People are precipitating “a global spasm of biodiversity loss.”

Sixth mass extinction is here, researcher declares

Jun 19, 2015

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 , 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 ,” 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 .

There is general agreement among scientists that 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.

Conservative approach

Using fossil records and extinction counts from a range of records, the researchers compared a highly conservative estimate of current extinctions with a background rate estimate twice as high as those widely used in previous analyses. This way, they brought the two estimates – current extinction rate and average background or going-on-all-the-time extinction rate – as close to each other as possible.

Focusing on vertebrates, the group for which the most reliable modern and fossil data exist, the researchers asked whether even the lowest estimates of the difference between background and contemporary still justify the conclusion that people are precipitating “a global spasm of biodiversity loss.” The answer: a definitive yes.

“We emphasize that our calculations very likely underestimate the severity of the extinction crisis, because our aim was to place a realistic lower bound on humanity’s impact on biodiversity,” the researchers write.

To history’s steady drumbeat, a human population growing in numbers, per capita 1451324_650954518277931_1616731734_nconsumption and economic inequity has altered or destroyed natural habitats. The long list of impacts includes:

  • Land clearing for farming, logging and settlement
  • Introduction of invasive species
  • Carbon emissions that drive climate change and ocean acidification
  • Toxins that alter and poison ecosystems

Now, the specter of extinction hangs over about 41 percent of all amphibian species and 26 percent of all mammals, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, which maintains an authoritative list of threatened and extinct species.

“There are examples of species all over the world that are essentially the walking dead,” Ehrlich said.

As species disappear, so do crucial ecosystem services such as honeybees’ crop pollination and wetlands’ water purification. At the current rate of species loss, people will lose many biodiversity benefits within three generations, the study’s authors write. “We are sawing off the limb that we are sitting on,” Ehrlich said.

Hope for the future

Despite the gloomy outlook, there is a meaningful way forward, according to Ehrlich and his colleagues. “Avoiding a true sixth will require rapid, greatly intensified efforts to conserve already , and to alleviate pressures on their populations – notably habitat loss, over-exploitation for economic gain and climate change,” the study’s authors write.

In the meantime, the researchers hope their work will inform conservation efforts, the maintenance of ecosystem services and public policy.

Explore further: Research group suggests modern extinction rate may be higher than thought

More information: Accelerated modern human–induced species losses: Entering the sixth mass extinction, Science Advances, advances.sciencemag.org/content/1/5/e1400253

In Case You Hadn’t Heard: 6th mass extinction already underway — and we’re the cause

http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2015/06/20/sixth-mass-extinction-study/29028887/

The Earth’s sixth mass extinction is already underway — and humans are the driving force behind it, according to a new study.

“Recent extinction rates are unprecedented in human history and highly unusual in Earth’s history,” according to a study published Friday in the journal Science Advances. “Our global society has started to destroy species of other organisms at an accelerating rate, initiating a mass extinction episode unparalleled for 65 million years.”

Researchers used “extremely conservative assumptions” to determine extinction rates that prevailed in the past five annihilation events. Still, they found the average rate of vertebrate species lost over the past century was up to 114 times higher than normal.

More: http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2015/06/20/sixth-mass-extinction-study/29028887/

Also,

“There are examples of species all over the world that are essentially the walking dead,” Stanford University professor Paul Ehrlich said.

“We are sawing off the limb that we are sitting on.”

from: http://english.alarabiya.net/en/variety/2015/06/20/

1451324_650954518277931_1616731734_n

13 animals hunted to extinction

Fri, May 06, 2011 at 12:45 PM
Whether it is for the lust of exotic skins, mere sport or — as is often the case — pure fear, numerous species have been wiped out primarily by human hunters in the last couple hundred years alone.

