Tag Archive | "biodiversity loss"

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Consumption – Biodiversity = 6th Mass Extinction?

Posted on 15 September 2012 by Jerry

Three reports offer a chilling analysis of the overall loss of diversity of life on Planet Earth.  They suggest that humans in the developed world are consuming the planet’s resources at a record pace, biodiversity is seriously declining, and humanity is progressively crowding out other life forms, possibly initiating a sixth great extinction of life on our planet.  Readers are encouraged to follow the links provided at the end of this article to read the reports directly. 

The Living Planet Report is prepared every two years by the World Wide Fund for Nature, the Global Footprint Network and the Zoological Society of London (ZSL).  The 2012 report paints a bleak picture about world consumption, declining biodiversity, and the five greatest pressures forcing further reductions of biodiversity.  

The report states that in terms of demand and consumption of natural resources worldwide we are using the equivalent of 1.5 planets to support our activities and will need the equivalent of two planets by 2030.  Of course we are consuming resources at a different pace in the various nations of the world.  Comparing countries, the report states “If all of humanity lived like an average resident of Indonesia only two-thirds of the planet’s bio-capacity would be used; if everyone lived like an average Argentinean, humanity would demand more than half an additional planet; and if everyone lived like an average resident of the USA, a total of four Earths would be required to regenerate humanity’s annual demand on nature.”

The report identifies the five greatest direct pressures on biodiversity:

  • Destruction of habitats
  • Over exploitation of wild species populations
  • Pollution
  • Climate Change
  • Invasive species

Further, it estimates biodiversity has shrunk by 30% between 1970 and 2008 and by 60% in the tropics.

A separate study of 60 protected areas located in 36 nations in the world’s major tropical regions has shown continuous erosion of biodiversity over the last 30 years.  Tropical forests are the biologically richest ecosystems on Earth and protecting them has been a priority for the last 100 years.  The study considered 31 functional groups of species and 21 potential drivers of environmental change in evaluating the performance of the protected reserves.  While about half of all reserves performed effectively or passably, the rest are experiencing “an erosion of biodiversity that is often alarmingly widespread taxonomically and functionally.”

Published by Nature in July of 2012, it reports the failure of protected areas in tropical environments to slow the decline of biodiversity. The most vulnerable species groups are top predators, large non-predatory vertebrates, bats, stream-dwelling amphibians, terrestrial amphibians, lizards and larger reptiles, non-venomous snakes, freshwater fish, and large-seeded old-growth trees.  Still vulnerable, but less so, are primates, birds of all kinds, venomous snakes and migratory species.  The research showed somewhat unfortunately that five groups increased their abundance in the reserves, including pioneer and generalist trees, lianas and vines, invasive animals, invasive plants and human diseases.

The report offered an analysis that ecological changes and pressures inside the reserves compared to those outside the reserves were highly similar.  This led to the following conclusion “Our findings signal that the fates of tropical protected areas will be determined by environmental changes both within and around the reserves, and that pressures inside reserves often closely reflect those occurring around them.  For many reasons, larger reserves should be more resilient to such changes, although we found that removing the effects of reserve area statistically did not consistently weaken the correlations between changes inside versus outside protected areas.”

These two reports support conclusions drawn in a third watershed publication in March of 2011, entitled “Has the Earth’s sixth mass extinction already arrived?”  Mass extinctions are identified as occurring “when the Earth loses more than three quarters of its species in a geologically short interval, as has happened only five times in the past 540 million years or so.”  Biologists are suggesting in this report that a sixth mass extinction may now be underway given the increasing species losses in the last few centuries and millennia.

The scientists have compared the present species loss rates with those found in other, older extinctions and suggest the present loss rates are higher than would be expected from the fossil record.  The authors state “Such observations suggest that humans are now causing the sixth mass extinction, through co-opting resources, fragmenting habitats, introducing non-native species, spreading pathogens, killing species directly and changing global climate.  If so, recovery of biodiversity will not occur on any timeframe meaningful to people: evolution of new species typically takes at least hundreds of thousands of years, and recovery from mass extinction episodes probably occurs on timescales encompassing millions of years.”

Use the following links to obtain more information on these topics:

Scroll down the page and select the form of the report you want to see: http://wwf.panda.org/about_our_earth/all_publications/living_planet_report/2012_lpr/





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Are We Passing Climate Change Tipping Points?

