Protecting and Preventing Species Loss Through Small Doable Changes, Part II

Building on my post from last week, Part I, I’d like to present the #2 thing we can do, starting today, right now, to protect and preserve the environment and species on this planet:  STOP USING PLASTIC!

While this is really no less important than shifting to a plant-based diet, it does fall under a different set of behaviors and actions we utilize on a daily basis.

As a nation, and as a world, we are addicted to plastic, in all its forms.  Plastic has become ubiquitous in its form and function from bags, to bottles, to food-containers, to use in soaps and as toothbrush handles and bristles.  No matter where you look, you will find plastic, plastic, and more plastic.

All this plastic is toxic.  Toxic to all animals on land and sea, who become entangled in it, ensnared in it, or who suffocate from it.  It is also toxic to us humans from its chemical constituents slowly leaching into our bodies or bioaccumulating from the foods we consume.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, approximately 191 barrels of hydrocarbon gas liquids (HGL), a byproduct of petroleum and natural gas processing are used to create plastic products in the United States annually(1).  This represents nearly 3% of the U.S.’s petroleum consumption, and that just factors in the raw material, not the processing and manufacturing of the plastic products.  Altogether put, plastic manufacturing, for all sectors of the economy, uses between six and 10% of the nation’s total oil, adding to the volume of carbon we emit into the atmosphere, as well as to the detritus that ends up in our landfills, and inevitably in our oceans (2).

According to the World Economic Forum, within the next 30 years, by weight, there will be more plastic than fish in our oceans (3).  Worldwide, there is expected to be a 4-fold increase in plastic production by 2050, representing 20% of the world’s total oil use; unfortunately however, only about 10-15% of plastic items are reused or recycled.

To exacerbate the problem further, plastic does not readily disintegrate and can take over 1,000 years to biodegrade.  Moreover, nearly 1/3 of all plastic escapes into nature, into the world’s ecosystems, remaining statically in place or clogging the oceans and slowly and brutally killing the world’s aquatic animals.

Plastic can have a plethora of negative effects on marine wildlife, and in myriad ways.

1) Endocrine disruptors:

As marine animals unintentionally swallow plastic and its derivatives, believing it to be food, Bisphenols, BPA, PCBs, and DDEs in plastic compounds can all disrupt the normal functioning of hormones in these animals, making them infertile, increasing cancer and tumor rates, polluting water, and magnifying these risks up the food chain (4).

Sea turtles, seals, sea lions, dolphins, and whales are at even higher risk for the detrimental effects of these plastic-pollutants as they are higher up in the food chain, allowing these chemicals to bioaccumulate and biomagnify in their blood stream and blubber/fat cells.  This decreases the survivability of these animals by impacting their fertility and/or by directly harming them via intestinal obstruction, a block in their GI-tract that can kill them, painfully (5).

2) By-catch:

Another dangerous use of plastic that harms marine life is fishing nets:  Fishing nets are typically made from nylon, a plastic-polymer.  These can include: Nylon fishing nets, trawling nets, seine nets, including purse-seine nets, gill nets, and drift nets.

Nets of all shapes and sizes are killers.  However, in many instances, 30-40 miles of nets are cast by ships or fishing vessels aiming for a specific species of fish.  These nets can frequently be out at sea for days at a time, or in the worst case scenario, are left out at sea, lost, and drift for years, killing millions of animals in their wake.

These nets, kill, and not just the intended species.  All types of marine animals get caught in the nets, are unable to escape and drown or suffocate.  For years, hundreds of thousands of dolphins were killed each year by nets.  Nets left at sea, or even nets whose intended targets were tuna, and only in the ocean for a few short hours.

It is noted that for every pound of fish we consume, 10-100 pounds of other marine animals are caught and killed as bycatch.  Perhaps even more.  Additionally, hundreds of thousands of marine animals are killed each year by accident, because of black-market and illegal fishing of endangered species (6).