Read more: http://www.mnn.com/earth-matters/animals/photos/13-animals-hunted-to-extinction#ixzz3cxooknVq

Scientists Warn of Mass Ocean Die-Offs

TV: Scientists warning of mass die-off along California coast — Official: Seafloor littered with dead fish, washing up “as far as I could see” — Toxin has spread all up and down West Coast — Experts: “Very, very unusual… Really extraordinary” (VIDEO)

Published: June 2nd, 2015 at 11:59 pm ET
By

KSBW, May 29, 2015 (emphasis added): Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary: Mass die-off could happen – “We are beginning with continuing coverage of that algae bloom in the Monterey Bay. Scientists say they’re seeing the highest levels of red tide in more than a decade, and they’re worried it will have grave impacts on marine life… [It] spreads all up and down the West Coast. Researchers in Santa Cruz have already recorded a mass die-off of anchovies and they expected more species could follow.”

KSBW, May 29, 2015: Scientists with the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary are predicting a mass die-off on the Central Coast… Up and down the West Coast, a large algal bloom of Pseudo-nitzschia is growing rapidly.

Chris Scholin, Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI), May 28, 2015: Very Toxic Algal Bloom in Monterey Bay — I wanted to let you know we have been following a very big bloom of Pseudo-nitzschia over the past couple of weeks here in the bay, and the amount of associated domoic acid is really extraordinary… Yesterday I noticed anchovies washing up on the beach in front of MBARI as far as I could see. There’s also lines of fish scales (anchovy?) marking the high tide line… One of the staff went snorkeling off the beach here, and saw the seafloor littered with anchovies… keep an eye out for seizuring sealions, sick birds, maybe sick otters… We think this is a very large event… Don’t eat shellfish or forage fish from MB — very nasty right now!!!

KSBW, May 29, 2015: “New tonight… researchers say a large algae bloom has taken over the Monterey Bay“… Jim Birch, MBARI: “We’re seeing these really high domoic acid levels in both locations, which is very, very unusual“… “Scientists with MBARI say the toxins from the algae bloom are going to have a chain reaction on marine animals, and they’ve already seen more dead seabirds on Central Coast beaches… It has started to really grow in the last few days.

KSBW, May 29, 2015: Raphael Kudela, a researcher at [UCSC] said the bloom… is being found from Washington to Santa Barbara… reports of dead seabirds are already coming in.

Monterey Herald, May 28, 2015: A mysterious neurotoxin… returned with a vengeance… “This is an unusual one,” said Raphael Kudela… “We haven’t seen a bloom this big in 15 years.”… why the toxin periodically blooms in Monterey Bay is still a marine mystery… scientists are getting closer to pinning down the reason for the blooms, with human impacts among the range of possibilities… Domoic acid is also suspected in a recent spate of bird deaths.

UC Santa Cruz, June 2, 2015: The toxin was first detected in early May, and by the end of the month researchers had detected some of the highest concentrations of domoic acid ever observed in Monterey Bay. “It’s a pretty massive bloom. The domoic acid levels are extremely high right now… the event is occurring as far north as Washington state. So it appears this will be one of the most toxic and spatially largest events we’ve had in at least a decade,” said Raphael Kudela, [UCSC] professor of ocean sciences.

MBARI, Jun 1, 2015: Researchers measured some of the highest concentrations of harmful algae and their toxin ever observed in Monterey Bay… During a normal [bloom] 1,000 nanograms per liter would be considered high… [It’s] reached 10 to 30 times this level. On May 27, 2015, very high levels… were found in dead anchovies… The researchers do not know if the anchovies died because of domoic acid poisoning.

Watch: KSBW’s broadcast | San Diego 6 News broadcast

Nature Plays for Keeps

00-intro

Humans are going to extinctify themselves in the near future; that much is a fact, not a speculation. It isn’t a matter of if, but when. The only question is whether they take every other life form with them on their one-way train to extinction.

That nature has been willing to part with a great many incredible species of animals over the years leaves me no doubt that Homo sapiens will eventually join the long list of beings we bring down with us.

