Human Extinction and Biodiversity Loss

Biodiversity matters to Humans: Biodiversity –> Ecosystem services –> Human well-being.

Click for Larger - They improved predictive (Futuring) methods during their study.

Click for Larger – They improved predictive (Futuring) methods during their study.

Scientific evidence has shown that based on fossil records the current rate of biodiversity loss is happening at a faster pace than in the past.1 But the impact of the loss of biodiversity on human well-being was not made clear until recently. In the June 2012 issue of Nature, a group of 17 prominent ecologists led by Bradley Cardinale of the University of Michigan School of Natural Resources and Environment claim that biodiversity loss impacts humans far more seriously and intricately than originally thought.2

Twenty years ago, at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro Brazil, the Convention on Biological Diversity was created with the goal of conserving biodiversity and sustainably using natural resources. There are currently 193 signatory nations to the Convention. After the Earth Summit, a large number of studies were conducted all over the world to determine the importance of biodiversity loss, its impact on the Earth’s ecosystems, and how humans are ultimately affected by ecosystem changes due to the loss of biodiversity. The Nature paper by Cardinale et al. summarizes 1,000 of these published studies over the past 20 years.

According to the paper, the loss in biodiversity results in a less productive and less sustainable ecosystem. What this means for humans is that if there is a loss in biodiversity in an ecosystem, there is a corresponding decrease in the ability of such an ecosystem to provide society with goods (e.g. water, food, wood, fodder, fertile soils, etc.) and services (e.g. protection from pests and diseases and air and water purification).

The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA), a United Nations-backed panel of 1360 experts from about 95 countries, published a 2005 report entitled Ecosystems and Human Well-being:

Current State and Trends that assessed the changing conditions of Earth’s ecosystems and the services they provide.3 Of the many ecosystem services identified by the group, they selected eleven services that they considered “of vital importance almost everywhere in the world and represent, in the opinion of the Working Group, the main services that are most important for human well-being and are most affected by changes in ecosystem conditions.” The following are the services they identified:

  1. Fresh water
  2. Food
  3. Timber, fuel, and fiber
  4. New biodiversity products and industries
  5. Biological regulation
  6. Nutrient cycling
  7. Climate and air quality
  8. Ecosystem regulation of infectious diseases
  9. Waste processing and detoxification
  10. Regulation of floods and fires
  11. Cultural and amenity services

According to the MA, “Over the past 50 years, humans have changed ecosystems more rapidly and extensively than in any comparable period of time in human history, largely to meet rapidly growing demands for food, fresh water, timber, fiber and fuel. This has resulted in a substantial and largely irreversible loss in the diversity of life on Earth.”4 The group also found that about 15 out 24 (roughly 60%) of the ecosystem services it examined were being “degraded or used unsustainably.” These unfortunate ecosystem services include the purification of air and water; the regulation of regional and local climates, natural hazards, and pests; fresh water; and capture fisheries. 3

Box 1: From the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment Conceptual Framework of Interactions between Biodiversity, Ecosystem Services, Human Well-being, and Drivers of Change. Remarks refer to the image immediately below them.[1] Changes in drivers that indirectly affect biodiversity, such as population, technology, and lifestyle (upper right corner), can lead to changes in drivers directly affecting biodiversity, such as the catch of fish or the application of fertilizers to increase food production (lower right corner).[2] These result in changes to biodiversity and to ecosystem services (lower left corner), thereby affecting human well- being.

[3] These interactions can take place at more than one scale and can cross scales. For example, international demand for timber may lead to a regional loss of forest cover, which increases flood magnitude along a local stretch of a river.

[4+] Similarly, the interactions can take place across different time scales. Actions can be taken either to respond to negative changes or to enhance positive changes at almost all points in this framework. Local scales refer to communities or ecosystems and regional scales refer to nations or biomes, all of which are nested within global scale processes.

Biodiversity and Human Well Being Linked Directly and Indirectly in this Diagram.

Biodiversity and Human Well Being Linked Directly and Indirectly in this Diagram.

To illustrate the relationship between biodiversity, ecosystems, and society, consider that of the estimated 9 million species of plants, animals, fungi and protists that make Earth their home, only 12 species of plants make up 80% of the world’s total food needs and only 15 species of mammals and birds are used in 90% of domestic livestock production worldwide.5,6,7 The numbers may indicate that loss of biodiversity is not vital to human survival, but when we consider the ecosystem in which these plants and animals live, we find that these few species depend on thousands of other species for their survival. Plants rely on many types of insects and birds for pollination. In fact, in the European Union, of the 264 crops grown in its member countries, 80% depend on insects as pollinators. Insects such as ladybugs, dragonflies, and wasps and small animals such as moles, bats, and frogs all serve as natural pest control agents for many crops.8 Many animals raised as livestock depend on non-food plants such as hay and other species of grass for fodder. All these plants and animals host a variety of bacteria and fungi that maintain symbiotic relationships with their hosts. Furthermore, various non-food plant species make up the forest ecosystem that is responsible for trapping and cycling water, providing fertile soils, purifying the air, sequestering carbon, and regulating natural hazards such as fires and floods. The animals that thrive in it have unique predator-prey relationships that prevent the dominance and outbreak of any one species. There is also a vast marine and freshwater ecosystem that covers much more of the Earth. So not only does biodiversity serve its own ecosystem, this ecosystem is also a resource upon which every system and every life on Earth draws upon.

