Ecology – Pushed to the Limit
The earth is like a living being. It’s forests and oceans are its lungs and it encompasses all living species, including human beings.
From 1981 to 2005 the global economy more than doubled, but 60 percent of the world’s ecosystems were either degraded or over-used.
- United Nations Environment Programme October 20081
How long can you hold your breath? We can’t survive for more than a few minutes when deprived of oxygen. But how many of us know that between 50 and 85 percent of our oxygen is produced by photosynthesizing microscopic phytoplankton living in the ocean?
The problem with current economic systems is that we place high value only on those things which we consider rare and devalue that which is abundant and common – and nothing can be more common than the air we breath and the earth we walk upon. Don’t we all take the environment which envelops us all for granted? – the water, air, trees, oceans, plants and animals all around us? Yet, we CANNOT exist for even a few minutes without it. If we don’t take care of our environment, then it cannot take care of us.
Looking down from space, we can see a very thin gaseous layer covering the surface of our planet. This fragile thin layer is what makes life possible on this planet.
Figure 2: The thin layer of the earth’s atmosphere
This vulnerable life-protecting cover is like a single giant organ that covers the entire globe and in the age of the, the activity of 7 billion human beings is of such a scale that it is taking a measurable toll on its life-sustaining qualities. We have abused it by treating it as a dumping ground rather than as the precious life giving enabler that it is. Each act of living in an unsustainable modern industrial society is a blow which further degrades it. It is as if modern life is programmed to destroy it. Each time we drive a car, fly in a plane or use electricity supplied by a dirty coal plant, we are dumping toxins into it that only serve to decrease its ability to sustain our lives. Modern life is species suicide.
The fact that allows each of us to continue contributing to our own demise is the perception that our share is so insignificant. We constantly choose convenience over the difficult knowledge of what we are doing and abdicate ourselves from any personal responsibility. As this giant organ covers the entire planet, the effects of human activity are distributed and spread out to areas where it has not been felt before.
We are subjecting our atmosphere, our oceans, our biosphere to continual and rapid degradation. Each of these are critical in supporting the well being of the other in a holistic system evolved over billions of years and even minor changes to one subsystem has important ramification to others. We are currently upsetting the balance of all these subsystems.
Signs of the
We are in the age of the, where human activity is transforming the planet on a planetary scale.
Figure 1: Urban sprawl in cities around the planet (Source: CNN)
How are we Doing So Far?…
- We are losing forestland at a rate of 375 km2 each day or 10.4 million km2 each year
- The world has already lost 80% of its original forests from 14.8 to 8.6 billion acres
- 1.1 billion acres of tropical forest were cleared in just thirty years, between 1960 and 1990
- Brazil lost 91.4 million acres of its tropical forest between 1980 and 1990. This is almost the total area of North and South Dakota combined
- A single square mile is host to 50,000 insect species
- 170,000 of the world’s 250,000 plant species reside in rain forests
- At the world’s current rates, 5-10% of tropical forest species will become extinct every decade
- more here on Forest Loss and agricultural expansion
- 75% of all the fish stocks in the world are already either: exploited, over-exploited or recovering. 27% of coral reefs have already been and 70% of Earth’s coral reefs will cease to exist within the next forty years. The world has lost half of its coastal wetlands, including mangrove swamps and salt marshes.
- In the next 30 years, as many as one-fifth of all species alive today will become extinct. 23% of all mammals and 12% of all birds’ species were considered “threatened” in 2003.
- The planet’s biological productive capacity ( ) is approximately 1.9 hectares (4.7 acres) per person
- Globally, we use up to 2.2 hectares per person
- Thus, we are living beyond the planet’s to sustain us by 15%, a deficit of 0.3 hectares (1 acre) per person
- This deficit is apparent, as natural ecosystems around us fail one by one – forest systems, oceans, fisheries, coral reefs, rivers, soil, water, global warming etc
- The planet’s is dependent on the global population and rate of consumption
- High consumption depletes the planet’s carrying capacity
- And estimates indicate that, if global population trends continue, the available to each person would be reduced to 1.5 hectares per person, by 2050
- If consumption rates as high as the western countries are adopted by the majority of humanity, then we would need 4 to 5 more planets to sustain ourselves
- The USA has the largest per capita footprint in the world – a footprint of 9.57 hectares
- If everyone on the planet was to live like the average American, we would need 5 planets to sustain everyone
- At a footprint of 9.57 hectares per person, our planet’s would only be able support about 1.2 billion people – far less than the 6 billion we have on Earth
- On the other end of the spectrum, if everyone lived like those residing in Bangladesh, where the average footprint is only 0.5 hectares, then the earth could support roughly 22 billion people
In Memory of Slain Environmentalists, Protectors of Mother Earth…
Global Witness released a report in June 19, 2012 entitled A hidden crisis? Increase in killings as tensions rise over land and forests documenting the 711 deaths of people who spoke up against environmental injustice. These individuals were:
killed in targeted attacks and violent clashes as a result of protests, investigating or taking grievances against mining operations, logging operations, intensive agriculture including ranching, tree plantations, hydropower dams, urban development and poaching. Because information on such killings is fragmented and scarce, the number of deaths is very likely to be higher than we have been able to identify. This report also does not include the hundreds of thousands of victims of intimidation and violence linked to disputes over access to land and forest or killings from land and forest claims associated with oil and gas extraction In memory of the brave souls who have given their lives to protect Mother Earth, defending their human rights or the human rights of others related to the environment, specifically land and forests.In memory of…
- Global Citizen, June 19, 2012
Figure 2: Global Deforestation 2012
Agriculture is the biggest contributor to deforestration. For more on the impacts of Agriculture go here
Figure 3: UNEP GEO-5 Global Environmental Outlook Summary for 2012. Click picture or here for the Executive Summary
Figure 4: Safe Planetary Boundaries