Guest Opinions

Nature on the eve of destruction

A landmark new report from the United Nations warns that one million species are under threat of extinction. It said the health of ecosystems on which we and all other species depend is deteriorating more rapidly than ever.
A landmark new report from the United Nations warns that one million species are under threat of extinction. It said the health of ecosystems on which we and all other species depend is deteriorating more rapidly than ever. Getty Images

One million species are close to extinction, thanks to Homo sapiens.

Thus warns a landmark new report from the United Nations. Lead author Sir Robert Watson said, “The health of ecosystems on which we and all other species depend is deteriorating more rapidly than ever. We are eroding the very foundations of our economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life worldwide.”

The Report highlights the urgency of global decarbonization and the need to increase nuclear power, but while global warming will have a multiplier effect, humans are doing this all on their own.

Watson did say that it is not too late to make a difference. But we must start now at every level, from local to global, to make transformative changes, the type of changes the Nations of the World can’t seem to make on anything.

We grow enough food to feed the world and we can’t even agree on how to do that.

The authors ranked the five processes with the most global impact on nature as: (1) changes in land and sea use; (2) direct exploitation of organisms; (3) climate change; (4) pollution and (5) invasive alien species.

Let’s face it. Nature is losing the battle against humans. The wild places of the world are disappearing, and will continue to disappear, until they are no more. We even have a term for this time period – the Anthropocene.

Unfortunately, the 4 billion people that are just looking for a regular meal and clean water can’t afford to worry about this. And that’s the real problem. Keeping almost 8 billion people alive, soon to be 10 billion, simply takes a lot of space and resources.

I’m not saying that life will disappear and the Earth will become a dead planet. It’ll just become more like our back yards. Some nice and manicured, some dumpy with weeds. With a few nicely kept parks. But definitely not natural.

But humans need a certain amount of natural wildness for our own survival. Over 35 percent of our food needs pollinators. There’s a reason that oxygen is in the air. It doesn’t come out of the ground. Organisms have to put it there. Continuously.

Humans are infected by a certain fantasy – that the Earth is so large, the oceans so deep, the atmosphere so vast, that nothing we do can really harm it.

This is completely wrong. Humans have the numbers, and the technologies, to pretty much destroy the surface of this planet. Or remake it into some dumbed-down version of a specimen garden.

For over 100,000 years, the Earth had only 10 million people on it at any one time. But the population began to grow dramatically just before the beginning of the Common Era, rising to 300 million during the Middle Ages and to a billion at the beginning of the Industrial Age.

Then 2 billion in 1927, 3 billion in 1960, 4 billion in 1974, 5 billion in 1987, 6 billion in 1999 and 7 billion in 2011. And the growth continues — 8 billion will be achieved by 2022, 9 billion by 2030 and 10 billion before 2040.

This exponential growth is textbook for a bacterial colony in a petri dish, right before it dies from outpacing its food sources and drowning in its own waste.

Humans now comprise the largest mass of mammalian matter on Earth. The rest is almost all our food and friends. Hardly any vertebrate mass left on land is wild or natural.

Let that sink in for a minute.

Most of what people see in National Geographic, on the Discovery Channel, in the Blue Planet series or in movies about animals, IS ALMOST ALL GONE. Humans have dammed a third of the world’s rivers. We have covered, destroyed or altered half of the world’s land surface. We use up most of the fresh water faster than it can be replenished.

And this is all continuing apace. The U.N. warnings come as no surprise to the scientific community. We’ve been watching this train wreck in slow motion since the 1960s.

It’s just that now we’re seeing the darkness at the end of the tunnel.

Jim Conca is a longtime resident and scientist in the Tri-Cities, a trustee of the Herbert M. Parker Foundation, and a science contributor to Forbes at forbes.com/sites/ jamesconca

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