Previously published at CounterPunch.org on 30 October 2015 Reproduced with permission.
The word is in from the wildlife biologists.
Say goodbye in North America to the gray wolf, the cougar, the grizzly bear. They are destined for extinction sometime in the next 40 years. Say goodbye to the Red wolf and the Mexican wolf and the Florida panther. Gone the jaguar, the ocelot, the wood bison, the buffalo, the California condor, the North Atlantic right whale, the Stellar sea lion, the hammerhead shark, the leatherback sea turtle. That’s just North America.
Worldwide, the largest and most charismatic animals, the last of the megafauna, our most ecologically important predators and big ungulates, the wildest wild things, will be the first to go in the anthropogenic extinction event of the Holocene Era. The tiger and leopard and the elephant and lion in Africa and Asia. The primates, the great apes, our wild cousins. The polar bears in the Arctic Sea. The shark and killer whale in every ocean.
“Extinction is now proceeding thousands of times faster than the production of new species,” biologist E.O. Wilson writes. Between 30 and 50 percent of all known species are expected to go extinct by 2050, if current trends hold. There are five other mass extinction events in the geologic record, stretching back 500 million years. But none were the result of a single species’ overreach.
I’ve found conversation with my biologist sources to be terribly dispiriting. The conversation goes like this: Homo sapiens are out of control, a bacteria boiling in the petri dish; the more of us, demanding more resources, means less space for every other life form; the solution is less of us, consuming fewer resources, but that isn’t happening. It can’t happen. Our economic system, industrial consumer capitalism, requires constant growth, more people buying more things. “I will go so far as to say [that] capitalism itself may be dependent on a growing population,” writes billionaire capitalist blogger Bill Gross, Forbes magazine’s Bond King. “Our modern era of capitalism over the past several centuries has never known a period of time in which population declined or grew less than 1% a year.” Growth for growth’s sake, what Edward Abbey called the ideology of the cancer cell. Continue reading
Date: 19 June 2015
Source: Stanford University
Summary: Biologists have used highly conservative estimates to prove that species are disappearing faster than at any time since the dinosaurs’ demise.
Publication: Science Daily News Release
There is no longer any doubt: We are entering a mass extinction that threatens humanity’s existence.
That is the bad news at the center of a new study by a group of scientists including Paul Ehrlich, the Bing Professor of Population Studies in biology and a senior fellow at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment. Ehrlich and his co-authors call for fast action to conserve threatened species, populations and habitat, but warn that the window of opportunity is rapidly closing.
“[The study] shows without any significant doubt that we are now entering the sixth great mass extinction event,” Ehrlich said.
Although most well known for his positions on human population, Ehrlich has done extensive work on extinctions going back to his 1981 book, Extinction: The Causes and Consequences of the Disappearance of Species. He has long tied his work on coevolution, on racial, gender and economic justice, and on nuclear winter with the issue of wildlife populations and species loss.
There is general agreement among scientists that extinction rates have reached levels unparalleled since the dinosaurs died out 66 million years ago. However, some have challenged the theory, believing earlier estimates rested on assumptions that overestimated the crisis.
The new study, published in the journal Science Advances, shows that even with extremely conservative estimates, species are disappearing up to about 100 times faster than the normal rate between mass extinctions, known as the background rate.
“If it is allowed to continue, life would take many millions of years to recover, and our species itself would likely disappear early on,” said lead author Gerardo Ceballos of the Universidad Autónoma de México.
In my 6 November 2012 blog posting titled “Intentional Ignorance,” I quoted something Julia Allen Field said in Miami around the time of the first Earth Day Teach-In in 1970:
“We are using the Earth as if we were the last generation.”
In that piece I offered my own version of her statement:
Humanity is systematically taking apart the life-support system of Planet Earth for humans.
Now comes a measure of the depth of this action from the World Wildlife Fund‘s Living Planet Report.
That report is the world’s leading, science-based analysis on the health of our planet and the impact of human activity. Knowing we only have one planet, WWF believes that humanity can make better choices that translate into clear benefits for ecology, society and the economy today and in the long term. From the WWF web site on the new report comes this summary:
“[The] latest edition of the Living Planet Report is not for the faint-hearted. One key point that jumps out is that the Living Planet Index (LPI), which measures more than 10,000 representative populations of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish, has declined by 52 per cent since 1970.
This is perhaps the most confusing, complex, and debated topic on the political burner these days. As we enter the New Year, talk is increasing that the U.S. Congress seriously may take up a reform of U.S. immigration policy. I think it is not so complex and confusing. Let me explain my view and see what you have to say.
Humanity is possibly on the verge of species collapse. I know, most people absolutely do not want to accept this statement. Surely we can find ways to avoid this calamity. Well, possibly. But, the way we’re going, don’t count on it. If you are a doubter, please stay tuned for a later blog posting by me on “Bad Thinking—Wrongheaded Action.”
What I mean by collapse may not include extinction of humans from the Earth (but it could). What is clearly threatened is a painful, possibly abrupt, large decline of global population, with varying magnitudes by region, mainly as a result of knocking out many of “nature’s services.” These are ecosystems and other parts of nature necessary to support human life at the current population level of over 7 billion (and growing). They include the fresh water we drink, the food we eat, the minerals we extract from the Earth, and the supplementary energy sources we think we need to have a good life (beyond what comes from the sun automatically). If we knock out too many species, bees for example (critical to the pollination of our crops), human life will suffer, not just due to loss of our numbers in a fairly precipitous manner, but from a rapid change in the industrial way of life which will create incredible hardships, discomfort, and premature deaths. Continue reading
The Millenium Alliance for Humanity & the Biosphere (MAHB) of Stanford University is a collaboration of natural scientists and social scientists working together to implement behavioral, institutional and cultural changes necessary for humans to “ensure a sustainable and equitable future for everyone.”
The process is called foresight intelligence. It seems that this particular kind of intelligence is innate in humans but not well developed on a large scale. MAHB’s goal is to better tap into our foresight intelligence to reduce humanity’s ecological footprint and social inequities, moving toward true sustainability on a global scale, before it is too late.
The political class in much of the world has barely scratched the surface in pursuing this goal, leaving what MAHB calls the Civil Society to try and make a meaningful contribution.
According to MAHB: “The term ‘civil society’ includes scholars, non-governmental organizations, businesses, social activists, and individuals who share a vision for a sustainable world, respecting the rights and prosperity of all humanity. While the MAHB is pluralistic in its acceptance of differences and diversity a generally accepted core set of values has emerged globally and constitute the public good: that all humans should be able to live peacefully, securely and sustainably.”
Excerpts from ‘Sustainable Living – True Conservation’, and the role of human population levels in what ‘conservation’ really means
Lamenting the conflicting viewpoints associated with the management of wild elephant populations in South Africa, the author of “Sustainable Living – True Conservation’ summarizes the conflict primarily as being between animal rightists arguing in favor of protecting elephant populations within protected areas and wildlife managers arguing that they cannot do this to the detriment of the system as a whole for a variety of reasons. He concludes that “Both arguments are right, but both are totally missing the point. Rapidly declining biodiversity on a regional, national or international scale is not as a result of growing elephant populations, or any other animal population for that matter, but as a direct result of the exponential increase in the human population putting unprecedented strain on all the natural systems of our planet which directly influences the survival of all other species, including our own, but yet it goes unchecked and ignored as if it does not exist.” The author concludes his article with the following summary, which I think poses some of the ethical, moral, and functional dilemmas facing population control strategists.