Spaceship Earth, Your Main Oxygen Systems Are Collapsing
As Kiss the Ground cofounder Ryland Engelhart said:
"If we put soil health at the center of our agricultural and land management practices, we can take carbon out of the atmosphere, potentially enough to balance our climate. The food movement can become the climate change movement and we can all stand for a healthy future by investing in the soil."
As for our oceans, if you don't believe that they're in trouble, just read this 2010 piece from Germany's leading magazine Der Spiegel, Phytoplankton's Dramatic Decline: A Food Chain Crisis in the World's Oceans.
Per the article's lead, plankton is "the starting point for our oceans' food chain. But stocks of phytoplankton have decreased by 40 percent since 1950. ... It is an astonishing collapse, say researchers, and may have dramatic consequences both for the oceans and for humans."
The New York Times also warned of the dying of our oceans in its article Our Deadened, Carbon-Soaked Seas by Richard W. Spinrad, chief scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and Ian Boyd, chief scientific adviser to the British government's Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
The article states:
"Ocean and coastal waters around the world are beginning to tell a disturbing story. The seas, like a sponge, are absorbing increasing amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, so much so that the chemical balance of our oceans and coastal waters is changing and posing a growing threat to marine ecosystems. Over the past 200 years, the world's seas have absorbed more than 150 billion metric tons of carbon from human activities. Known as ocean acidification, this process makes it difficult for shellfish, corals and other marine organisms to grow and reproduce."
Biodiversity for a Livable Climate held a fascinating Oceans 2016 program in October 2016 and the have the conference videos available online.
Judy Schwartz, the author of Water in Plain Sight and Cows Save the Planet, cogently stated in her conference presentation, An End to Floods, Droughts and Other Aqueous Misdirections:
"In a healthy ecosystem, when water falls on land it stays in the neighborhood for a long time. It's performing essential tasks on behalf of living things before finally making its way to the ocean. Because of ways humans have managed land since the beginning of agriculture, especially since the industrial revolution, water now lands on packed and ruined soils, rushing to the seas, leaving floods and droughts in its wake."
Bren Smith's keynote talk at the October 2016 Bioneers Conference on GreenWave ocean farming highlighted a revolutionary way to grow ocean kelp and sequester five times the carbon that can be sequestered by land plants. It produces abundant, high-quality food, feed, fuel, and fertilizer. It filters and purifies water, providing habitat for local biodiversity. Last but not least, GreenWave ocean farming creates a shining opportunity for economic democracy by providing a very low-cost entry point for small producers to make a right livelihood while restoring the Earth.
Truly inspiring:A revolutionary new model of harvesting bounty from the seas via Bren Smith in his #Bioneers16 talk: https://t.co/nUT4sBp5sO— Michael Pollan (@Michael Pollan)1480474171.0
As seen in this excerpt, Popular Science recently featured the GreenWave work:
"Smith's underwater farms do the opposite. Kelp scrubs nitrogen and phosphorous from the water, helping to protect ocean ecosystems. Kelp also wards off ocean acidification, the result of carbon pollution seeping into the ocean, turning waters more acidic. Kelp soaks up carbon, keeping surrounding waters safe for shellfish and other vulnerable creatures. For this reason, Smith's farms serve as sanctuaries for crab, shrimp, and other marine species."
The Bren Smith model is now being implemented on the East Coast, off Connecticut. But, sadly, the red tape of the California Coastal Commission has thus far prevented ocean farming off California. I am optimistic that 2017 will bring major progress and some win-win solutions. California's entire coastal ecosystem is collapsing, as the once abundant giant kelp forests that extended for miles off our western coastline have been in steady decline with the past hunting of sea otter for their pelts by Russians and Spaniards and the recent deaths among the starfish population, which have contributed to a perfect storm of cascading ecosystem collapse.
In the shallow waters off the unincorporated community of Elk in Mendocino County, a crew from the California Fish and Wildlife Department recently dived to survey the area's urchin and abalone populations. Instead of slipping beneath a canopy of leafy kelp such as normally darkens the ocean floor like a forest, they found a barren landscape like something out of the film The Lorax.
Ocean farming holds the promise of a restoration of our oceans through working with nature. As we gain more pilot programs on the West Coast, time will tell how soon such a restoration might be achieved. But, as the following statement from the English writer and ecologist Paul Kingsnorth makes clear, we haven't much time:
"When I look at the state of the world right now, I see an arc bending towards something that dwarfs any parochial concerns about particular presidential elections. ... I see a grand planetary shift that has not been seen for millions of years. I see that half the world's wildlife has gone, and half the world's forests, and half the world's topsoil. I see that we have perhaps two generations of food left before we wear out the rest of that topsoil. ... I see coming waves of political and cultural turmoil resulting from all of this, which makes me fear for my children, and sometimes for myself."
Listen Up, Breathers on Spaceship Earth
If you plan to continue breathing in the coming decades, here are some important points to consider:
- Under current conditions, plan on having less oxygen every year going forward.
- We live on an ocean planet, not a land planet. It's a good idea for us to educate ourselves about our ocean ecosystems.