But people need to take a good, hard look in the mirror before we call other species “invasive”—all humans are invasive to this hemisphere, including those said to be “indigenous.” And there’s nothing noble about setting fires and driving herds off cliffs. That’s a part of our past which we’d understandably want to forget. (It was the beginning of the sixth mass extinction event—man’s greatest achievement, and now his legacy.) Yet to acknowledge human nature is to understand why the Earth has grown tired of us as a species.

The thought that, thanks to anthropogenic climate change, our planet may become uninhabitable for humanity within our lifetimes may seem unfair unless you stop to think how humans have taken advantage of and mistreated Mother Earth when she’s so generous.

In the end, whether she will forgive us or resent us for all time is perhaps debatable. 

Extinction of your favorite animal more real than you realize

Extinction of your favorite animal more real than you realize

This week a study published in Science Advances has suggested that the extinction of some of the world’s most beloved animals is a clear and present danger. Fourty-four of the 74 largest terrestrial herbivores are now threatened with extinction, 12 of them “critically endangered” or extinct in the wild. Many of the species in decline, suggests the study, “are poorly known scientifically, and [are] badly in need of basic ecological research.” Not only will they die unless we do something, we’ll never know what they are all about in the first place.

Below you’ll see a set of two maps. The map at the top shows areas where large herbivore species exist. The cool colors show places where large herbivores exist, but only a handful of species.

The warmer the color, the more species of large herbivore exist.

F1.large-1

The second map shows where large herbivores are threatened. Save South America, most areas with very few large herbivore species seem to be less threatened.

The following species are currently threatened:
• African elephant (VU)
• Asian elephant (EN)
• Hippopotamus (VU)
• Pygmy hippopotamus (EN)
• Eastern gorilla (EN)
• Western gorilla (EN)
• Malayan tapir (VU)
• Baird’s tapir (EN)
• Lowland tapir (VU)
• Mountain tapir (EN)
• Philippine warty pig (VU)
• Oliver’s warty pig (EN)
• Visayan warty pig (CR)
• Palawan bearded pig (VU)
• Bearded pig (VU)
• Indian rhinoceros (CR)
• Javan rhinoceros (CR)
• Sumatran rhinoceros (CR)
• Black rhinoceros (CR)
• Grevy’s zebra (EN)
• Mountain zebra (VU)
• African wild ass (CR)
• Przewalski’s horse (EN)
• Asiatic wild ass (CR)
• Sambar (VU)
• Barasingha (VU)
• Père David’s deer (EW)
• White-lipped deer (VU)
• Bactrian camel (CR)
• Indian water buffalo (EN)
• Gaur (VU)
• Kouprey (CR)
• European bison (VU)
• Wild yak (VU)
• Banteng (EN)
• Takin (VU)
• Lowland anoa (EN)
• Tamaraw (CR)
• Mountain nyala (EN)
• Scimitar-horned oryx (EW)
• Mountain anoa (EN)
• Sumatran serow (VU)
• Walia ibex (EN)

This study shows three of the best-known species whose populations are contracting as we speak. These herbivores are the African Elephant, the Common Hippopotamus (not common for long), and the Black Rhinoceros.

F3.large

The most recent range polygons for the rhino are not shown here because of “recent poaching pressure.”

The change in population and possibility of extinction in all of these areas is due largely to one (or more) of four elements. Exploitation (hunting), Livestock (problems therein), Land-use change, and Conflict – as in Civil Unrest between warring human factions.

oops

Above you’ll see the percentages of large herbivore species threatened based on these four major threat categories.

NOTE: The total here adds up to more than 100% because each large herbivore may have more than one existing threat.

Photo Credits: Elephant and hippopotamus (K. Everatt), rhinoceros (G. Kerley).

You can see the full study in Science Advances 01 May 2015: Vol. 1, no. 4, e1400103. Code DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1400103. Authored by William J. Ripple, Thomas M. Newsome, Christopher Wolf, Rodolfo Dirzo, Kristoffer T. Everatt, Mauro Galetti, Matt W. Hayward, Graham I. H. Kerley, Taal Levi, Peter A. Lindsey, David W. Macdonald, Yadvinder Malhi, Luke E. Painter, Christopher J. Sandom, John Terborgh, and Blaire Van Valkenburgh.

