The Anthropocene Extinction & Climate Changes

yawning bengal copyThe mass exodus from Syria and Iraq is occurring not just because of ISIS and the civil wars in both nations, it is a prelude to a massive refugee crisis caused by global warming. “The Fertile Crescent – the birthplace of agriculture some 12,000 years ago – is drying out,” writes John Wendle in Scientific American, March 2016.

The water table that feeds underground wells is drying out and now requires digging up to 700 metres to find the precious elixir of life. Before 2006 the water table was just 70 metres in northern Syria. The drought that began in 2006 has displaced 1.5 million Syrian farmers, which contributed immensely to the current civil war.

In parts of the world that have never had stable states, global warming will hit the hardest, creating a massive global crisis that will mean either humans coming together to help each other, or a series of global conflicts that will be based on the need for resources and food. Poor nations against rich ones, and a further continuation of terrorism within those rich nations. There are solutions, but there’s little will to do the necessary work on new energy resources. Immigration on that level is not the answer for either Europe or the Middle East and Africa. Diverting water south may be an option in the Middle East, and other regions. But diverting refugees to both Europe and North America is a problem of biblical proportions. As we are seeing, there are serious problems that date back thousands of years.

The most remarkable consequences of climate change are in the Arctic. We know that the ice caps are melting at an unprecedented rate. Polar bears’ habitat is becoming precarious for the terrain world’s largest predator. Shipping lanes are opening for the first time ever. [Finally, there is a North-west passage.]

Other than for polar bears and a few other animals, the Arctic land may become more fertile as vegetation moves north, and with it more animals. Scientific research identifies that the other region to be most affected will be the tropics, where most of the world’s species live. The Mediterranean region also faces severe changes. We now know that many of the natural catastrophes: the tsunamis, the droughts, the hurricanes, the disasters that hit New Orleans, the Philippines and elsewhere, are caused by Earth’s atmosphere warming up due directly to increased greenhouse gasses.

NeanderHumans have been responsible for extinctions of other species for at least 12,000 years. Much longer if you consider homo sapiens probably wiped out the Neanderthals (right), and much of the big game that was in Europe – where lions, elephants, and other large mammals once roamed. We can be fairly sure it was humans arriving in the New World, some 15,000 years back, who were behind the loss of the mega-fauna living there for eons. Cave bears, sabre-tooth lions, giant sloths, mastodons and other gigantic mammals disappeared within the next 5,000 years of our arrival. Some scientists have suggested it was climate change, but these beasts had lived through several ice ages. It would be unlikely they would become extinct when the last Ice Age started melting away, as our planet warmed once again.

We can blame our ancestors for killing off the mega-fauna, but they did so in Ice Age times when life, and thus food, was scare. Killing off the mammoths by driving them off cliffs was wasteful, although scavengers like wolves, birds and other animals must have eaten up what the humans couldn’t possibly finish. When they’d killed off the mammoths and mastodons (about 13,000 years ago), the mega-carnivores who depended on them for food, perhaps the sabre-tooth cats, slowly diminished, unable to adapt to smaller game? Their reproductive strategies would have added to their demise, as they reproduced at a slower rate than smaller animals. And, back in Europe and the Middle East had we not chosen thousands of years ago to domesticate them, we may have eaten up all the wild cattle, pigs, sheep and other animals too, as our weapons, the throwing spear, arrows and hunting strategies, were even then weapons of mass destruction. Horses, native to North America, also disappeared when homo stupidus walked across the land bridge to the Americas, or, more likely canoed or used boats to follow the shorelines from the Bering Strait down through Alaska, Canada, all the way down to South America. Horse meat is quite delicious and horses are easily spooked, driven into traps where entire herds were slaughtered. Fortunately horses had enough smarts to exit North America in the opposite direction as these new killer apes had come.

Scientists are saying that the Anthropocene, or Sixth, Extinction either began 9,000 years ago with the beginning of agriculture, or a mere 90 years ago as the speed of the Industrial Revolution increased exponentially. Now it is estimated that 1950 was the crucial date whereby humans caused the demise of so many other species. It doesn’t matter when. What matters is that you believe we are the culprits. It’s difficult to admit to being a mass murderer, but we have to, or it will just get worse. While providing mass produced products petroleum gave us massive air pollution from the burning of coal and oil. The increased global logging after WW11 took away not just logs but hundreds of species living symbiotically, and the CO2 absorbent which forests are. Each technological advance usually means an increase in resource extraction. The 20th century, especially after 1950, shows a global  acceleration in mining. Pristine wilderness is turned to polluted rivers and drinking water for the indigenous people living there. Open-pit mining that often took the entire top off mountains added to the pollution of rivers, lakes, underground springs.

It matters not when it began. What does matter is that we admit that our industrial activities have caused this current climate change. We all know. We just have no leadership.

Human overpopulation is causing extinctions as we overpopulate, and as the price of ivory, blue-fin tuna and bear bladders also go up, so do the number of individual animals in those species go down.  We know of many species at risk because of our over-hunting  such as the decline of fish stocks throughout the oceans just to feed the almost 7.5 billion people on Earth. As a reminder, in 1900 there were a mere 1.6 billion people. The entire 19th century produced an extra 600 million souls, from 1 billion in 1804. The 20th century saw amazing technological growth, and with the technological innovations, the advances in medicine, came a giant leap in population and life expectancy. In one century we incredibly quadrupled our size. While agricultural technology has improved immensely to keep up with some of this rabid growth, wild-life everywhere is in decline, as vast areas of wilderness are logged, turned to farmland, and wildlife habitat shrinks considerably each year.