In fact, as of today, there remain only around 30 vaquita porpoises left in the world; the most endangered marine mammal in the world.  Sadly, three were found in the last three weeks, entangled and drowned by illegal gill nets in the Gulf of California where “hunters” were seeking out a particular endangered-fish’s swim bladder to sell in Asian black markets, also illegal.

Thus, we need to be more cognizant of the damage that our plastic use does to the environment, and find ways to use alternative materials that do not leach into the ground, oceans, or take millenia to disintegrate.  We need to take a greater stand against illegal fishing, and NOT making purchases of products that support the people and countries illegally poaching these animals from the wild.

At the very least, we need to reuse, recycle, and/or properly dispose of our plastic, consider it as biohazard waste material, because it is.

For other ideas on how to reduce your plastic use, please refer to this wonderful article by One Green Planet (7).

Stay tuned for Part III!

References:

1. http://www.eia.gov/tools/faqs/faq.cfm?id=34&t=6

2. Stanford Magazine.  “Plastic Bags: To Recycle or not: Essential answer.” https://alumni.stanford.edu/get/page/magazine/article/?article_id=30162

3. http://money.cnn.com/2016/01/19/news/economy/davos-plastic-ocean-fish/

4. http://www.mindfully.org/Plastic/Marine-Plastics-Kelp-Bass.htm

5. Booth and Zeller (2005).  Mercury, Food Webs, and Marine Mammals: Implications of Diet and Climate Change for Human Health.  Environ Health Perspect. 2005 May; 113(5): 521–526.

6. Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.  3 Vaquitas Found Dead: The Most Endangered Marine Mammal in the World

http://ecowatch.com/2016/03/29/vaquita-porpoise-found-dead/

7. http://www.onegreenplanet.org/environment/life-hacks-to-help-you-cut-plastic-out-of-the-picture/?utm_source=Green+Monster+Mailing+List&utm_campaign=ea5b3fa197-NEWSLETTER_EMAIL_CAMPAIGN&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_bbf62ddf34-ea5b3fa197-106149577

Protecting and Preventing Species Loss Through Small Doable Changes, Part I

The #1 thing we can do, starting today, right now, to protect and preserve the environment and species on this planet is to shift away from animal-based foods. 

In fact: “Shifting away from animal-based foods could add up to 49% to the global food supply without expanding croplands” – (Jalava et al (2014).)

If each and every person in the United States (alone), consumed fewer meat and dairy products, we would save the environment from thousands of tons of carbon emissions, reduce our water use at least by half, and prevent the further growth of dead zones in the oceans, cutting back on the direct and indirect threats to marine life.

If each and every person in the United States, China, India, Japan, and other developed countries consumed fewer meat and dairy products, we would multiply the above in magnitude, prevent the further loss of primary rainforests and habitat (in the amazon and elsewhere), be an example to developing countries where meat and dairy consumption is growing, and may perhaps mitigate the growing effects of climate change on our planet and its ecosystems.

According to the “World Population Clock,”  (http://www.worldometers.info/world-population/)  there are now 7.41 Billion people living on this world, competing for the same “resources.”

By 2050, the United Nations estimates that there will be approximately 9.7 Billion people (United Nations, 2015).  This means that in the next 35 years, there will be 30% more people fighting for the same resources, fighting for the same foods, fighting for the same oxygen, fighting for the same water.

Concurrently, there will be an extinction of 30-50% of all species.  So, as we add 30% more people, we will lose 30-50% of all species (Center for Biological Diversity, 2016).  This is a truly scary and disturbing thought.

Therefore, to slow down these extinctions, both directly and indirectly, the first and foremost thing we can do, is

Move away from animal-based foods, and shift to plant-based foods.

Pound-for-pound, gallon-for-gallon, animals use vastly more water and carbon to produce than plants.  Ounce-for-ounce however, the amount of protein that you get from plant-sources, such as legumes, seeds, and grains, is closely on par, plus, full of other healthful nutrients including fiber, sterols, stanols, and vitamins and minerals.