The title of the paper this information comes from is “Collapse of the world’s largest herbivores”. This paper is available now for further review – again, from Science Advances.

In Defense of Our Misanthropy

There’s a difference between hate and disdain. It may be subtle, but not imperceptible. The word “hate” conjures up images of one wanting to see someone or something die a slow, painful death; but you can disdain something and simply want it to go away and leave others alone.

After learning of the works of the late natural history author John A. Livingston through a comment from reader Rosemary Lowe to my 2013 blog post entitled, “The Roots of My Misanthropy,” I finally found a used copy of the out of print book, One Cosmic Instant: Man’s Fleeting Supremacy.

From the opening pages, I was taken aback by how much Livingston’s attitude towards mankind reflected my own. Here’s a quote from one of his chapters on evolution:

“To regard the present condition—a monoculture of one dominant species of large mammal—as the inevitable result of a ‘master plan’ is to reveal ignorance and insensitivity. Like other hyper-specializations, the arrogant human brain will eventually be dealt with.”

In some circles, Livingston might be regarded as a touch misanthropic (or worse), but it’s clear to me that his disdain for humanity stems from a deep love for non-human nature. The problem with people pigeonholing essential words like misanthropy is they tend to oversimplify it as an unfounded hate, rather than a justifiable disdain.

In my earlier post, “The Roots of My Misanthropy,” (one of several on the subject) I stated:

“My misanthropy is not aimed at individuals per se, but at an entire misguided species of animal with an arrogance so all-consuming that it views itself as separate—and above—the rest of the animal kingdom.”

(While at the same time destroying habitats, sparking a mass extinction and changing the very climate that once made this a wondrous planet—ultimately to render it uninhabitable.)

“It’s not like humans can’t afford a little resentment once in a while, there are entire religions built specifically on the worship of mankind and its father figure—the maker made in the image of man. But sometimes someone needs to step back and see this species in perspective…

“Ever since hominids first climbed down out of the trees and started clubbing their fellow animals, humanoids have been on a mission to claim the planet as their own. No other species could ever live up to man’s over-inflated self-image; therefore they became meat. Or, if not meat, a servant or slave in one way or another.  If their flesh isn’t considered tasty, they’re put to use as beasts of burden, held captive for amusement, or as literal guinea pigs to test drugs and torturous procedures for the perpetual prolongation of human life. Those who don’t prove themselves useful are deemed ‘pests’ and slated for eradication.”

And on this same topic, guest-blogger for “Those Vegan Hedonists: A Veganism, Spirituality, and Philosophy Blog,” Kimberly Steele wrote, “If there is an afterlife for me, it will be the ecstasy for a brief second before my brain dies of never having to come back to our doomed planet or our stupid race; an instant of knowing I loved my fellow animals and lived every day like I meant it.”

To further prove that I’m not just a hateful curmudgeon, here’s what I blogged on August 14, 2014 in a post entitled,  “Save the Earth, Pray for a Pandemic”:

“I don’t mean to sound like some hateful misanthrope who wants to see humanity suffer for all its crimes against the environment. Rather, my misanthropy stems from a profound love of nature and a will to save non-humans from the cruelty and exploitation they’re routinely subjected to by the one species fully capable of causing a mass extinction. Indeed, the species Homo sapiens is currently in the process of putting an end to the most biologically diverse period the Earth has ever known—the Age of Mammals, a class which the human race must reluctantly finds itself included in.

“Being nothing more than mere mammals themselves, humans are ultimately at the mercy of Mother Nature’s self-preserving tactics. And what better way to reign in an errant child than with a major global pandemic that takes down only humans? Let’s face it; humans are never going to reverse the ill-effects of climate change willingly. Oh, world leaders sometimes give it lip service, but they almost never mention the parallel scourge of overpopulation. It seems it’s hard to be “green” and keep 7,185,322,300 (as of this writing) people fed, clothed, sheltered and transported in the manner they’re currently accustomed to.

