So how bad is it out there? Well, it’s so bad that anyone asking obviously hasn’t been watching the news. Almost every week there’s a news item warning about some species that is endangered or has already gone extinct.
As the International Union for the Conservation of Nature reports:
- 17,291 species out of 47,677 so far assessed are threatened with extinction.
- Of the world’s 5,490 mammals, 79 are Extinct or Extinct in the Wild, with 188 Critically Endangered, 449 Endangered and 505 Vulnerable.
- 1,895 of the planet’s 6,285 amphibians are in danger of extinction, making them the most threatened group of species known to date.
- More than 70,000 plant species are used in traditional and modern medicine.
- Coral reefs provide food, storm protection, jobs, recreation and other income sources for more than 500 million people worldwide yet 70% of coral reefs are threatened or destroyed.
- Biodiversity is essential to global food security and nutrition and also serves as a safety net to poor households during times of crisis.
- Diversity of genes within species, e.g. as represented by livestock breeds or strains of plants, is also important for agriculture and food security. Increased diversity reduces risk from diseases and increases our potential to adapt to changing climate.
The wiki on Conservation biology states:
The rapid decline of established biological systems around the world means that conservation biology is often referred to as a “Discipline with a deadline”. Conservation biology is tied closely to ecology in researching the dispersal, migration, demographics, effective population size, inbreeding depression, and minimum population viability of rare or endangered species. Conservation biology is concerned with phenomena that affect the maintenance, loss, and restoration of biodiversity and the science of sustaining evolutionary processes that engender genetic, population, species, and ecosystem diversity. The concern stems from estimates suggesting that up to 50% of all species on the planet will disappear within the next 50 years, which has contributed to poverty, starvation, and will reset the course of evolution on this planet.
Between 1500 and 2009, 875 extinctions have been documented by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources. However, since most extinctions go undocumented, scientists estimate that during the 20th century, between 20,000 and two million species actually became extinct, but the precise total cannot be determined more accurately within the limits of present knowledge. Up to 140,000 species per year (based on Species-area theory) may be the present rate of extinction based upon upper bound estimating.
Extinction is forever. The loss of biodiversity and DNA for future genetics technologies is incalculable. We have already robbed our grandchildren of incredible genetic resources, and we are accelerating the destruction! This means that just as we hit peak oil and gas our civilisation will also have to deal with economic ruin from a variety of failing ecosystems. We are utterly dependent on the health of our local ecologies for a range of free services, and these ecosystems are dying!
As the 2010 International Year of Biodiversity slogan reads:
- Biodiversity is life.
Biodiversity is our life.
- Biodiversity is life.
The 6 Mechanisms of biosphere destruction
We are systematically paving over ecosystems with suburban sprawl, ploughing up ecosystems to grow our food, spreading pests, preying on predators, polluting the oceans and nature with everything from mountains of plastic to toxins that are moving up through the food chain, and finally, over-populating this planet.
(NOTE: I’ll be gradually fleshing out this page but for now check the amazing information under “Preying on Predators”).
Suburbia uses 1o times more land than New Urbanism. America serves as a good example of the sheer statistics of suburban growth.
Urban sprawl: In the United States, 8,900 km2 (2,200,000 acres) of land was added to urban areas between 1992 and 2003.
As our population grows, so does our use of arable land for agriculture. Rather than repeat it here, please see my soil and farmland page.
Preying on predators
When hydrologist Bob Beschta arrived in Yellowstone in 1996, he noticed something odd with the Lamar River. The stream was over-widened, the banks were eroding and precious soil was sloughing off down river. Vegetation that used to line and safeguard the riverbanks had vanished. What was going on?
Meanwhile biologists Bill Ripple and Eric Larsen were probing into another mystery – the disappearance of aspen trees in the park. At first they considered climate change. But if that were the cause, they reasoned, aspens should be declining throughout the area. Instead they found that aspens outside the park were flourishing. Next they turned to fire to see if possibly a reduction in the number of forest fires in the park was hurting the aspens. (These are trees that in fact thrive after a burn.) But the huge fire of 1988 ultimately produced few large trees.
National Geographic’s Strange Days on Planet Earth.
What on earth was going wrong with the park? Beavers had left, trees were dying, the river was widening, erosion was increasing, the park was literally washing way! It turns out local farmers had been troubled by the Yellowstone wolf taking their livestock, and so had hunted them to extinction. Now the wolves had protected the park from the elk, which loved browsing on the aspen trees, which forced beavers to look elsewhere for habitat and eventually led to changes along the riverbank that increased erosion. Predators protect from pests! The elk are lovely, but functional ecosystems are a matter of balance. The loss of one predator species led to an exponentially unfolding trail of ecosystem destruction that nearly destroyed the park!
But the data revealed something else, something counterintuitive. In canyons with coyotes, a greater diversity of birds survived. Canyons without coyotes supported fewer species. Having seen ample evidence that coyotes were responsible for his disappearing pets—cats flying through the cat door as if “chased by the devil”— Soulé had a theory: more coyotes meant fewer cats. Fewer cats meant more birds. Coyotes were eating not only cats but also other midsized predators, such as foxes. Coyotes were acting as a control. Without that control, the midsized carnivores ran wild in an orgy of predation that Soulé termed “mesopredator release.” Another study confirmed it: one in five coyote scats contained domestic cat.
The point I am making is not just to save the wolf, but that the wolf is a fine example of how important one single species can be to the successful functioning of a whole ecosystem, and that as we tinker with ecosystems by destroying wildlife, raising global temperatures, dumping toxins into their environment and a thousand other things, what other important species are at risk? I don’t think modern biology can even begin to imagine.
I write about the relationship between peak everything and population growth not because of some misanthropic hatred of human beings, but because I love my kids and want them to inherit the best world they can. If we continue on the current course my children will live to see the extinction of 50% of the biodiversity on planet earth, a bankrupted world economy, and even the potential for anarchic collapse in societies we once thought invulnerable. We’re really pushing our luck as we start to crash into the earth’s limits (see reports).
So I just want to emphasise that campaigning for reducing population growth does not even have to be seen as a negative thing. There are many positive things we can campaign for that will both reduce population growth and enhance the quality of life for the world’s poorest and most vulnerable. Please see my REDUCE page for more.