Posted on 18 June 2012 by Jerry

A variety of discouraging beliefs are emerging from the world’s scientific community revealing pessimism about climate change. Scientists and policy makers are frustrated by the glaring lack of progress being made in marshalling humanity to recognize and accept the threats the world is facing. Too much time is passing creating fear that we are unwittingly allowing options to expire and our situation to deteriorate beyond critical “tipping points”.  With great determination, scientists are developing different ways to show people the reality of climate change.

Climate scientists fear they cannot enhance present climate systems to make them more forceful in proving the case for action.  They believe they are losing the ability to make the systems more precise in estimating the timing and magnitude of future events.  Present systems can only be generally and directionally predictive.  They cannot predict specific outcomes on specific dates.

Some scientists have turned their attention away from predictive systems.  They are trying to identify “tipping points” or “tipping elements” to describe large-scale aspects of the Earth system that may pass critical thresholds where we experience a change in climate that we cannot correct or reverse.  Tipping elements identified in “Tipping elements in the Earth’s climate system” by Messrs. Lenton, Held, Kriegler, Hall, Lucht, Rahmstorf, and Schellnhuber, include the Arctic summer sea-ice, Greenland ice sheet, West Antarctic ice sheet (WAIS), Atlantic ocean thermohaline circulation (THC), El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO), Indian Summer monsoon (ISM), Sahara/Sahel and West African monsoon (WAM), the Amazon rainforest and the Boreal forest. 

In the opinion of the researchers we may have already passed critical thresholds in the two underlined elements, Arctic summer sea-ice and Atlantic Ocean thermohaline circulation. In addition to the nine tipping elements identified, there are another six areas that were listed but did not make the statistical cut to be truly imminently influential to the future.

In a well documented paper entitled “The Anthropocene: From Global Change to Planetary Stewardship”, written by some of the most famous scientists of our time and published by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in 2011, the argument is made that rather than continue to define the present as a part of the Holocene epoch, which provided a very stable and accommodating period for human development, we should recognize we have entered the Anthropocene epoch.  This new epoch is identified as the time when human beings moved from being hunter-gatherers to where “Humanity itself has become a global geophysical force, equal to some of the ‘great forces of nature’.”

These scientists argue we have destabilized the accommodating Holocene epoch with the “Great Acceleration” (Hibbard et al. 2006) which occurred after the Second World War.  Since 1960 through 2009 the human population has grown by 1 billion people and the global economy and material consumption have increased disproportionately faster.  They believe we have now entered the Anthropocene epoch, an epoch of our own creation.

This paper rises to a higher level of abstraction where threats to our well being include climate change as one of nine aspects of our planet that require management for our survival; Climate change, Ocean acidification, Stratospheric ozone depletion, Nitrogen cycle – Phosphorous cycle, Global freshwater use, Change in land use, Biodiversity loss, Atmospheric aerosol loading, and Chemical pollution.  A hint of the thoroughness of this paper is given in a filmed Nobel Laureate Symposium in 2011 in Stockholm where Will Steffin role played the Prosecutor in a mock trial of “Planet Earth vs. Humanity”.  In this video he is speaking on behalf of the planet.

In response to failed negotiations, policy makers are devising new ways to think about getting countries to step up their efforts.  Some believe seeking worldwide agreement on the single problem of climate change does not and will not work.  They think a different set of negotiating parameters might be more productive. Approaching the problem from the nine aspects requiring planetary management (previously mentioned), they suggest a much broader set of negotiations should be initiated.  They argue that not all countries of the world equally share the remedies required to reverse climate change, that some countries, for example would be much more central to protecting the rain forests of South America.  They suggest the role of each country should be identified with the issues and problems with which they have a more causal role and upon which they can have a greater impact.

While progress on climate change is slow in coming, we must recognize that human beings have a long history of solving problems.  Scientist continue to try and are looking to us for the support they need to alter the world’s course on these issues.  We must continue to fight until we collectively win.

Use the following links to obtain further information on climate change and issues raised in this article:






http://www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.0705414105 , to obtain the complete article try  



Exceptional video: http://youtube.com/watch?v=_Jmp6DwDreg

To access the full report PDF use your normal browser to try to search and select


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