Diaz et al (2005) presented two important effects of biodiversity on the global climate and human life.9 First, the diversity of species in marine ecosystems is largely responsible for biogeochemical cycling (i.e. carbon, nitrogen, and sulfur cycling by benthic organisms) and carbon sequestration (marine photosynthesis by phytoplankton). It is important to note that benthic organisms and phytoplankton also have an important role in the food web that maintains marine biodiversity. Second, a diverse number of marine microorganisms functions in detoxification processes such as filtering water, reducing the effects of eutrophication, and degrading toxic hydrocarbons. By creating a clean marine environment, the plants and animals are able to thrive and humans are able to harvest them for food and other uses.

The major reason for the loss of biodiversity is habitat destruction. Rockstrom et al (2009) identified two causes for habitat loss: land use change due to man-made and natural causes and climate change.1 Man-made changes in land use have the most significant effect and primarily involve the conversion of natural ecosystems for agriculture and urban uses. Other causes of change include disturbances from wildfires and the introduction of new and invasive species into land and water ecosystems.8 The speed at which the global climate changes is expected to become an increasingly important driver of biodiversity loss as, for instance, polar habitats diminish and the increase in sea temperatures threaten the existence of marine ecosystems. In fact, stresses put on other areas (e.g. agriculture and energy use) may eventually become stressors to biodiversity and ecosystem services, thus further worsening the problem.8

Biodiversity clearly plays a much more important role to humans than just the number of species. Changes or losses in biodiversity have direct and indirect societal consequences that if not addressed will impact the future survival of humanity. Cardinale et al are calling for efforts to conserve biodiversity on an international scale through policies that would prevent further loss of species and perhaps restore the degraded ecosystems that host them.2 By doing so, we would not only be helping biodiversity, we would also be ensuring that ecosystem services that derive from biodiversity can continue to provide vital resources that are necessary for human survival.

References:

  1. Rockström, J., Steffen, W., Noone, K., Persson, Å., Chapin, F. S. III, Lambin, E. F.,…Foley, J.A. (2009). A safe operating space for humanity. Nature, 461, 472–475. doi:10.1038/461472a
  1. Cardinale, B.J., Duffy, E., Emmett, J., Gonzalez, A., Hooper, D.U., Perrings, C.,…Naeem, S. (2012). Biodiversity loss and its impact on humanity. Nature, 486(7401): 59–67. doi:10.1038/nature11148
  1. Hassan, H., Scholes, R., & Ash, N. (Eds.). (2005). Ecosystems and Human Well-Being: Current State and Trends, Volume 1. Retrieved from http://www.millenniumassessment.org/documents/document.766.aspx.pdf
  1. Millenium Ecosystem Assessment (n.d.). Guide to millenium assessment reports. Retrieved April 12, 2013 from http://www.unep.org/maweb/en/Index.aspx
  1. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. (n.d.). The international treaty on plant genetic resources for food and agriculture. Retrieved April 12, 2013 from  ftp://ftp.fao.org/docrep/fao/010/i0112e/i0112e10.pdf
  1. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. (2010). FAOSTAT Top 25 Commodities (world). Retrieved April 15, 2013 from http://faostat3.fao.org/home/index.html#VISUALIZE_TOP_20
  1. Small, Ernest. (2009). Top 100 Food Plants. Ottawa, Canada: NRC Press. 636 p.
  1. Biodiversity and human health. (n.d.). Harvard School of Public Health Center for Health and the Global Environment. Retrieved April 10, 2013 from  http://chge.med.harvard.edu/category/biodiversity-and-human-health
  1. Díaz, S., Tilman, D., Fargione, J. (2005). Biodiversity regulation of ecosystem services. In H. Hassan, R. Scholes, & N. Ash (Eds.), Ecosystems and Human Well-Being: Current State and Trends (pp. 297–329). Retrieved from http://www.unep.org/maweb/documents/document.280.aspx.pdf
  1. Staudinger, M.D., Grimm, N.B., Staudt, A., Carter, S.L., Chapin, F.S. III, Kareiva, P.,… Stein, B.A. (2012). Impacts of Climate Change on Biodiversity, Ecosystems, and Ecosystem Services: Technical Input to the 2013 National Climate Assessment. Cooperative Report to the 2013 National Climate Assessment. 296 p. Retrieved from http://downloads.usgcrp.gov/NCA/Activities/Biodiversity-Ecosystems-and-Ecosystem-Services-Technical-Input.pdf
  1. Ecologists call for preservation of planet’s remaining biological diversity. (2012, June). ScienceDaily. Retrieved from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/06/120606164938.htm

 

Tipping Point Drivers

Drivers toward a potential planetary-scale, complete biosphere failure: The Tipping Point.  Includes Video, highlights, and full text link.

In 2012, Anthony Barnosky at Berkeley, along with 21 other scientists and researchers dove into the question of whether or not we had or are nearing an environmental tipping point – a theoretical point at which one ecosystem after another, and many in parallel fail, like dominos, and become unable to sustain life as a result of human induced factors.  Their study clearly identifies numerous drivers, yet it is almost impossible to put a precise point on any timeline or pollutant level that might cause such a planetary-wide failure.

Regardless of any such dot on the prediction scale, the alarming, primary drivers of such an event have been documented and as you’ll find elsewhere on this site, we encourage you and those you talk to and influence, to take serious the threat to our only current home: spaceship earth.  Caution is the better part of valor when it comes to the thinly veiled rocky surface and finite, closed system ocean that we need to survive.