To put this into context:

  • 1 pound of beef requires anywhere between 2000 and 8,000 gallons of water to produce, according to studies conducted by UC Davis (Beckett & Oltjen, 1993) and George Borgstrom, from Michigan State University.   Much of this water is used in creating the feed for the cows, whether it is grass or grain.
  • Similarly, 1 gallon of cow’s milk requires 1950 gallons of water.

**And, I haven’t even addressed the methane released into the environment from these cows**

  • Conversely, 1 pound of Tofu requires 302 gallons of water to produce, and it requires 290 gallons of water to produce 1 pound of unprocessed oats.
  • Now, for those of you worried about protein content:

1 pound of beef contains 90-100 grams of protein                Costing you 20 – 80 gallons of water per gram of protein

1 gallon of milk contains 128 grams of protein                                              15 gallons of water per gram of protein

1 pound of tofu contains 45-55 grams of protein                                           6 gallons of water per gram of protein

1 pound of oats contains 75 grams of protein =                                             3.8 gallons of water per gram of protein.

From a water perspective only (at this point), and with simple mathematics, it is much more efficient and cost-effective to eat plant foods than animal foods.

Why is this so important?

According to a United Nations report, the ocean covers 70% of the earth.  The oceans contain about 97% of Earth’s water with the remaining 3% found in glaciers and ice, below the ground, and in rivers and lakes.

If the majority of fresh water is going towards animal husbandry that leaves less for us to consume, for there is less snow pack, erratic weather patterns, and more polluted water than ever.

Moreover, the water runoff from livestock ends up in the oceans, killing marine wildlife from plankton, up to dolphins and whales.  The less meat and milk, the fewer animals that are raised.  The fewer animals that are raised, the less water, methane (carbon), CO2, and nitrogen that are released into the atmosphere and oceans.  Conserving life on this planet, including human lives.

To make a long story short, if we all eliminated meat and milk from our diets and went to plant-sources of these foods, we would be saving at least 50% of our water use.  We would be saving  habitats from being destroyed to produce more livestock-feed, and we would be creating less pollution in our waterways, streams, and oceans, that indirectly threaten animal lives.

It is said, “If our Oceans Die, We Die.” – Sea Shepherd (2015).

For More Tips, stay Tuned to PART II!

References:

Jalava M, Kummu M, Porkka M, Siebert S, and Varis O (2014).  Diet Change–a solution to reduce water use? Environ. Res. lett. 9(7):1-14.

United Nations World Population Projection, Department of Economic and Social Affairs (2015).  http://www.un.org/en/development/desa/news/population/2015-report.html

The Center for Biological Diversity (2016).  The Extinction Crisis.  http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/programs/biodiversity/elements_of_biodiversity/extinction_crisis/

Beckett, J. L., and J. W. Oltjen. (1993) Estimation of the water requirement for beef production in the United States. J. Anim. Sci. 71: 818-826

United Nations (2016).  “FIRST GLOBAL INTEGRATED MARINE ASSESSMENT (FIRST WORLD OCEAN ASSESSMENT)”  Oceans and Law of the Sea, an integrated report.  http://www.un.org/depts/los/global_reporting/WOA_RegProcess.htm

http://www.seashepherd.org/commentary-and-editorials/2015/09/29/if-the-ocean-dies-we-all-die-741

Earth feels what YOU eat: “The State of our Planet”

“Earth is our Home, Not a Resource” – unknown

Have you ever stopped mid-bite and wondered how what you were eating might affect the Earth?

I’m sure most people think about how a particular meal might affect themselves, but when we think of Earth, we think of a huge planet that sustains life and will always do so, because it has always done so.

Yet, there have been mass extinctions in the past.  Five.

