“The living fabric of the world is slipping through our fingers without our showing much sign of caring,” say the organisers of the Biological Extinction conference held at the Vatican this week.
Threatened creatures such as the tiger or rhino may make occasional headlines, but little attention is paid to the eradication of most other life forms, they argue. But as the conference will hear, these animals and plants provide us with our food and medicine. They purify our water and air while also absorbing carbon emissions from our cars and factories, regenerating soil, and providing us with aesthetic inspiration.
“Rich western countries are now siphoning up the planet’s resources and destroying its ecosystems at an unprecedented rate,” said biologist Paul Ehrlich, of Stanford University in California. “We want to build highways across the Serengeti to get more rare earth minerals for our cellphones. We grab all the fish from the sea, wreck the coral reefs and put carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. We have triggered a major extinction event. The question is: how do we stop it?”
A new report from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has found that as much as 31 percent of the estimated 9.5 million tonnes of plastic that enters the ocean annually could be from sources such as tires and synthetic clothing.
These products can release “primary microplastics”, which are plastics that directly enter the environment as “small particulates”.
According to the IUCN, which released the report on Wednesday, they come from a range of sources.
These include synthetic textiles, which deposit them due to abrasion when washed, and tires, which release them as a result of erosion when driving.
The report identified seven “major sources” of primary microplastics: Tires, synthetic textiles, marine coatings, road markings, personal care products, plastic pellets and city dust.
The depletion of oxygen in our oceans threatens future fish stocks and risks altering the habitat and behaviour of marine life, scientists have warned, after a new study found oceanic oxygen levels had fallen by 2% in 50 years.
The study, carried out at Geomar Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research in Germany, was the most comprehensive of the subject to date. The fall in oxygen levels has been attributed to global warming and the authors warn that if it continues unchecked, the amount of oxygen lost could reach up to 7% by 2100. Very few marine organisms are able to adapt to low levels of oxygen.
The summary in the new report also states, “Increasing bioenergy crop cultivation poses risks to ecosystems and biodiversity” (WGIII).
The report lists many potential negative risks of development, such as direct conflicts between land for fuels and land for food, other land-use changes, water scarcity, loss of biodiversity and nitrogen pollution through the excessive use of fertilizers (Scientific American).
The International Institute for Sustainable Development was not so diplomatic, and estimates that the CO2 and climate benefits from replacing petroleum fuels with biofuels like ethanol are basically zero (IISD). They claim that it would be almost 100 times more effective, and much less costly, to significantly reduce vehicle emissions through more stringent standards, and to increase CAFE standards on all cars and light trucks to over 40 miles per gallon as was done in Japan just a few years ago.
Arctic Report Card: Update for 2016 – Tracking recent environmental changes, with 12 essays prepared by an international team of 61 scientists from 11 different countries and an independent peer-review organized by the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme of the Arctic Council. See http://www.arctic.noaa.gov/Report-Card
In 1971 a geologist called Earl Cook evaluated the amount of energy ‘captured from the environment’ in different economic systems. Cook discovered then that a modern city dweller needed about 230,000 kilocalories per day to keep body and soul together. This compared starkly to a hunter-gatherer, 10,000 years earlier, who needed about 5,000 kcal per day to get by.
That gap, between simple and complex lives, has widened at an accelerating rate since Cook’s pioneering work. Once all the systems, networks and equipment of modern life are factored in – the cars, planes, factories, buildings, infrastructure, heating, cooling, lighting, food, water, hospitals, the internet of things, cloud computing – well, a New Yorker or Londoner today ‘needs’ about sixty times more energy and resources per person than a hunter-gatherer – and her appetite is growing by the day.
To put it another way: modern citizens today use more energy and physical resources in a month than our great-grandparents used during their whole lifetime.
What the Transition movement does incredibly well is small-scale experiments which are practical, which resonate with local people, which look as if they’re doable, and that can engage people at a practical and meaningful level. It connects up the big issues and the local issues and shows you that change can happen at a local level.
The problem with fossil fuels, I’m becoming convinced, is more than just carbon pricing, but the lack of replacement pricing. The cost of coal, oil, and gas is based on extraction, and excludes not only the CO2 impacts, but the fact that we’re rapidly depleting a one-time energy windfall accumulated over 500 million years. At the rate of millions of years of accrual per present year.
— StarvingLion, Peak Oil News and Messages, 13 October 2015