create life from an empty palate, the seeming willingness to deal with whatever ‘is’ in whatever shape or condition it may be. If humanity loses, it is the humanity that exists at the time of loss and the generations going forward that lose… not nature. If nature ‘loses,’ she rebuilds in a different direction… oblivious to our often callous disregard of the gifts that surround us.
Great abstract stuff, Peter, but why this possibly meaningless drivel now? You’ve written about environmental issues, a couple of high level global environmental meetings later, what is our report card… at least as to the species that were here when most of us were born?
An unbelievable array of prestigious scientists decided that a survey of the status of the most vulnerable species on earth was necessary. You can see a more detailed summary of their work in Science Magazine (July 15, Vol. 353, Issue 6296) - Has land use pushed terrestrial biodiversity beyond the planetary boundary? A global assessment.
Their examination focused on species whose existence is falling below what the scientists saw as a sustainable “safe limit.” Animals and plants whose existence is fading towards extinction. “The researchers compiled 1.8 million separate measurements of the abundance of species (39,123 of them) at 18,659 locations across the globe — a volume of data that an accompanying essay in Science, by ecologist Tom Oliver of the University of Reading, calls the ‘most comprehensive quantification of global biodiversity change to date.’… The researchers then extrapolated across the rest of the planet, and compared the results to a ‘Biodiversity Intactness Index’ to determine where species declines were too great…
“As a conservative or precautionary standard, the researchers therefore assumed that a decline of more than 10 percent of species abundance in a given area (compared with what that abundance was before human interference) represented crossing into a danger zone for biodiversity. But their study found that overall, across the globe, the average decline is already more like 15 percent. In other words, original species are only about 85 percent as abundant (84.6 percent to be precise) as they were before human land-use changes.
“Some places are, of course, better off than others — for instance, northern tundras and boreal forest ecosystems were still relatively intact, the study found. So was much of the Amazon rain forest. In contrast, central North America showed a huge gash on the researchers’ maps, representing a large region with less than 60 percent of its original biodiversity intact, stretching all the way from Canada to Texas.
“Overall, 58 percent of the Earth had declined below 90 percent biodiversity intactness and, in effect, into the danger zone. And this was strongly correlated with human population — that 58 percent of the Earth is the home to 71 percent of its human inhabitants, the study reported.
“There are, to be sure, some major uncertainties (and matters of interpretation) in this analysis, ones that the authors freely acknowledge. For instance: Who is to say that 90 percent ‘intactness,’ or abundance of the original species that lived in an ecosystem, is the right number in all cases?... And moreover, it isn’t just that ecosystems have been losing original species — they have also been gaining, in many cases, non-original or ‘invasive’ species. So is that a net plus to them, or a net minus?
The study considered these options and, not surprisingly, found that if new species are considered to benefit ecosystems, or if ecosystems can go down to 80 or 70 percent of their original species abundance, then considerably less of the world is in trouble. In the end, then, this really boils down to a decision about how much risk you want to take with nature.” Washington Post, July 15th.
The subtext should concern us all: the loss many of these species will compromise our own human sustainability requirements. For example, as chlorophyll-laden reservoirs of plant life die, their capacity to convert carbon dioxide into oxygen fades accordingly. And as the quality of the atmosphere deteriorates, not only does the food chain alter to our detriment, but both as to disease and the ability to breathe that's heading in the wrong direction.
What can an individual do? Become a squeaky wheel to your elected representatives. Be increasingly conscious on your personal impact on the environment. As a consumer. Tourist. Driver. Water and electricity user. Belief that you can make a difference. Do something! And then a little more.
I’m Peter Dekom, and green trees, pristine oceans, cool breezes and sunny days still delight me.

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