Here is a brief video introduction, then the remainder of the article refers to the image immediately following. It illustrates the sometimes subtle interactions of numerous, human-controlled drivers pushing us ever closer to the tipping point.

Video Intro

Article Highlights

human-extinction-biosphere-tipping-point-drivers

a – Humans locally transform and fragment landscapes. This includes deforestation, over-farming, poor land management practices that allow rich soil to erode into the ocean.

b – Adjacent areas still harboring natural landscapes undergo indirect changes as food sources disappear and the delicate balance of plant and animal species and populations built over eons is destroyed.

c – Anthropogeniclocal (human-induced) state shifts accumulate to transform a high percentage of Earth’s surface drastically; brown coloring depicts the approximately 40% of terrestrial ecosystems that have now been transformed to agricultural landscapes.

d – Global-scale forcings emerge from accumulated local human impacts, for example dead zones in the oceans from run-off of agricultural pollutants.

e – Changes in atmospheric and ocean chemistry from the release of greenhouse gases as fossil fuels are burned.

f – Beetle-killed conifer forests (browntrees) triggered by seasonal changes in temperature observed over the past five decades.

f thru h – Global-scale forcings emerge to cause ecological changes even in areas that are far from human population concentrations.

g – Reservoirs of biodiversity, such as tropical rainforests, are projected to lose many species as global climate change causes local changes in temperature and precipitation, exacerbating other threats already causing abnormally high extinction rates. In the case of amphibians, this threat is the human-facilitated spread of chytrid fungus.

h – Glaciers on Mount Kilimanjaro, which remained large throughout the past 11,000yr, are now melting quickly, a global trend that in many parts of the world threatens the water supplies of major population centers. As increasing human populations directly transform more and more of Earth’s surface, such changes driven by emergent global-scale forcings increase drastically, in turn causing state shifts in ecosystems that are not directly used by people.

The above image and overviews are but a tip of the iceberg. The full article describes in more detail the interacting complexities of what has been treated historically as separate ecosystems. We’re beginning to see that local pollutants have global effect.  Perhaps exponentially. Straight extrapolation of pollutant volumes and surface temperatures no longer suffice to capture the real risk that a Global Ecological Tipping Point may soon be approaching.

References:

Barnosky, Anthony D. et al; NATURE Magazine, VOL486, 7-JUNE-2012, Pg. 52-58

Full Article: http://www.stanford.edu/group/hadlylab/_pdfs/Barnoskyetal2012.pdf

Global Warming Mitigation

Options are Good. Good Options are Better.

Will it take a Shotgun Wedding for Big Oil to embrace Going Green?

The scientific evidence being amassed overwhelmingly indicates that climate change is happening now, that humans are at the root of its acceleration, and that it may very well threaten the health and survivability of our planetary biosphere and as a result, the human race.

YOU need to decide that caution is the better part of valor. Decide to respond to climate change, not ignore it. Regardless of whether the Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians, or the Green Party hold political favor, support the elimination of fossil fuels as a societal foundation. Make emissions controls onerous for the purveyors of destruction and suck the expense out of corporate profits- legally. Attach personal accountability and restitution to the destruction of the planet. MOST IMPORTANTLY: Support ridiculous amounts of R&D investment in wind, solar, wave, hydrogen, biofuels, and other sustainable, non-pollutant sources of energy. Provided with better alternatives, Big Oil’s choice to ‘Go Green’ may not have to be a shotgun wedding.

No I did not include Nuclear Power.  How many accidents have we had? Where are we putting (hiding) the waste?  How many hundreds of thousands of years does it remain a threat to all life?

Renewable Energy Examples on the Future Human Evolution Website

Most scientists agree that it is not too late to mitigate the ill effects we’re forcing on our spaceship earth. Depending on how we react, the detrimental impacts can last as little as a few decades, or plague us for thousands of years. Perhaps beyond the last human survivor.

Support science. Support technology. Lobby to convert the bloated defense budgets (a good portion of which is planned around protecting access to oil) toward programs and policies, like sustainable/free energy R&D, that benefit our great grandchildren and their descendants, and that ensure not only a sustainable planet and the opportunity to expand beyond the stars, but fair opportunities for the pursuit of happiness and the right to live healthy and free right here and now on spaceship earth with equal economic advantage and comfort.

Climate change is but a bellwether, a wakeup call. It clearly demonstrates that our latest experiment with unbridled capitalism and a so-called “free” economy only serves the interest of a few while literally placing our species at risk.

Folks, that's some BAD politics.
It is time for a Seachange.

Politics and Science

Big Oil makes the law and is held unaccountable for planetary destruction.

Click for Larger

In the previous article, “Its Global Warming, STUPID”, we saw how our ability to assess the overall risks of climate change has increased as the warming-per-degree impacts become easier to predict.  There are two basic issues that we must force policymakers to weigh:

  1. The level of warming we’ll allow vs. the cost to stop it, and
  2. The emissions threshold for that warming level

The folks in charge control the first item- the level of warming we’ll allow.  The “folks in charge” are of course those with the most influence which are those with the most money which are those that stand to lose the most should we diverge from our present petroleum-based economy. What to do? Throw in the towel?

It may be that only hugely intensified public pressure/outcry, with the continued backing of scientific evidence, will drag these public servants kicking and screaming to legislate and enforce emission and many other standards needed to protect the planet from our apathy, greed, and sloth. Vote your oil supporting lackey out of office. Tar and feather him/her to show one really good use of a petroleum-based product.