Scientists now believe we are in the beginning stages of the sixth mass extinction.  This one instigated by human development, human industrialization, human growth, and human greed.  The anthropocene-era extinction.

In the background, in a natural state of homeostasis, Earth loses approximately 1 to 5 species per year.  Currently, however, Earth is losing somewhere between 1,000 and 10,000 species per year, possibly more, as this is only an estimate based on “known” extinctions (Chivian & Bernstein 2008).

Our world and its species depend on a web.  Animals and their ecosystems have evolved co-dependently to feed off each other and from each other.

So, losing one species will directly, and indirectly, impact the lives and survivability of other species.  INCLUDING OUR OWN.

The loss of species occurs for a myriad of reasons:

1) Loss of Habitat:

Humans are rapidly cutting down thick and luscious forests, natural reservoirs of life.  We cut down forests to create room for monoculture farmlands to grow crops such as soy, corn, wheat, or alfalfa to feed agricultural animals such as chickens, cows, and now even fish.

Forests are home to hundreds of thousands of species, some likely unknown still!  Thus, cutting down forests destroys these animals’ food and habitat, displacing them, perhaps starving them or outright killing them.  This is becoming an all too common phenomenon.

In the oceans, habitats in the form of coral reefs are rapidly being destroyed as a result of climate change (more below).

Similarly, dams negatively impact the spawning grounds and the ability of fish (example:  Chinook Salmon) to reach their spawning grounds.  This can and is having dramatic effects on the population sizes, viability, and longevity of certain keystone species, such as the Chinook salmon, as well as their major predators, orca-whales.  Near Washington State, the Southern Resident Killer Whales are critically endangered, with only 85 individuals left due to the loss of their primary food-source.

2) Overconsumption:

Whether it is overfishing, by-catch, trawling, or simply overhunting (on land), humans are consuming far too many animals, at far too fast a rate and their numbers are being irreparably depleted.

Blue-fin Tuna, for example, are now considered an endangered species of fish (according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature-IUCN).  Blue-fin tuna have been overfished so much to satisfy our glut.  This means that more than 70% of the blue-fin tuna population has been lost to human consumption.

Other animals we might not typically associate with “food” here in the U.S. are similarly endangered, such as the Fin Whale.  And, while the International Whaling Commission forbids the hunting of these beautiful cetaceans, the Japanese and Icelanders continue to kill them, hundreds each year, for human consumption.

3) Trade of endangered species and blackmarkets:

Certain elephant populations and rhinoceros populations are endangered, near extinction, or even extinct due to humans killing them for their tusks and horns.  In fact, in some parts of Africa, rhinoceros’s are now tranquilized so their horns can be cut off by conservationists to protect their lives.

Similarly, in certain Asian and SouthEast Asian countries, manta-rays, sharks, and even dolphins are brutally murdered or left to die at sea for their fins or gill rakers.  These “commodities” are then used in shark-fin soup, as meat, or in Chinese and Eastern medicinals.

For much more in-depth information on the trade of endangered species, please see the “Racing Extinction” movie or website at http://racingextinction.com/

4) Global Climate Change

Humans have caused more damage to the climate in the past 150 years than has been seen since the last extinction, of the dinosaurs, some 65 million years ago (IPCC, 2013).  This fact is indisputable.

We have nearly doubled the amount of CO2 in our atmosphere in this time period, with the vast majority of this increase happening in just the last 50 years.  In fact, the 10 hottest years on record have occurred since 2000, with 2015 being even warmer than 2014 (NOAA, 2016).

This is also troubling for myriad of reasons including:

1) it warms our oceans, melting ice, which further warms our planet and directly affects the habitats and food-supply of marine animals (and us).

2) it increases the likelihood of extreme weather events such as floods, drought, severe typhoons and hurricanes.

This can have a dramatic impact on land-animals, forests, habitats, and again, us.

3) it impacts ecosystems to the wazoo!!

