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)

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