Just the Facts, Man

Scientists have been able to figure out with a fair amount of certainty that to keep planetary temperatures steady at any given point on the thermometer, we as a species need to cut CO2 emissions by 80%.

Here are a couple of illustrative examples that compare leveling off emissions, as opposed to actually reducing them.

Scenario 1: Leveling Off Emissions

CO2 Accumulations assuming  leveling off of pollutant output.

Continuing accumulation of CO2 given a level output (non-increasing).

Scenario 2: Sharp 80% Reduction in Emissions

CO2 Accumulation/concentration assuming a drastic 80% reduction in emissions.

CO2 levels if we drastically reduced emissions by 80%.

Additionally, scientists have come to the conclusion that it is the accumulation amount rather than the rate emitting which translates CO2 volumes into higher planetary temperatures.  An estimate of human-emitted carbon in the atmosphere today is at 500 gigatonnes, or 500 billion tons. Conservatively, scientists believe that at 1,150 gigatonnes, should we allow that to happen, temperatures will increase by nearly 4 degrees Fahrenheit (2 degrees Centigrade).

Global Warming and Human Extinction - temp to CO2 concentration chart.

Anticipated temperature rise per gigatons of CO2 accumulation.

So it is clear that what’s really important to global warming, is the cumulative CO2 emissions in the atmosphere.  One proposed solution is the “Emissions Budget” or “Diet” approach. Rather than dictate an annual emissions subtotal each year, specify and adopt policies that over a longer period of time, perhaps over the next 40 years, dictate what the cumulative emission must be. Obviously the more aggressive the goals, the safer we are in mitigating ongoing damage to the biosphere. Checkpoints would need to be established to ensure directional and sufficient progress toward the final objective. 

Meeting an Emissions Budget

Being able to achieve the objective of our emission diet, or overall cumulative budget will be greatly aided by an early and aggressive action plan and its execution.  International cooperation must be gained as corporations seek refuge from the higher costs of clean air standards.

Emissions Reduction Scenarios Chart adapted from: National Research Council, but oh so much nicer with a Militant option.

CO2 Emissions Budget Scenarios -levels over time by aggressiveness of action.-

So far we’ve centered our review on CO2, Carbon Dioxide. It is indeed the most critical greenhouse gas that we need to control.  The chart below, given that the burning of fossil fuels is the primary producer of CO2 in the US, how that production is divided between transportation, industrial uses, and commercial and residential applications. Likewise, it indicates whether the gas comes directly from combustion powered machinery or as fuel to create electric power.

U.S.A EPA Stats on CO2 Emissions by category (residential, industrial, commercial, and transportation.

Here are some interesting facts about the US’s CO2 output relative to the world:

  • Of all human-created CO2 in the atmosphere today, we have produced half.
  • We currently supply 20% of world-wide new greenhouse emissions annually.
  • Of all the world’s population, we only have about 5%within our borders.
  • Our contribution percentage will decline over the coming years not because of reduction, but because of the sharp increase expected from developing countries like India and China.

That last fact should be alarming to all. We have no official jurisdiction over these developing countries, and a possible shortage of credibility give our first bullet above. Why, so the argument will go, should we curtail advancement and greater industrialization/production when you, Uncle Sam used it to achieve world dominance?  And we’ve all seen how ineffectual the UN can be in any resolution.

US vs Cina CO2 Emissions historical to 2030

Education regarding choice alternatives and consequences must be high on our communication priority list, not to mention creating the availability of viable alternatives to destructive fossil-fuel-based energy, transport, and industrial advancement solutions.

Below is a simple CO2 Creation Chain adapted from the National Research Council Publication 2010b. By strategically supplying healthier alternatives throughout the value chain, perhaps combined with enforced standards of energy sources and efficiencies, developing countries could stem what may seem as the inevitable path taken by the US during the 20th Century.

Opportunities to Limit Emissions through Better Choices - an Entrepreneur's Dream Chart.

Opportunities to Limit Emissions through Better Choices.

Greenhouse Gas Reduction Options

There are a number of things we can do, both short and long term to alleviate the production of greenhouse gasses, in addition to those already covered.

  1. Greater efficiencies. Better insulation, heating, cooling, and lighting method.
  2. More efficient machines. More “MPG/KPL”.
  3. Alternative, non-petroleum-based fuels and renewable energy.
  4. CO2 Capture and sequester, post manufacture, ambient air.  Forest and plant management.
  5. Education and consumer incentives for smart choices.
  6. Tax credits and incentives for manufacturers.
  7. Government regulation, policies, financial incentives and disincentives:
    1. Carbon tax
    2. Efficiency and energy source mandates, building codes, etc.
    3. Subsidies
    4. Sponsored volunteerism

The National Research Council’s publication from which many of these facts have been gleaned suggests that the prevailing thought on incentives according to economists and analysts is that of disincenting – levying taxes and penalties to encourage the adoption of alternate sources and methods. That a tough row to hoe in anyone’s book.  Our favorite designer here at FHE, Buckminster Fuller will tell you in a minute, provide a better alternative and it’s a cake walk.

Boondoggles and failures of incentivized R&D into alternative fuels and construction and transportation notwithstanding, give people a better way to build and advance and then get out of their way. One need not be a conspiracy theorist to imagine the many saboteurs lined up to kill our efforts to usurp this petroleum-based economy. Trillions at stake. Entire nations and cultures at stake. Kings and their Kingdoms (literally). Time to dive back into that well. It is deep with possibilities.

