The Sixth Extinction

Most people like animals. Whether those animals are pets, wild, or zoo dwellers we feel some sort of connection with them. I think we have this connection because, even though we may not want to admit it, we are also animals. Of course, we are unique in the sense that morals, thoughts of the future, and money engulf our everyday lives. Human beings have inhabited every corner of the earth and are the most invasive species in the history of this planet. No other animal has changed the landscape and physical world like humans. We can cross oceans in a few hours, treat infections with antibiotics, eat junk food, and stare into bright screens throughout the entire day. Sadly, our ability to master our environment has led many of our fellow animals to become extinct. So many animals have become extinct during the reign of humans that scientists are calling our presence “The Sixth Extinction.” The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert dives into this scary predicament.

The earth has experienced five major extinctions prior to us coming on the scene.  The earth is about 4.5 billion years old; plants and animals came into the picture about 500 million years ago. The last 500 million years can be divided into these geological periods: Cambrian, Ordovician, Silurian, Devonian, Carboniferous, Permian, Triassic, Jurassic, Cretaceous, Palogene, Neogene, and Quaternary. You can remember these with this mnemonic-Camels Often Sit Down Carefully, Perhaps Their Joints Creak and the Pain Never Quits. The five extinctions occurred at the end of the Ordovician, Devonian, Permian, Triassic, and Cretaceous. These extinctions were caused by major changes in the environment. The most famous extinction was the asteroid that killed the dinosaurs. For a long time, people didn’t even know animals could go extinct. This is because the average extinction rate of a species was only 1 every 1,000 years; meaning it would be rare to see an extinction in a human lifetime.

Fast forward to today. The Sixth Extinction. Just in one human lifetime it is estimated that “one-third of all reef building corals, a third of all fresh water mollusks, a third of sharks and rays, a quarter of mammals, a fifth of all reptiles, and a sixth of all birds are headed toward extinction.” What is causing all of these extinctions? The answer is the big three: global warming, ocean acidification, and habitat loss. Global warming is caused by the release of carbon into the atmosphere which subsequently traps heat. This changes the amount of polar ice and the micro-climates that species live in throughout the planet. Carbon also is absorbed by the ocean which causes the water to become more acidic. This acidification creates pronounced problems for all sorts of marine species. Finally, habitat loss decreases specie diversity and destroys symbiotic relationships between small and large organisms alike. Using conservative estimates for global warming, it is estimated that by 2050 a unbelievable 24 percent of all species on earth will be headed towards extinction. That is 1 MILLION SPECIES that will be dead forever in our lifetime!!! 

Does this have to be our future? Should we just throw our hands in the air and give up? I know it is an immense problem but we can make a difference.”Alfred Newton described the slaughter that was occurring along the British coast; the result was the Act for the Preservation of Sea Birds. John Muir wrote about the damage being done in the mountains of California, and this led to the creation of Yosemite National Park. Silent Spring exposed the dangers posed by synthetic pesticides, and within a decade, most uses of DDT had been prohibited.” These are only a few examples of what individual people did to help improve the environment. So what can you do to help the environment? There are multiple ways to protect our fellow creatures. Here are a few ways you can contribute:

  1. Recycle and reuse as much as you can
  2. Purchase a fuel efficient vehicle-Prius anyone?
  3. Become an Essentialist and stop being a Consumer.

We can make a difference by taking care of our environment right NOW. Humans may have conquered the confines of evolution but we are still dependent on the earth’s biological and geochemical systems. This puts our own species at risk for extinction because we all depend on the intricate partnerships of nature. If past extinctions teach us anything, it is that there is no discrimination when it comes to wiping out species. Don’t feel depressed, feel informed. Do your part to make this planet a better place.

 

Tomorrowland

In the year 2050 I will be 60 years old. It seems like a long time from now but I know the date will suddenly slam me in the face along with familiar phrase, “where did the time go?” It seems like all the predictions of today are framed around the year 2050: the global population will double, the earth will be 3 degrees warmer, we will need millions more pounds of food, Donald Trump will be in his 8th term as Supreme Leader. It makes me scared because none of the predictions are positive and I worry about the abuse we are putting upon our planet. Obviously, global warming is a big deal and something everyone needs to be educated about. To better understand how we have caused this precarious situation I read The Prize and The Quest by Daniel Yergin. I already talked about The Prize  which summarized the last 150 years of oil in a previous postThe Quest talks about the oil industry of today and how we need to transition from oil to more earth-friendly sources of power. Using the information that I learned from The Quest, I want to write a letter to my future 60 year old self…

“Hey you older frick! I hope that you have had an excellent 34 years since the time this blog post was written. Is the world as crappy as we thought it would be? I hope Justin Beaver isn’t running for President. Anyways, I want to write some of my predictions for what 2050 looks like. You are currently driving an all electric car that is charged by solar panels installed at the house; ideally, there is a very high efficiency battery that powers all your electrical needs throughout the day even when there is no sun. Charging the car is fast and easy because stations are ubiquitous across the country. Utility bills are nearly non-existent because the house is built to optimize heating and cooling throughout the year. Worldwide carbon dioxide emissions are now decreasing each year and there are large government sponsored initiatives to remove the existing carbon from the atmosphere and oceans. Sadly, i’m guessing these initiatives only came after drastic damages to worldwide agriculture, coastal property, and most importantly-Wall Street’s trading computers. Are there still coral reefs? Do we still have our beautiful snowy days? Will our grandchildren have a promising future? I want to believe that the US now receives most of its power from solar, wind, biomass, nuclear, and natural gas. The Middle East is a center for banking and finance, now that their revenues come mostly from overseas investment funds. Maybe there is less turmoil with terrorism because oil no longer funds their operations. The developing nations in 2016 are probably much-more developed by now and may be the last countries depending on oil. Society as a whole is much more concerned about conservation and there are concerted efforts to bring carbon levels back to pre-industrial averages. The whole world has united in its effort to reverse global warming and they predict by 2100 that the earth will finally have normal levels of greenhouse gases. What an awesome time to be alive!  Of course i’m sure there are many problems in 2050: poverty, crime, starvation, and illness to name a few. Heck Kim Kardashian still probably has a reality TV show. At least, the climate issue is being addressed and you will have many more beautiful years on a healing planet earth. 

What can we do in 2016 to help reverse Global Warming? Below are three practical steps.

  1. Offset your carbon footprint by supporting programs that aim to reverse global warming: carbonfund.org
  2. Update your house with energy efficient appliances, lighting, and insulation. It will safe you money every month and decrease energy usage significantly.
  3. Lose weight: when you weigh less you use less fuel, eat less energy intensive food, and you just feel better. Win-Win.