- If you're thinking of having children, please consider their oxygen needs. They'll need more than may be available!
- Because of the ongoing ocean devastation and oxygen loss, your Google search engine and Instagram account may not function any more.
- The millennial generation will determine whether there is a livable future, so please support and empower them.
- While this message may cause depression or anxiety, luckily for us we have an app for that—one with more than 500 million years of R&D. It's called soil carbon sequestration. Learn more here http://www.ecowatch.com/the-solution-under-our-fee... and at Kiss the Ground, Regeneration International, Carbon Underground, and Project Underground.
- Purchase foods from farmers who follow regenerative farming practices, using compost, cover crops, crop diversity, holistic grazing of animals, and ocean farming to produce foods and fibers. Avoid at all costs industrial (i.e., with no access to pasture) meat and dairy products.
I'll close this entreaty with an evocative excerpt from a Walt Whitman poem in Leaves of Grass, "Out of the Rolling Ocean, the Crowd":
"Return in peace to the ocean, my love; I too am part of that ocean ... we are not so much separated; ... know you, I salute the air, the ocean and the land ...
By Dana M Bergstrom, Euan Ritchie, Lesley Hughes and Michael Depledge
In 1992, 1,700 scientists warned that human beings and the natural world were "on a collision course." Seventeen years later, scientists described planetary boundaries within which humans and other life could have a "safe space to operate." These are environmental thresholds, such as the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and changes in land use.
The Good and Bad News<p><span>Ecosystems consist of living and non-living components, and their interactions. They work like a super-complex engine: when some components are removed or stop working, knock-on consequences can lead to system failure.</span></p><p>Our study is based on measured data and observations, not modeling or predictions for the future. Encouragingly, not all ecosystems we examined have collapsed across their entire range. We still have, for instance, some intact reefs on the Great Barrier Reef, especially in deeper waters. And northern Australia has some of the most intact and least-modified stretches of savanna woodlands on Earth.</p><p><span>Still, collapses are happening, including in regions critical for growing food. This includes the </span><a href="https://www.mdba.gov.au/importance-murray-darling-basin/where-basin" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Murray-Darling Basin</a><span>, which covers around 14% of Australia's landmass. Its rivers and other freshwater systems support more than </span><a href="https://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/[email protected]/latestproducts/94F2007584736094CA2574A50014B1B6?opendocument" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">30% of Australia's food</a><span> production.</span></p><p><span></span><span>The effects of floods, fires, heatwaves and storms do not stop at farm gates; they're felt equally in agricultural areas and natural ecosystems. We shouldn't forget how towns ran out of </span><a href="https://www.mdba.gov.au/issues-murray-darling-basin/drought#effects" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">drinking water</a><span> during the recent drought.</span></p><p><span></span><span>Drinking water is also at risk when ecosystems collapse in our water catchments. In Victoria, for example, the degradation of giant </span><a href="https://theconversation.com/logging-must-stop-in-melbournes-biggest-water-supply-catchment-106922" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Mountain Ash forests</a><span> greatly reduces the amount of water flowing through the Thompson catchment, threatening nearly five million people's drinking water in Melbourne.</span></p><p>This is a dire <em data-redactor-tag="em">wake-up</em> call — not just a <em data-redactor-tag="em">warning</em>. Put bluntly, current changes across the continent, and their potential outcomes, pose an existential threat to our survival, and other life we share environments with.</p><p><span>In investigating patterns of collapse, we found most ecosystems experience multiple, concurrent pressures from both global climate change and regional human impacts (such as land clearing). Pressures are often </span><a href="https://besjournals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/1365-2664.13427" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">additive and extreme</a><span>.</span></p><p>Take the last 11 years in Western Australia as an example.</p><p>In the summer of 2010 and 2011, a <a href="https://theconversation.com/marine-heatwaves-are-getting-hotter-lasting-longer-and-doing-more-damage-95637" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">heatwave</a> spanning more than 300,000 square kilometers ravaged both marine and land ecosystems. The extreme heat devastated forests and woodlands, kelp forests, seagrass meadows and coral reefs. This catastrophe was followed by two cyclones.</p><p>A record-breaking, marine heatwave in late 2019 dealt a further blow. And another marine heatwave is predicted for <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/dec/24/wa-coastline-facing-marine-heatwave-in-early-2021-csiro-predicts" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">this April</a>.</p>
What to Do About It?<p><span>Our brains trust comprises 38 experts from 21 universities, CSIRO and the federal Department of Agriculture Water and Environment. Beyond quantifying and reporting more doom and gloom, we asked the question: what can be done?</span></p><p>We devised a simple but tractable scheme called the 3As:</p><ul><li>Awareness of what is important</li><li>Anticipation of what is coming down the line</li><li>Action to stop the pressures or deal with impacts.</li></ul><p>In our paper, we identify positive actions to help protect or restore ecosystems. Many are already happening. In some cases, ecosystems might be better left to recover by themselves, such as coral after a cyclone.</p><p>In other cases, active human intervention will be required – for example, placing artificial nesting boxes for Carnaby's black cockatoos in areas where old trees have been <a href="https://www.environment.gov.au/biodiversity/threatened/publications/factsheet-carnabys-black-cockatoo-calyptorhynchus-latirostris" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">removed</a>.