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In The Sixth Extinction, New Yorker writer, Elizabeth Kolbert, tells us that the earlier five extinctions – the fifth one being the one that caused the demise of the dinosaurs – were caused by asteroids or other space rocks landing with enough force to upset the atmosphere, which is accepted theory today. Scientific American recently speculated that at least some of those extinctions may have been massive earthquakes that released enough noxious gases, soot and chemicals to kill off much of life on Earth, including ocean life. Regardless of what actually occurred, this sixth extinction is the first mass extinction period caused by life itself – us. Kolbert writes, that after discovering coal and oil “humans began to change the composition of the atmosphere. This, in turn, alters the climate and the chemistry of the oceans.” Our very oceans, where life began, are at risk.

Extinctions happened often. But it is usually one or two single species that fails to find a niche during some environmental change. That may be because of the introduction of ‘invasive species’ or an Ice Age, or drought, floods and other natural catastrophes. What we are seeing today is a pattern that began with the arrival of an animal who used weapons and his brain to kill off many other, often larger species. That rate has expedited since the Industrial Revolution, and is further accelerating because of technological innovations, an economic system with few controls, overpopulation of our species, and air and water pollution. The effects on oceans are just beginning to show as the seas warm.  Coral reefs are dying all over the planet. They are the bread and butter of sea life, where there is a wealth and bio-diversity of species of fish and other animals that is rarely found elsewhere in our oceans.

Amphibians are dying off all over the world. “[T]he group’s extinction rate could be as much as forty-five thousand times higher than the background rate,” writes Kolbert. One reason is that humans transplant them, thus spreading local diseases across the globe. We’ve depleted the fish stocks that used to be endless. In the last 50 years salmon runs in the Pacific North West have severely dwindled. The Newfoundland Atlantic cod on the Grand Banks has never recovered from the crash of the 1980s. Bluefin tuna, which were once ubiquitous, and magnificent, are on the endangered list. Japanese trawlers have taken some of the remaining catches and are charging huge amounts of money for bluefin tuna sushi – $125 an ounce!

AulkHumans killed off the Great Aulk, a northern bird that behaved much like a penguin and was found all over the northern hemisphere. Carrier pigeons used to block the sky when they flew over, bringing darkness to American villages and towns. Impossible as it sounds, we shot them all. As we cut down the Amazon, we are not only destroying valuable carbon dioxide absorbents, but killing off many of the various species living in that great forest. Many of those species have not even been cataloged yet. In Africa, our very close relative, the Bonobo ape, known for its love of lovemaking, is on the brink of extinction. As the population of Africa grows, and it will, wildlife extinctions will follow. We forget that Africa is a huge continent, with only 1.2 billion people, so there are still large areas of jungle, savanna and wilderness. People, as they have done in Asia, Europe and the USA, will change that.

Yet again, it is the big animals, the elephants, the tigers, rhinos, some species of whale that are extremely close to dying off forever. Entirely because of our greed. [Although poachers often do so out of economic need.] According to Kolbert, “a third of all fresh-water mullusks … sharks and rays, a quarter of all mammals, a fifth of all reptiles, and a sixth of all birds are headed toward oblivion.”

Can we reverse this trend? Yes. How difficult will it be? The longer we leave it, the less likely we will succeed. There are some big advances in nuclear fusion. Unlike nuclear fission, there is no radioactive sludge to bury, or nuclear explosions such as were had at Chernobyl and other reactor sites. If governments put more money into developing nuclear fusion, we would have a safe alternative to fossil fuels forever.

What is stopping change is willpower, and a capitalistic system based entirely on profit, without any accounting for humans, the environment, wildlife and the atmosphere. Oil companies have been spreading misinformation about global warming for decades. They lobby governments to allow them to keep drilling in fragile zones. That sort of corporate power has kept us from moving on climate change for all those years.

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If you read James Lovelock’s books about his Gaia theory, you’ll understand that life itself created the atmosphere we breathe, and that we are greatly upsetting the fragile balance of life. We need diversity. We need to preserve wildlife and wilderness areas. In fact, the United Nations needs to declare that no more wilderness will be exploited. That the industrial fishing fleets which harvest the ocean floors, throwing away tons of dead sea-life to catch commercial fish, be banned. That trophy hunting be a crime. In the case of Africa and the Amazon, Western governments need to help pay the costs to preserve wilderness reserves, to put an end to poaching, and work towards the elimination of poverty. The economic aid they give to dubious ‘allies’ needs to be going to preservation of wilderness in nations that cannot afford to do so.

We will only eliminate poverty if we stop overpopulating this planet. Why do people bring babies into this world to live in misery? Tradition. And the various religions that tell their followers not to use birth control. There’s a simple way to stop that. Eliminate tax breaks for churches that do not advocate birth control for their congregations. The Bible was written thousands of years ago when the world’s population was low, less than 200 million. We need real political leadership here. To keep reproducing babies at this rate will eventually kill everyone and perhaps everything else. Religions need to join the 21st century and to face facts. If they believe that God wants us all to die – as predicted in Revelations – their leaders should be reminded that Jesus and his followers all thought God would cause a massive apocalypse in their lifetimes. It was a prophecy probably brought on by the Roman invasion and occupation of Judea, and the Pharisees and other Jewish sects wanted them gone.

Anyone who believes that God will save us, should study history. He never has yet. We are the only beings capable of saving this planet. Let’s do it.

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