“If people want to come out of this alive, they’re going to have to make some serious lifestyle changes. That means no more oil-dependent cars, trains, jet airplanes, no more Walmarts full of plastic trinkets built with coal power in Chinese factories, then sent overseas in gargantuan container ships. No offshore oil wells, no fracking, no tar sands pipelines; no freeways, no commuter traffic, no immensely-popular sporting events selling factory-farmed hot dogs by the billions. No people by the billions, for that matter. No more breeding until humans have figured out how to live alongside the rest of the Earth’s inhabitants without wiping them out or making slaves out of them.

“No more! Starting right now! No false-starts or baby steps. Time to change or be changed!

“It’s not just the politicians who lack the will to do what it will take to soften the blow of climate change. But while humans debate their role in causing relatively dependable weather systems to go topsy-turvy worldwide, Nature is poised to unleash a pandemic or two from her bag of tricks and take care of the human problem herself. I’m not talking about Ebola, that’s too slow and nasty.

“When Nature gets serious, I’m hoping it’ll be quick and painless for all.  By the time humans know what hit ‘em, there’ll be no one left to test the experimental vaccine on the animals, who’ll be too busy inheriting the Earth anyway.”

Hate or disdain, who but an optimist could see the upside of a major pandemic after all?

00-intro

15 Species Just Won’t Make it Unless We Act Now

http://www.natureworldnews.com/articles/13628/20150322/15-species-wont-make-unless-act-now.htm

Mar 22, 2015 11:27 PM EDT

pocket gopher

(Photo : Wiki CC0 – Chuck Abbe)

Researchers have recently released a paper that details 15 of the most critically endangered species on Earth – organisms that not only are facing what looks to be inevitable extinctions, but are barely receiving any aid to stop it. Now conservationists are calling for the money and expertise that would be needed to help these creatures – ranging from seabirds to tropical gophers – survive.

A study recently published in the journal Current Biology details how a whopping 841 endangered species can still be saved from extinction if countries and organizations commit an estimated net value of $1.3 billion dollars annually towards their safety. However, for 15 of the species highlighted in the report, their chance of conservation success is dropping by the minute.

“Conservation opportunity evaluations like ours show the urgency of implementing management actions before it is too late,” Dalia A. Conde, the lead author of the study and Assistant Professor at the Max-Planck Odense Center at the University of Southern Denmark, explained in a recent statement. “However, it is imperative to rationally determine actions for species that we found to have the lowest chances of successful habitat and zoo conservation actions.”

So just what are these 15 species in trouble? Nearly half the list includes amphibians, and that’s something that shouldn’t be too surprising given that this class of creatures is battling a war on two fronts. (Scroll to read on…)

The Brazilian frog Physalaemus soaresi is one of the most critically endangered species in the world, as the great majority of its natural habitat has been converted into eucalyptus plantations.

(Photo : Ivan Sazima) The Brazilian frog Physalaemus soaresi is one of the most critically endangered species in the world, as the great majority of its natural habitat has been converted into eucalyptus plantations.

As things stand, a deadly fungus (Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis) continues to spread and wipe out frog species from the face of the Earth in places like Brazil and Spain. A variant of it (Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans) has even started to affect salamanders around the globe.

Meanwhile, the habitats that these creatures rely on are shrinking and changing in the wake of climate change and human influence. Salamanders are even shrinking, as they increasingly struggle to live in suddenly dry and warming climes.

Six of the 15 species listed also happen to be birds. This, too, is partially a consequence of climate change, where churning air currents and shrinking habitats are leaving migratory species with smaller rest stops and fewer food supplies. Even species who do not travel far are left to compete with invaders, pollution, and, most commonly, deforestation. The Tahiti monarch (Pomarea nigra), for instance, is estimated to total less than 50 in the wild, as livestock pastures are expanding at the cost of forest habitat. (Scroll to read on…)

The Amsterdam albatross - one of the most critically endangered birds in the world - boasts a population that hovers somewhere around 130 birds with only 25 known breeding pairs.