There’s an old and perhaps inappropriate joke about all the middle east will have left when we don’t need or they run out of oil, is sand and sun. Add to that wind, some ocean and seaside property, and you have one of the world’s richest most abundant areas of renewable energy imaginable. Silicone and glass, solar arrays, wind energy, wave energy, and the like.

What the hell are we waiting on?

Reducing Non-CO2 Global Warming Culprits

Hydrofluorocarbons were effectively dealt with through public education, cooperation of the news media, and strict legislation.

Hydrofluorocarbons were effectively dealt with through public education, cooperation of the news media, and strict legislation.

The reason CO2 is our chief concern is because of its abundance and long life span. However there are a few other greenhouse gases that are actually more harmful by chemical make-up, but have less overall impact because they only comprise about 15% of our climate-warming emissions. They include:

  • Methane
  • Nitrous Oxide
  • Hydrofluorocarbons

Many of you may remember the whole hydrofluorocarbon ordeal some 20-30 years ago. The banning of hairspray and all manner of other spray cans which used that gas as the propellant. The reason? Depletion of the ozone layer and the unfiltering of damaging ultraviolet radiation (light) upon us surface dwellers.

However, agriculture generates the most non-CO2 greenhouse gasses. Livestock digestion produces methane, and manure and fertilizer generate both methane and nitrous oxide.  Farming techniques known as ‘precision agriculture’ can help eliminate unnecessary over-fertilization and improve waste management practices. Additionally, methane has a secondary market, so capturing methane gas produced by landfills, coal mines, and oil and gas refining/production facilities provides its own monetary reward system.

Last on our list of global warming agents are non-greenhouse gases such as “soot” aka black carbon that comes from burning bio and fossil fuels, biomass fuels like dung in many parts of the world. These pollutants are short-lived but can have a pretty significant local impact on temperature. In particular, the airborne dark colored particulates in cold climates can coat snowy and icy surfaces, capturing heat and accelerating thawing activity.

Providing clean alternatives to people who rely on such fuels could help significantly reduce local concentrations of pollutant-induced hot pockets.

Preparing for Change

Some have chosen the moniker “Global Weirding” as opposed to both Global Warming or Climate Change. This is because we’re seeing all sorts of disruptions to “normal” weather patterns as a result of excessive greenhouse gasses.  Desert conditions where rain should be, floods in places that have never received massive rain dumps.  Extreme temperatures. Unseasonable days. Hurricanes and Tsunamis.

Proactive governments, whether it be cities, counties, states, the feds, or any number of cross-border agencies are preparing emergency plans to account for conditions that they have never before had reason to suspect would actually occur.  Your part should be to query your local government and agencies to see their plans. Emergency preparedness plans should be part of the public record. If your area is still operating with a 1990 plan, time to become an activist in getting that changed.

Fresh water may soon be considered a scarce resource. The Washington Post (as just one of hundreds if not thousands of stories) recently ran an article (8) on the topic.  Local efforts should be underway to ensure not only conservation, but adequate access to, capture, and storage of fresh water from all available sources (i.e. scarce rain fall). Lake Mead, which serves Phoenix, Denver, and Las Vegas as a primary source of H2O is down to less than ½  of its levels from just 25 years ago.

Click for Larger Depiction of Fracking Process and Groundwater Destruction.

Click for Larger Depiction of Fracking Process and Groundwater Destruction.

Fracking, thought originally to be a great way to glean hard-to-reach, cleaner-than-petroleum fuel should not be allowed near any source of underground fresh water.  Gas companies sold us a bill of goods by saying their salt water and chemicals needed to force the natural gas out of shale could be contained. Fracking is destroying underground fresh water supplies all over the country (and world). Because it also causes earthquakes, it should not be allowed near any human built structures or natural areas with potential falling rock that would harm land improvements (like triple decker overpasses – yes they are drilling within miles of public highways with 5 story overpasses) or living things. Go frack yourself, we should say.

High winds, hurricanes, and tornadoes can be expected to continue coming, perhaps at an increasing rate. Old ways of building homes with wood and insulated with petroleum based products should be abandoned and zoned out of existence. Concrete based materials, adobe-type structures (including mud and straw), and new alternative materials should be employed and R&D funded liberally to find clean green materials that will withstand harsher winds and rain (and hail) that also provide great natural insulation to conserve valuable heating and cooling resources.

Local food sources should be made abundant. Replace lawns with food bearing plants and where not possible, low/no water ground covers. Fruit and nut trees should become ubiquitous where square footage allows.

Partial Underground Residential Structure with abundant trees and low water ground cover.

Partial Underground Residential Structure with abundant trees and low water ground cover.

For existing structures, governments (local/federal) need to provide incentives to replace single pane windows, add insulation, tighten air exchange, and upgrade to maximum efficiency heating and cooling systems. Every home in America and around the world should be equipped with solar panels to augment existing power sources.

New construction, in addition to the use of alternative building materials, should maximize the natural insulation of the earth – going underground partially or completely would have an immediate and dramatic effect on current and future demands for temperature control-related energy needs while at the same time providing protection from potentially harsher natural elements.

Rising Seas Action Options - click for larger

Rising Seas Action Options – click for larger

With rising ocean levels as a result of melting glaciers and thermal expansion, full-time habitats along coastal areas need to be phased out – whether that be a public project under the jurisdiction of eminent domain or an abandonment by the owners out of necessity will depend a few court cases most likely.

