Monthly Archives: March 2013

2012: The Hottest Year In USA History by the Center for Biological Diversity

"The blazing temperatures that scorched America in 2012 are a bitter taste of the climate chaos ahead."

“The blazing temperatures that scorched America in 2012 are a bitter taste of the climate chaos ahead.”

The National Climatic Data Center reported that 2012 was the hottest in recorded U.S. history (i.e., since 1895). “The temperature differences between years are usually measured in fractions of a degree,” read an item in The New York Times, “but last year blew away the previous record, set in 1998, by a full degree Fahrenheit.” The news confirms the need for rapid, ambitious action on climate, starting with full implementation of the Clean Air Act.


“This puts the heat on President Barack Obama to take immediate action against carbon pollution,” said Shaye Wolf, the Center for Biological Diversity’s climate science director. “The blazing temperatures that scorched America in 2012 are a bitter taste of the climate chaos ahead. Science tells us that our rapidly warming planet will endure more heat waves, droughts and extreme weather. The president needs to start making full use of the Clean Air Act to fight greenhouse gas emissions, before it’s too late.”

So far more than 40 communities around the country agree — Broward County, Fla., just joined the Center’s Clean Air Cities campaign. Will your city be next?

To learn more about the Clean Air Cities campaign, and how your city can join, go to the Center for Biological Diversity’s website: <http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/programs/climate_law_institute/clean_air_cities/index.html>

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A Biological Holocaust in the Making by Leon Kolankiewicz

Is the elephant doomed by insatiable need and greed?

Is the elephant doomed by insatiable need and greed?

As a kid, my second favorite animal was the African elephant.  My favorite was the woolly mammoth, which once roamed across our own North America, as well as the steppes of Eurasia.

Unfortunately, all that remains of mammoths are cave paintings, that and their forlorn bones and tusks – lonely relics of a bygone era.  Mammoths and their cousins the mastodons are extinct, gone forever, felled by the Ice Age, or so said the encyclopedias and textbooks of my youth.  Apparently their shaggy coats didn’t offer enough protection from the piercing cold, or overheated them in the warm whispering winds of an interglacial.

It took a trip some years later to the La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles to suggest otherwise.   Exhibits at the George C. Page Museum there depicted the human role in the demise of the woolly mammoth.  These exhibits pointed out that the mammoths and scores of other large beasts (megafauna) in North America had survived multiple advances and retreats of the massive ice sheets that occurred during the Pleistocene.  Until the final advance, when suddenly everything changed.

What changed was that the Earth’s supreme predator arrived from Asia equipped with technology no more advanced than spears and projectile points but a cunning that brute size could not match.  During that final southward surge of the ice – and the corresponding drop in sea level – humans are believed to have marched across the land bridge over the Bering Strait from the Asian continent into a North American primeval paradise teeming with large, wondrous, and dangerous creatures.

There were giant (4-ton) ground sloths, dire wolves, tapirs, peccaries, short-faced bears, American lions, giant condors, giant beavers, and not just fearsome saber-toothed cats but even a 9-ft long “sabertooth salmon” that would have dwarfed even the king salmon.  All of these marvels vanished suddenly in one of the greatest mass extinction events in the recent history of life on Earth.

Upon learning that scientists now implicate human beings in the demise of the woolly mammoth, I used to find solace that at least its relative the elephant survives in the wild to this day – if not on our own continent.  Recent news out of Africa has shaken that solace.

The Wildlife Conservation Society has announced the results of a 9-year study of population trends among forest elephants in Central Africa.   The study found that the numbers of these elephants had dropped by 62% from 2002 to 2011.  The cause of this sharp decline?  Not habitat destruction, but poaching, for the ivory in their tusks of course.  This “blood ivory” is destined for Asia, principally China.  Some 25,000 elephants are being slaughtered annually for the illicit ivory trade.

To a wildlife conservationist and population activist, the welcome attention this ongoing outrage is receiving still falls woefully short of the mark.  The population angle is conspicuously absent.  (So what else is new?)  Yet population figures into this story in at least two ways.

First, the countries of Central Africa where the elephant slaughter is underway all have ultra-high fertility rates, skyrocketing human populations, and widespread poverty.   For instance, the Democratic Republic of the Congo has a total fertility rate (TFR) of 6.3 – that is, on average, each woman gives birth to more than six babies.  Congo’s 2012 population of 69 million is projected to grow 2.8 times to 194 million by 2050!  Its per capita GDP is $216, less than one half of one percent of America’s $49,601 per capita GDP.   It’s no wonder that elephant poaching is an attractive career option for an ambitious young man who needs to put food on the plate for his growing family or wants a little cash to purchase consumer goods like cell phones.

The original scientific paper in the online journal PLoS One concluded:  “High human population density, hunting intensity, absence of law enforcement, poor governance, and proximity to expanding infrastructure are the strongest predictors of decline.”  It’s frightening to say so, but the population projections just cited ensure that all of these factors will go from bad to worse in the coming years.