(Photo : Vincent Legendre) The Amsterdam albatross – one of the most critically endangered birds in the world – boasts a population that hovers somewhere around 130 birds with only 25 known breeding pairs.

Most interestingly, three mammal species are threatened, consisting of the Mount Lefo brush-furred mouse (Lophuromys eisentrauti) in Cameroon, the Chiapan climbing rat (Tylomys bullaris) in Mexico, and the tropical pocket gopher (Geomys tropicalis) along the Mexican and Central American coast.

Shrinking habitats are threatening all three, but the reasons vary from urbanization, to human conflict, to costly habitat protection. Some can’t even be reintroduced into the wild through a captive breeding system, as the expertise to raise them is too rare or costly in undeveloped worlds.

That’s why an international effort world be worth it, according to the study. The researchers determined that the total cost to conserve the 841 animal species in their natural habitats was calculated to be more than $1 billion (USD) per year. The estimated annual cost for complementary management in zoos was $160 million.

“Although the cost seems high, safeguarding these species is essential if we want to reduce the extinction rate by 2020,” added Hugh Possingham from The University of Queensland. “When compared to global government spending on other sectors – e.g., US defense spending, which is more than 500 times greater -, an investment in protecting high biodiversity value sites is minor.”

And most encouragingly of all, the researchers found that if these species get the funding they need, 39 percent of them could potentially be pulled out of their endangered status, given their high number of conservation opportunities.

That’s not the case for the most threatened 15, but even for those the researchers argue that taking “an integrated approach” could save them...

Breeding Ourselves To Extinction

1451324_650954518277931_1616731734_n

http://www.counterpunch.org/2014/11/19/breeding-ourselves-to-extinction/

November 19, 2014

Overpopulation Fuels Climate Change

Breeding Ourselves To Extinction

by DADY CHERY & GILBERT MERCIER

The United Nations has held countless major meetings on climate change, at great consumption of fuel, that have amounted to nothing but reports and promises of more talk. After many of these alarming reports, the G20 leaders, in November 2014, decided to throw several billions of dollars at the problem. Despite climate-change denial becoming incorrect, as long as a discussion of overpopulation, in the context of climate-change mitigation, remains a taboo, we may be sure that nothing will be achieved. If we are serious about reducing our carbon footprint, we must rethink the flawed capitalist concept of unending economic growth and consider reducing the number of human feet in the world. Overpopulation must be discussed in the context of climate change. A major impediment to this discussion has been the assumption that Africa and Asia would be the main targets for depopulation, with eugenics intent towards “black and brown babies.” In reality, there are too many human babies of all kinds: especially in industrialized countries with high rates of consumption.

A Time Bomb on a Short Fuse

Earth’s current human population is 7.27 billion and it is increasing at a rate of more than one per second: so fast that this will make you dizzy. By the middle of any given day, for example, there are about 205,000 thousand births, compared to 84,000 thousand deaths. Superficially, Asia and Africa are the most populous continents in the world, with the 10 most populated countries being China, India, the United States, Indonesia, Brazil, Pakistan, Nigeria, Bangladesh, Russia and Japan. On the other hand, if we consider the human impact on greenhouse-gas emissions, the most heavily industrialized countries contribute more per capita to the burden of overpopulation on climate change. Specifically, in 2012, China, the United States, and the European Union alone contributed about 56 percent of the world’s carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from fuels: 29 percent from China, 16 percent from the US, and 11 percent from the EU. India and Russia were a distant fourth and fifth, at respectively, six and five percent. The rest of the entire world only contributed 33 percent of the total carbon emission! This includes all of Africa, South and Central America, Australia, and all the less industrialized countries of Asia.

According to Paul and Ann Ehrlich, who sounded the alarm about overpopulation several decades ago and have analyzed it for many years, “our species’ negative impact on our own life-support systems can be approximated by the equation: I = P x A x T.” In this equation, I, the impact of a population is equal to its size (P),  multiplied by the per-capita consumption (A), and finally also multiplied by the energy use (T) for the technologies to drive that consumption. By this analysis, the US is by far the most overpopulated country on the planet. The rapid growth in consumption by China and India, and the global aspiration to follow the US’ footsteps are terrifying and should have dire consequences within 25 years.