Examples of some adaptation options for one expected outcome of sea-level rise.

Why Act Now?

No one can predict the future, nor the exact number of degrees the planet will warm per Gigaton of emissions accumulation, nor the exact fall out of that higher temperature over time.  Does that mean we wait until the damage is done to see how correct our estimates are?

Clearly not. No more than we would wait to see if a toddler walking toward the path of an approaching bus goes far enough to get hit. At some point it is too late to begin to act.  There is a growing number of scientists that subscribe to the “tipping point” theory which states that at some point the damage to the planet is irreversible and one ecosystem after another in our biosphere will  fail regardless of any last-minute heroic efforts.  Regardless of whether that is true (see our article on Environmental Tipping Points), there are a number of both common sense and scientifically sound actions that can be taken, many with benefits above and beyond correcting continued global warming. Here are a few:

  • It is universally true that changes needed in a system or process are simpler and less expensive if you make them early on, rather than if made later.  The reason? As systems develop, they grow in magnitude, become more complex and have greater interdependencies with other systems/processes. This equates to more time, people, money, and resources when making the change later – more ‘stuff’ has to be done to more things. Generally the ratio is an exponent, not a simple multiplier.
  • An ounce (gram) of prevention is worth a pound (kilogram) of cure. Another old adage you can count on.  Corrective action now may prevent types of environmental damage or domino effect that cannot be undone for thousands of years or even millennia.
  • Infrastructure investments in polluting production facilities can be incredibly expensive, into the billions sometimes.  Establishing standards before these investments are made, and they are being made in an accelerated fashion as developing countries come on line, will save multiple billions down the road.
  • Enacting suggestions throughout this document, while certainly spawned by global warming are just plain smart in terms of protection from and to the environment, long-term efficiency and conservative use of our resources, and healthier for the planet and the living species, both plant and animal that ride our dear Spaceship Earth.

Conclusion

Science has spoken with alarming clarity. The risks are far too great to ignore. Your choices will create the future that we have for ourselves and our children.  And their children. And so on and so on. And it is not just our policies regarding greenhouse gas emissions that must be scrutinized and adjusted in the face of all the destruction and negative consequences we see piling up around us. It is the political, socioeconomic policies and institutions that must be examined and improved at a fundamental level.

A dying planet is but a mere symptom of the real problems that ails us.

ACT NOW

For those of you who have perused other parts of the site, say Interstellar Colonization for example, it should come as no surprise that we highly recommend immediate corrective action as a simple, matter of fact and basic Risk Mitigation Strategy.  The ONLY argument against aggressive or even militant action is a loss of profit on the part of the individuals who most benefit from the positive margins of corporations and polluters. Profits that come from, yes,

We the People.

SAVE OUR SHIP

SPACESHIP EARTH

 human-extinction-we-the-people

I may have mentioned elsewhere I am not an overly religious man, but there are times when a bible verse has universal applicability, particularly when one adds a paraphrased title from a Social Distortion song and takes an even further literary license to it…

What gaineth a man who profits the whole world, then dies unable to take it with him when he goes, only to leave a grand inheritance to a narrow definition of family who may just die along with the planet he’s destroyed as a result of his greed?

Man, if that won’t suck a fellow’s soul into the nether regions of the oft believed in hereafter, it leaves me struggling to think of a more severe crime/sin than causing the death of the human race.

References

  1. Advancing the Science of Climate Change, National Research Council, 2010a
  2. Limiting the Magnitude of Climate Change, National Research Council, 2010b
  3. Adapting to the Impacts of Climate Change, National Research Council, 2010c
  4. Informing an Effective Response to Climate Change, National Research Council, 2011d
  5. Ocean Acidification: A National Strategy to Meet the Challenges of a Changing Ocean, National Research Council, 2010e
  6. Climate Stabilization Targets: Emissions, Concentrations, and Impacts for Decades to Millennia, National Research Council 2011a
  7. 7.     America’s Climate Choices, National Research Council, 2011c
  8. World Water Day: A forceful reminder that the U.S. is running out of fresh water, Washington Post, March 22, 2013

It’s Global Warming, STUPID

Are you one of the three people still influenced by the two remaining politicians being paid by Big Oil to deny Global Warming exists?  NEWS FLASH: Human-Burned Fossil Fuels are the Major Culprit Killing the Planet as we Know It.

The Earth’s surface temperature has been measured for over a century and there is incontrovertible proof that we are now living in a hotter world. Climate change has crept upon us and the consequences are manifest around the globe. Heat waves are becoming more frequent while the incidence of record-low temperatures and cold snaps is on the decline. In regions such as the Sierra Nevada mountain range of the United States, there has been a documented drop in average snowfall and snowpack. Since warmer air has more water vapor, climate change has also altered the pattern of precipitation. In the United States, for instance, precipitation has intensified, increasing by about 5% over the last 5 decades.

Warming is particularly striking in the Arctic region where the extent of sea ice has continued to drop by approximately 10% per decade since the late 1970s. In the late summer, shockingly large areas of the Arctic Ocean are devoid of ice for long periods, raising concerns about adverse effects on ecosystems, national defense, and shipping routes. The high temperatures have also warmed the ocean waters, and since water expands at higher temperatures, sea-levels have risen by about 0.2 m or 8 inches.  Additionally, glaciers and ice sheets in various other locations around the world are rapidly melting with the excess water adding to the rising sea levels.