The second population angle is less obvious, but concerns gigantic China.  While China has taken extraordinary and controversial steps to slow its population growth, there are still 1.3 billion Chinese consumers with rising incomes, each having a greater per capita impact on the environment as they grow more affluent.  And now more and more can afford to buy ivory. Unless China’s rising affluence is accompanied by a more enlightened environmental ethic, the elephant is doomed, pure and simple.  Anti-poaching campaigns will be overwhelmed by powerful demographic and economic forces.

Famed biologist E.O. Wilson once estimated that the total biomass (living weight) of all 7 billion humans on Earth probably outweighs by 100 times that of any large animal species (including the dinosaurs) that ever existed on land.  With this alarming news out of Africa, that ratio just got even more lopsided.  And the African elephant, like the woolly mammoth before it, may yet be pushed over the edge of the precipice into the abyss of extinction – a void from which there is no return.

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Filed under Environment, Population, Sustainability, Wildlife

Experts Fear Collapse of Global Civilization by Stephen Leahy

"Television after the Collapse"  photo by Robbt/Flickr/cc

“Television after the Collapse” photo by Robbt/Flickr/cc

“Environmental problems have contributed to numerous collapses of civilizations in the past. Now, for the first time, a global collapse appears likely. Overpopulation, overconsumption by the rich and poor choices of technologies are major drivers; dramatic cultural change provides the main hope of averting calamity.”  ~ Paul & Anne Ehrlich

Experts on the health of our planet are terrified of the future. They can clearly see the coming collapse of global civilization from an array of interconnected environmental problems. “We’re all scared,” said Paul Ehrlich, president of the Center for Conservation Biology at Stanford University. “But we must tell the truth about what’s happening and challenge people to do something to prevent it,” Ehrlich told IPS.

Global collapse of human civilization seems likely, write Ehrlich and his partner Anne Ehrlich in the prestigious science journal, Proceedings of the Royal Society.  This collapse will take the form of a “…gradual breakdown because famines, epidemics and resource shortages cause a disintegration of central control within nations, in concert with disruptions of trade and conflicts over increasingly scarce necessities”, they write.

Already two billion people are near starvation today. Food production is humanity’s biggest industry and is already being affected by climate and other environmental problems. “No civilization can avoid collapse if it fails to feed its population,” the authors say.

Escalating climate disruption, ocean acidification, oceanic dead zones, depletion of groundwater and extinctions of plants and animals are the main drivers of the coming collapse, they write in their peer-reviewed article “Can a collapse of global civilization be avoided?” published this week.

Dozens of earth systems experts were consulted in writing the 10-page paper that contains over 160 references. “We talked to many of the world’s leading experts to reflect what is really happening,” said Ehrlich, who is an eminent biologist and winner of many scientific awards.

Our reality is that current overconsumption of natural resources and the resulting damage to life-sustaining services nature provides means we need another half of a planet to keeping going. And that’s if all seven billion remain at their current living standards, the Ehrlichs write.

"The Earth is One ~ The World Not Yet" photo from NASA

“The Earth is One ~ The World Not Yet” photo from NASA

If everyone lived like a U.S. citizen, another four or five planets would be needed.

Global population is projected to increase by 2.5 billion by 2050. It doesn’t take an expert to conclude that collapse of civilization will be unavoidable without major changes. “We’re facing a future where billions will likely die, and yet little is being done to avoid certain disaster,” he said. “Policy makers and the public aren’t terrified about this because they don’t have the information or the knowledge about how our planet functions,” he said.

Last March, the world’s scientific community provided the first-ever “state of the planet” assessment at the Planet Under Pressure conference in London. More than 3,000 experts concluded humanity is facing a “planetary emergency” and there was no time to lose in making large-scale changes.

In 2010, a coalition of the national scientific bodies and international scientific unions from 141 countries warned that “the continued functioning of the Earth system as we know it is at risk”. “The situation is absolutely desperate and yet there’s nothing on the front pages or on the agenda of world leaders,” said Pat Mooney, head of the international environmental organization ETC Group. “The lack of attention is a tragedy,” Mooney told IPS.

Solutions exist and are briefly outlined in the Ehrlich paper. However, these require sweeping changes. All nations need to do everything they can to reduce their emissions due to fossil fuels regardless of actions or lack of them by any other country, Ehrlich said.

Protection of the Earth’s biodiversity must take center stage in all policy and economic decisions. Water and energy systems must be re-engineered. Agriculture must shift from fossil-fuel intensive industrial monocultures to ecologically-based systems of food production. Resilience and flexibility will be essential for civilization to survive.

A key element in meeting this unprecedented challenge is “…to see ourselves as utterly embedded in Nature and not somehow separate from those precious systems that sustain all life”, writes England’s Prince Charles commenting on the Ehrlich’s paper.

“To continue with ‘business as usual’ is an act of suicide on a gargantuan scale,” Prince Charles concluded.

Stephen Leahy is the senior science and environment correspondent for Inter Press Service News, the world’s largest not-for-profit news agency. Source: IPS News agency, January 11, 2013. <http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/01/experts-fear-collapse-of-global-civilisation/>

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