Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Going, Going, Gone!

Stepping Stones



“It is not too late to make a difference, but only if we start now at every level, from local to global. Nature can still be conserved, restored and used sustainably.”

~ Robert Watson Atmospheric chemist


Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services… man, is that a mouthful! To simplify, let’s just call this IPBES. It is the name of a new report issued by the United Nations in early May that addresses the effect that human expansion is having on the planet. The result is very clearly stated, and everyone should take notice…. One million plant and animal species are at risk of extinction.

The world population now stands at 7.6 billion people, doubling since 1970. In order to feed and house these humans, five “drivers” for biodiversity extinction have been categorized and, by a wide margin the top two are (1) land and sea use, including development, logging, mining and harvesting and (2) hunting and fishing for food.

Third on the list is global climate change and, considering that greenhouse gas emissions have doubled since 1980, raising the average global temperature by nearly one degree, this is expected to work its way up the list. Now one degree doesn’t seem like much so let’s take a look at two local issues that could affect area animals. Sea turtles lay eggs and they are incubated by the sun’s warmth.

A difference of just a few degrees while in the nest will determine if these hatchlings will be male or female. A continual rise in temperature could eventually produce all females with no males for mating to continue the species. In years when El Nino has raised the water temperatures just a few degrees the coral reefs have suffered severe bleaching. A continual rise in global temps could cause this to become permanent.

Fourth and fifth on the list from the U.N. report are pollution and invasive species. 400 million tons of toxic sludge, metals and other wastes are dumped into oceans and rivers every year. Invasive species such as rats, mosquitoes and plants that are introduced to areas where they may thrive is becoming more widespread.

It’s not just the world outside of the United States that is gaining attention. Since the development of civilization here over the past 500 years we have a history of driving animals to the point of extinction as well. The passenger pigeon was one of the most populous bird species on the planet but nearly non-existent in our country now. The Monarch Butterfly is in trouble as is the critically endangered North Atlantic Right Whale, to name just a few. A species of mountain caribou was recently declared extinct… gone forever.

The report is not a simple finding by one group. The IPBES is based on a systematic and detailed review of nearly 15,000 scientific papers and reports that describe changes over the past 50 years. They were analyzed by 145 experts and also received input from 310 contributing authors over a 3 year period. The above represented 50 countries, a great cross-section of information sources around the world.

Additional findings of the IPBES Report are as follows:

  75% of land-based environment and about 66% of marine environment have been altered by human actions.

  33% of the world’s land surface and nearly 75% of freshwater resources are now devoted to crop and livestock production.

  The value of agricultural production has increased 300% since 1970. Raw timber harvest has risen by 45%.

  $577 billion in annual global crops are at risk from pollinator loss. 100-300 million people are at increased risk of floods and hurricanes because of the loss of coastal habitats and protection it provided.

  Plastics pollution has increased 10-fold since 1980. Fertilizers entering coastal ecosystems have produced more than 400 “dead zones.”

And the list goes on.

Atmospheric chemist Robert Watson who chaired the 132-nation meeting that signed off on the summary at the 7th session of the IPBES meeting had several things to say. “We are eroding the very foundation of our economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life worldwide.” He also stated “It is not too late to make a difference, but only if we start now at every level, from local to global. Nature can still be conserved, restored and used sustainably.

It’s always great to hear and see the wonders of nature that surround us. I dread the day when we walk outside and there is silence; the birds are not singing and the other animals cannot be seen, because they are going, going, gone!

Bob is a Naturalist on board the dolphin survey vessel Dolphin Explorer. He is the author of two books and a popular speaker at many venues. Bob loves his wife very much!

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