The warmer climate has also had a significant impact on flora and fauna. Many species of plants and animals are now being found at higher altitudes where the temperature is lower. The timing of various seasonal events is also changing. For example, animals and insects are migrating earlier, and breeding patterns are being altered.

With the development of advanced data collection systems such as satellite monitoring and powerful computerized simulation models, climate science has become more precise. We now have overwhelming evidence in the form of measurable data to support the phenomenon of global warming and climate change. Importantly, we also have data that implicates human activities as the major catalyst in the process.

Graph showing rising earth temperatures over the past 100 years

Click for Larger

The Earth’s surface temperature has been measured for over a century and there is incontrovertible proof that we are now living in a hotter world. Modern thermometers are located in thousands of positions over land and oceans, and the raw data is collected by specialized research groups such as the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies in the United States. The analyses of the temperature data have demonstrated an average increase in the Earth’s surface temperature of over 1.4oF or 0.8oC over the last three decades. To put things into perspective, the difference between the global average temperatures of an ice age and the climate today is estimated to be a mere 9oF!

The temperature of the Earth’s surface is only one of several components of the global climate system monitored today. Specialized equipment is used to track ocean conditions such as salinity, temperature, and currents while weather balloons track atmospheric temperature, winds, and humidity. Additionally, remote satellite sensors provide a global perspective of atmospheric and surface changes in the climate system. While the data sets from these various sources are obtained in vastly different ways, they all consistently indicate that the earth is rapidly warming.

Human Generated Carbon Emissions Causing Global Warming

Human Generated Carbon Emissions Causing Global Warming

At the dawn of the 19th century, scientists began to realize the regulatory role of certain gases in maintaining the temperature of the Earth. These greenhouse gases, which include carbon dioxide and methane, form an insulating blanket around the earth and are crucial to its habitability. As the Sun’s energy warms the Earth, the blanket of greenhouse gases prevents the radiated infrared energy from escaping the atmosphere, keeping the surface from freezing. Unfortunately, the greenhouse effect is amplified with rising concentrations of greenhouse gases.

Human activities generate massive amounts of greenhouse gases and most scientists agree that we are largely to blame for the warming of the Earth. Methane is produced from the burning of fossil fuels, the raising of livestock, and from landfills. Carbon dioxide is also released from burning fossil fuels, while activities like deforestation reduce the rate at which it is removed from the atmosphere. Nitrous oxide results from use of fertilizers.  CFCs are greenhouse gases that do not occur naturally, and their presence in the atmosphere is undoubtedly a result of human activities.

There is another line of investigation that implicates human activities in the amplification of the greenhouse effect. The study of air bubbles trapped in polar ice cores has shown that the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere was steady for at least 2,000 years prior to the Industrial Revolution. Towards the end of the 19th century, atmospheric C02 spiked sharply and has been trending upwards ever since. The concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere today is 40% higher than preindustrial levels, bringing it to its highest point in the past 800,000 years.

After 800,000 years, Humans Destroy Nature's Balance - for Short-Term Profit Seeking

After 800,000 years, Humans Destroy Nature’s Balance – for Short-Term Profit Seeking

In addition to direct and indirect measurements of C02 concentrations, scientists have estimated the amount of CO2 that is naturally absorbed by the Earth’s land and oceans. They have also consolidated data on the amount of fossil fuels burned each year. The analyses indicate that at least 45% of the C02 produced from human activities is retained in the atmosphere. Carbon fingerprinting technology identifies fossil fuels as a major source of the carbon found in this greenhouse gas, providing further evidence that humans are culpable in climate change.

Scientists have also explored alternative explanations for climate change. Since the Sun has an obvious impact on the Earth’s temperature, solar activity has been analysed meticulously. Satellite records show the Sun’s output to have remained constant in the past 30 years. Indirect methods before the satellite era have similarly indicated that the sun’s activity could not have been responsible for any temperature increases beyond the latter 20th century. Finally, weather balloons show cooling of the higher stratosphere with warming of the lower troposphere. This observation is consistent with the theory that rather than the atmosphere being warmed from the sun above, heat is being trapped closer to the earth.

The Damage. Plain and Simple.

The energy landscape of the future will have a pivotal role in the progression of global warming. Taking into account variables such as population growth, technological developments, land use, and global energy-conservation policies, we can project changes in the average temperature of the earth by extrapolating trends in greenhouse gas production. To achieve this, scientists use powerful climate models built around mathematical equations that represent the dynamics of the climate system. In 2005, the World Climate Research Programme integrated the findings of 23 such modelling experiments from around the globe to predict climate changes. These experiments were based on three different scenarios of greenhouse gas emissions – high, medium-high, and low. All three emission levels predicted continued warming, with the scenario of the highest emissions leading to a greater than 110F rise in global temperature.

Human Extinction by Global Warming is possible - 3 scenarios

Results of another, independent study showing scenario A2, business as usual, resulting in more than 7 degrees warming.

Extreme Heat and Fluctuation

A climate change of this magnitude will lead to a spectrum of societal and ecological problems. First off, as the trend of global warming continues, it is obvious that various regions of the globe will suffer from higher average temperatures.  The heat index, which combines humidity with temperature to give a value for how hot it feels, is predicted to increase throughout this century.  By the year 2100, Central USA alone is expected to experience about 90 additional days each year of heat indexes higher than 1000F. Additionally, heat waves will become more intense, with the inference that heat-related morbidities will also rise. Overall, the ratio of record high to record low temperatures is projected to rise from the current 2:1 to 50:1 within the span of a handful of decades.