The Catastrophic Scenario of Eating Oil

The human population should have crashed from famine in the 1970s but was rescued by modern science. In particular, Norman Borlaug’s green revolution allowed our consumption of food to rely more and more on fossil fuels than on solar energy. We have come to depend on industrial fertilizers that require vast amounts of oil for their production, plus a heavily mechanized agricultural industry that also consumes large quantities of hydrocarbons. Indeed, for many years, the patterns of food, fertilizer, and oil prices over time have been superimposable. Today we can say with confidence, for example, that it takes three quarters of a gallon of oil to produce a pound of beef. Consequently, the idea of cheap oil has become regarded as a guarantee of affordable food. There are three problems with this notion: for one, oil is a finite resource; secondly, in a vicious cycle, cheap and abundant oil will, at best, postpone the inevitable human population crash to a much higher population; and finally, all the oil will eventually wind up in the atmosphere as CO2.

According to a November 2014 report from the International Energy Agency (IEA) that projects the state of the planet and its energy resources to 2040, humans will not have to face a shortage of energy. The IEA projects, that by 2040, the world will consume greenhouse-contributing energy like oil, gas and coal, compared with so-called green energy like wind, solar, and nuclear, in a 1:1 ratio. A world-wide expansion of fracking is expected to keep carbon energy cheap and plentiful. This fact plus a projected two-billion-people increase on Earth mean that energy consumption would increase by 37 percent by 2040. This rate of growth and consumption implies a rapid increase of greenhouse-gas emissions, which in turn translates into a 3.6-degree Celsius global warming by the year 2100. This, according to the IEA report, is a “catastrophic scenario.”

Breeding Ourselves to Extinction

About 20 years ago, when the human population was 5.7 billion, our species was already consuming 40 percent of the Earth’s primary productivity. In other words, 40 percent of the total solar energy converted to organic matter was being consumed by a single species. We are quickly approaching a tipping point in the planet’s sixth mass-extinction event, attributable to human folly. The planet simply cannot accommodate another human doubling. Whether or not there is sufficient hydrocarbon to permit such a doubling, it will be prevented by the ravages of climate-change events, such as floods, hurricanes and droughts due to global warming, by famines due to the disappearance of key members of our ecology like the bats and honeybees, and by infectious diseases, like Ebola, from human infringement on the habitats of other animals. Our runaway overpopulation, overconsumption, and our obsession with economic growth are carving a sure path to collective suicide.

Procreation is still viewed as a being blessing and accomplishment, although this is an obsolete notion from an era when many hands were needed on a farm, and life expectancy was short, especially for women (many of whom died in childbirth) and young children. In an overpopulated world, parenthood is an act of self indulgence: the ultimate act of selfishness against the society at large and even toward the children themselves, who are being delivered to a world in crisis. So far, the only country that has seriously tried to control its population has been China. For the 35 years from 1979 to 2014, China’s unpopular one-child policy helped to avert a population growth of more than 400 million. More recently, China’s capitalist ambitions to grow a domestic market for its goods have led it to relax this policy to allow two children per couple if either parent is an only child.

Population control policy is needed globally and can be achieved without coercion. In most industrialized countries, parenthood currently comes with substantial tax breaks and an assortment of benefits. This must end. Instead, parenthood should be heavily taxed in proportion to the number of children, and adults without children should be those to receive tax breaks. The notion that children are a burden to the community at large — and not a blessing — must become part of the discourse. Ultimately, this should become incorporated in the culture to such a degree that the sight of a mother or father with three or four children will become obscene. To have any future as a species, our population needs to drop, as does our consumption. We must challenge capitalism and adopt a degrowth model. If we are to make any progress on mitigation of climate change, we must urgently address the problem of overpopulation.