Warming oceans dramatically impacts where marine animals live, many of them depending on ocean currents, specific foods, and the viability of offspring of various species and their ability to reproduce (which may be dependent on temperatures).

Similarly, warming oceans impacts survivability of corals and their reefs, and the major habitats that they support, along with the keystone, smallest of the small, but 100% needed planktons!  In fact, without plankton in the oceans, all the other marine animals will die.  Without marine animals and without life in the oceans, the rest of the world will die, including us.

But, climate change is not the only negative input in this destruction.  Acidification of the oceans and dead zones are other major threats.

Acidification of the oceans occurs from the overabundance of CO2 in the atmosphere which also sinks into the oceans, (as much as 30-40% of atmospheric CO2 is absorbed by oceans) (Caldeira & Wickett, 2003) .  As the ocean becomes more acidic, it begins to disintegrate calcium-based marine life (such as corals and the shells of certain mollusks and crustaceans).

Dead zones on the other hand are low-oxygen (hypoxic) areas in the ocean where no marine-life can live due to excessive nutrient pollution from human activities such as agriculture (pesticides and animal manure).  There are now approximately 400 dead zones world wide, near populous areas, thus risking the food-supply of millions and perhaps billions of people, and the marine life that once flourished there.

4) it impacts the ability for animals and humans to maintain a proper food supply and may dramatically change viable agricultural locations.  Moreover, climate change will likely perpetuate the need for further habitat destruction as agricultural zones become more “polar” in latitude.

We and other animals depend on bees and other small fauna for food.  Much of our produce requires bees, small birds, or small land-animals for pollination.  These animals may be highly susceptible to changing temperatures and climate; thus, impacting the world’s ability to grow food.
5) which leads me to this point, climate change increases the evaporation of ground water.

This can lead to major problems in food-growing areas of the world and to the variety of species of (food) and wildlife that can thrive there.

There are probably dozens more reasons why species are being lost, and lost at rates never before seen.  Humans are the number 1 reason for these extinctions.  Humans are the number 1 reason for the vast majority of ecological and environmental problems that we see in this world.

While Humans may have evolved to consume “everything,” planet Earth and its environment have not evolved for 7+ Billion humans to consume “everything.”

I highlight the word consume, because humans do not only eat.  We consume.  We consume resources faster than they can regenerate.  We consume lives, animal lives, plant-lives (trees), irreparably.  We consume carbon and create twice as much through agriculture.  We take, and take, and take, and trash, and trash, and trash.

It is time TODAY to take a first step in giving back.  It is time TODAY to consume less, to use less, to kill less.  The Earth is not here just for us to take from.  We are supposed to be its stewards, we are supposed to take care of the land and the seas, so that this generation is not the last, so that we do not look back 50 years from now and say, “I remember a time when Blue Whales, the biggest animal ever to live was swimming in the oceans.”  We must prevent species collapse, and the time to do it is TODAY.

And…now that I have thoroughly depressed or angered everyone…

COMING UP NEXT TIME:

“Fixing the Errors of our Ways” – How we can protect and prevent species loss through small changes

REFERENCES

(Chivian, E. and A. Bernstein (eds.)  2008. Sustaining life: How human health depends on biodiversity. Center for Health and the Global Environment. Oxford University Press, New York.

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change: IPCC AR5 WG1 (2013), Stocker, T.F.; et al., eds., Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis. Working Group 1 (WG1) Contribution to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 5th Assessment Report (AR5), Cambridge University Press Climate Change 2013 Working Group 1 website

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (2016).  http://www.nasa.gov/press-release/nasa-noaa-analyses-reveal-record-shattering-global-warm-temperatures-in-2015

Caldeira, K.; Wickett, M. E. (2003). “Anthropogenic carbon and ocean pH”. Nature425 (6956): 365–365. Bibcode:2001AGUFMOS11C0385C. doi:10.1038/425365a.PMID 14508477. Cite uses deprecated parameter |coauthors= (help)