Less Rain

Less rain, dead crops, food shortages.Global warming will also have a significant impact on precipitation. As the world becomes hotter, the existing regional contrasts in rain and snow fall will become more pronounced. While polar and sub-polar regions will likely see greater snow and rain, many other areas will become dryer. In fact, for each 1.80F rise in temperature, the world’s deserts will see a 10% reduction in precipitation, worsening the impact of droughts. In countries such as the USA and Canada, the ultimate effect of global warming on precipitation is still uncertain. However, most climate models predict a dryer future for the southwest regions of the United States.

Along with disturbing the pattern of precipitation, global warming will also lead to greater incidences of extreme weather. Heavy rainstorms are already becoming more frequent globally and simulation models project a continuation of this trend. For each rise of 1.80 F, we can expect extreme rainfalls to intensify by 10%. In contrast, dryer regions will experience harsher droughts, making fire-prone areas more vulnerable to wildfires. As an example, the northern Rocky Mountain forests of the United States are predicted to experience a doubling in fire damage for each 1.80F rise in global average temperature.

Less Snow, Aquifer-Based Water, River Water, Hydro-Power

less snow, no hydro-power, dried up auquafirsAnother effect of global warming that is already starkly obvious is the decline in snow and ice cover over land and ocean. In the future, the sea-ice cover during the month of September is expected to diminish by a drastic 25% per 1.80F rise in temperature. As matters currently stand, the Arctic Ocean is expected to be seasonally ice-free before the end of this century. Terrestrial snow cover will also continue to diminish, with snow pack building later and melting earlier in the season.  This will adversely affect not only the availability of fresh water, but also the ability to generate hydroelectric power.

Shore Line Erosion

rising seas, eroding shorelines, shrinking earthAs global temperatures rise, ocean water will continue to expand as it becomes warmer.  In 1990, climate models predicted rises in sea-level for various scenarios of global warming– we are already near the top of the range of projections. The thermal expansion of oceans is by no means over, and its effect on sea-level is only being exacerbated by the melting of glaciers and sea-ice.

In Alaska, coastal erosions have already forced thousands to relocate. With the sea-level expected to rise another meter by the turn of the century, further loss of coastlines is imminent. If the sea-level rises by 0.5 meters, it is estimated that over 250,000 sq. km of land could be flooded worldwide, permanently displacing about 4 million people. At a rise of 1 m, coastline losses would be much more profound. In the US, for instance, over 90% of New Orleans, and 18% of Miami would be susceptible to flooding.

Mass Extinctions

Ecosystems are also under constant threat from global warming, with cold-adapted species being particularly vulnerable to changes in temperature. As lower altitudes become too warm for habitation, animals like the American pika are being confined to the cooler mountaintops. Such shifts in habitation of terrestrial organisms have disrupted important life-cycle events such as blooming, pollination, and hatching, wreaking havoc on food webs and inter-species interactions.  In the ocean, it is feared that warmer temperatures will lead to loss of phytoplankton, an organism crucial to the ocean food web.

Famine

Last but not least, a significant impact of global warming will be on food security worldwide. As C02 levels rise in the atmosphere, there is an intuitive expectation for crops and foliage to prosper.  In reality, while plants do grow faster with higher concentrations of available C02, the rapid growth means there is a shorter period during which grain is available. Furthermore, the higher temperature that results from increased atmospheric CO2 places greater water stress on crops, increasing risk of damage.

In the USA, half the country’s produce is grown in California. By 2050, it is projected that global warming will decrease yields of a variety of nuts and fruits by as much as 40%. Similarly, for each 1.80F of warming, the corn yield in the US and Africa will decline by 15%. At 90F of warming, yield losses would be global, doubling the price of grain worldwide.

Rising temperatures, declining grain production, hungry humans.

Rising temperatures, declining grain production, hungry humans.

There’s more. There are reams and reams of data that tell us we’re killing the planet as we know it. We can predict certain death and destruction to plants and animals, to the shoreline we’re familiar with, to entire ecosystems and species.

We (humans collectively) don’t know if we’re too late. Have we reached a tipping point – that point at which there is no relief from the high emission concentrations but the slow demise of humans, perhaps dwindling our numbers to the point we can no longer damage the planet?

Most scientists agree we can make a difference. If we act now – all of us on the same page saying no to the special interests that would have us keep burning oil and lining their pockets with cash.

The next article goes into some detail about ways we can mitigate and even reverse our folly. Read on. Hope is a terrific thing to have. Political clout as we all ban together is an absolute requirement to Save our Ship. Spaceship Earth.

NEXT ARTICLE: MITIGATING GLOBAL WARMING –>

References

  • NASA: Global Climate Change, Vital Signs of the Planet http://climate.nasa.gov/evidence
  • Belolipetsky P.V., Empirical evidence for a double step climate change in twentieth century, 2013, arXiv:1303.1581 [physics.ao-ph]
  • National Research Council, 2010, Advancing the Science, Limiting the Magnitude, and Adapting to the Impacts of Climate Change
  • National Research Council, 2010e, Ocean Acidification: A National Strategy to Meet the Challenges of a Changing Ocean
  • Hansen, James, Makiko Sato, and Reto Ruedy. “Perceptions of climate change: The new climate dice.” Procedings of the National Academy of Science 119 (2012): 14726-14727.