</p><p><span>"Future-ready" actions are also vital. This includes reinstating </span><a href="https://www.abc.net.au/gardening/factsheets/a-burning-question-fire/12395700" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cultural burning practices</a><span>, which have </span><a href="https://theconversation.com/australia-you-have-unfinished-business-its-time-to-let-our-fire-people-care-for-this-land-135196" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">multiple values and benefits for Aboriginal communities</a><span> and can help minimize the risk and strength of bushfires.</span></p><p>It might also include replanting banks along the Murray River with species better suited to <a href="https://www.abc.net.au/gardening/factsheets/my-garden-path---matt-hansen/12322978" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">warmer conditions</a>.</p><p>Some actions may be small and localized, but have substantial positive benefits.</p><p>For example, billions of migrating Bogong moths, the main summer food for critically endangered mountain pygmy possums, have not arrived in their typical numbers in Australian alpine regions in recent years. This was further exacerbated by the <a href="https://theconversation.com/six-million-hectares-of-threatened-species-habitat-up-in-smoke-129438" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">2019-20</a> fires. Brilliantly, <a href="https://www.zoo.org.au/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Zoos Victoria</a> anticipated this pressure and developed supplementary food — <a href="https://theconversation.com/looks-like-an-anzac-biscuit-tastes-like-a-protein-bar-bogong-bikkies-help-mountain-pygmy-possums-after-fire-131045" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Bogong bikkies</a>.</p><p><span>Other more challenging, global or large-scale actions must address the </span><a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iICpI9H0GkU&t=34s" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">root cause of environmental threats</a><span>, such as </span><a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41559-018-0504-8" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">human population growth and per-capita consumption</a><span> of environmental resources.</span><br></p><p>We must rapidly reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero, remove or suppress invasive species such as <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/mam.12080" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">feral cats</a> and <a href="https://theconversation.com/the-buffel-kerfuffle-how-one-species-quietly-destroys-native-wildlife-and-cultural-sites-in-arid-australia-149456" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">buffel grass</a>, and stop widespread <a href="https://theconversation.com/to-reduce-fire-risk-and-meet-climate-targets-over-300-scientists-call-for-stronger-land-clearing-laws-113172" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">land clearing</a> and other forms of habitat destruction.</p>
Our Lives Depend On It<p>The multiple ecosystem collapses we have documented in Australia are a harbinger for <a href="https://www.iucn.org/news/protected-areas/202102/natures-future-our-future-world-speaks" target="_blank">environments globally</a>.</p><p>The simplicity of the 3As is to show people <em>can</em> do something positive, either at the local level of a landcare group, or at the level of government departments and conservation agencies.</p><p>Our lives and those of our <a href="https://theconversation.com/children-are-our-future-and-the-planets-heres-how-you-can-teach-them-to-take-care-of-it-113759" target="_blank">children</a>, as well as our <a href="https://theconversation.com/taking-care-of-business-the-private-sector-is-waking-up-to-natures-value-153786" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">economies</a>, societies and <a href="https://theconversation.com/to-address-the-ecological-crisis-aboriginal-peoples-must-be-restored-as-custodians-of-country-108594" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cultures</a>, depend on it.</p><p>We simply cannot afford any further delay.</p><p><em><a rel="noopener noreferrer" href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/dana-m-bergstrom-1008495" target="_blank" style="">Dana M Bergstrom</a> is a principal research scientist at the University of Wollongong. <a rel="noopener noreferrer" href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/euan-ritchie-735" target="_blank" style="">Euan Ritchie</a> is a professor in Wildlife Ecology and Conservation, Centre for Integrative Ecology, School of Life & Environmental Sciences at Deakin University. <a rel="noopener noreferrer" href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/lesley-hughes-5823" target="_blank">Lesley Hughes</a> is a professor at the Department of Biological Sciences at Macquarie University. <a rel="noopener noreferrer" href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/michael-depledge-114659" target="_blank">Michael Depledge</a> is a professor and chair, Environment and Human Health, at the University of Exeter. </em></p><p><em>Disclosure statements: Dana Bergstrom works for the Australian Antarctic Division and is a Visiting Fellow at the University of Wollongong. Her research including fieldwork on Macquarie Island and in Antarctica was supported by the Australian Antarctic Division.</em></p><p><em>Euan Ritchie receives funding from the Australian Research Council, The Australia and Pacific Science Foundation, Australian Geographic, Parks Victoria, Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning, and the Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC. Euan Ritchie is a Director (Media Working Group) of the Ecological Society of Australia, and a member of the Australian Mammal Society.</em></p><p><em>Lesley Hughes receives funding from the Australian Research Council. She is a Councillor with the Climate Council of Australia, a member of the Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists and a Director of WWF-Australia.</em></p><p><em>Michael Depledge does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.</em></p><p><em>Reposted with permission from <a href="https://theconversation.com/existential-threat-to-our-survival-see-the-19-australian-ecosystems-already-collapsing-154077" target="_blank" style="">The Conversation</a>. </em></p>
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