Thursday, November 10, 2016

On The Road To Collapse

The writing is on the wall. And it's been on the wall for a long time. David Suzuki writes:

Clean air, water and soil to grow food are necessities of life. So are diverse plant and animal populations. But as the human population continues to increase, animal numbers are falling. There's a strong correlation. A comprehensive report from the World Wildlife Federation and the Zoological Society of London found that wild animal populations dropped by 58 per cent between 1970 and 2012, and will likely reach a 67 per cent drop by 2020 if nothing is done to prevent the decline.

The report points to human activity as the main cause. Habitat degradation and destruction, hunting and overfishing, the illegal wildlife trade, invasive species, disease, pollution and climate change are causing an extinction crisis unlike any since dinosaurs disappeared 65 million years ago. Animals worldwide are affected, from African elephants to European dolphins to Asian vultures to amphibians everywhere.

Humans will feel the impacts, the study notes: "Living systems keep the air breathable and water drinkable, and provide nutritious food. To continue to perform these vital services they need to retain their complexity, diversity and resilience."

We know from the work of Jared Diamond that the collapse of cultures and civilizations is nothing new. And all the signs tell us that we are nearing the point of no return. Nevertheless, Suzuki writes, we still have time to change course:

To address this, we must find ways to live sustainably, especially regarding energy and food. Rapid renewable energy development and shifting from fossil fuels to clean sources are crucial. So are consuming less animal protein -- especially in high-income countries -- and reducing waste along the food chain. "Furthermore, optimizing agricultural productivity within ecosystem boundaries, replacing chemical and fossil inputs by mimicking natural processes, and stimulating beneficial interactions between different agricultural systems, are key to strengthening the resilience of landscapes, natural systems and biodiversity -- and the livelihoods of those who depend on them."

To a large extent, conserving energy and consuming less of everything will determine whether we succeed or not. And while overconsumption, especially among the world's most well-off, is a key factor in the breakdown of natural systems, overpopulation can't be ignored. The best ways to address the population problem are to improve women's rights and provide greater access to birth control and education.

The challenges may be huge, but a better world is possible. The alternative is to watch as animals and plants go extinct, water becomes scarce, weather hits more extremes, conflicts over land and resources increase, and life becomes more difficult for people everywhere. As we've seen numerous times, once we start to tackle the challenges, we'll see many benefits emerge, from greater equity to better health and more balanced ways of living within planetary limits. Then we can all enjoy the many gifts Earth provides.

Something to think about in light of recent events.

Image: Valley Watch


Lorne said...

These days, Owen, I take a small measure of comfort in knowing that if we fail to mend our ways, our human populations will be greatly diminished as a consequence, thus giving the earth, and the rest of the remaining creatures on it, the opportunity to reestablish a new homeostatis.

Owen Gray said...

The inconvenient truth, Lorne, is that we've become our own worst enemies.

Marie Snyder said...

I'm actually weirdly hopeful that things will get so bad people will actually start paying attention and developing their skills at revolt! But I'm ever the optimist!

Owen Gray said...

When it comes to doing anything about our circumstances, Marie, the default position we have to adopt is optimism.

The Mound of Sound said...

I just stumbled across a new outfit, the Global Military Advisory Council on Climate Change. GMACCC is made up of retired and active service officers of general rank. In the main, they're warning of what we've already heard from Gwynne Dyer, the Pentagon's last two Quadrennial Defense Reviews, and British Ministry of Defence studies - climate change is going to greatly destabilize the world order and lead to major wars. When Dyer wrote "Climate Wars" he said that mankind won't die from climate change. War will do the job first.

Now it seems researchers have discovered that we've underestimated climate sensitivity. The warmer the atmosphere, the more sensitive it will be to GHG emissions. In other words, X gigatonnes of CO2 will have a warming effect of Y in a cold atmosphere. That same X gigatonnes of CO2 released into a warm atmosphere will cause 1.3 or 1.5 Y of warming. The warming response is not linear.

What a damn mess we've made of it.

Steve said...

Here on Easter Island the sun always shines and the tourist fill the well

Owen Gray said...

We've been thinking in simple addition, Mound. We've refused to acknowledge that change can occur like a geometric progression -- snowballing and overwhelming us quickly. And very few of us have thought about the military consequences of that progression.

Owen Gray said...

The history of Easter Island should serve as a cautionary tale for all of us, Steve. Unfortunately, very few people are familiar with that history.

ffd said...

I think we are facing a big dieoff of some sort. It is curious how the fundamentalist Christians with their end time and left behind beliefs have roughly the same picture in their heads as the scientists, except the fundies think they'll be whistled off to heaven at the last minute and so need not concern themselves with the fate of the earth. I would think that such indifference to God's creation might block them from heaven.

People think that big dieoffs are unusual, uncommon, and unlikely to happen. No way. They are quite common in European history. The last one was WWII.

Owen Gray said...

It's easy not to worry about the future, ffd -- if you believe you're among those who God has already chosen.