Backed Into a Corner

cornered-deer.jpg

 

Commentary by Jim Robertson

 

Despite humans’ best efforts to destroy her, it seems Nature is not going down without a fight. And regardless of what humans may believe about themselves and their place at the pinnacle, Nature is ultimately much bigger, heavier and vastly more significant in the so-called ‘scheme of things.’

 

Harassed by their bird-dog, a sow grizzly bears charges pheasant hunters (who, of course, shoot and kill her–leaving three cubs motherless); a ‘serial-killer’ elephant tramples 15 Indians (out of over a billion); and just yesterday a new article tells us a about a ‘hunter gored to death by a cornered deer.’

 

Could it all be part of a long-suffering and normally highly (even saintly) tolerant Mother Nature finally fighting back against her one fatal blunder–the fleshy, hairless, upright, arrogant apes armed with their weapons of mass extinction?

 

Homo sapiens may have won countless battles and the arms race hands-down, but Nature will ultimately win the day and eventually, the war, wiping the slate clean for another burst of evolutionary creativity that won’t include the conceited carnivorous primates or their puffed-up fantasies of self-importance.

 

 

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Things could really start to get ugly

It came to me while reading the nonfiction book What Evolution Is by the famed evolutionary biologist, Ernst Mahr, that the only way Mother Nature is ever going to get rid of the species plaguing her perfection is with a good old-fashioned mass extinction, because, sadly, humans aren’t going anywhere without taking just about every other species with them.

Humankind have backed Nature into a corner and at this point all she can do is turn and fight, like sow grizzly bear defending her beloved offspring

Humans have gotten away with killing and eating, killing for sport and/or taking trophies of any and all of Natures’ finest treasures for so long now we’re starting to think we’re entitled to simply help ourselves to the spoils of our war on the world.

Well; if humans don’t shape up and show some respect, things could really start get ugly on this planet soon for everyone involved… and that’s not just talking weather-wise.  

  

“We are a plague on Earth:” David Attenborough: ‘If We Don’t Limit Our Population Growth, the Natural World Will’

IN BRIEF
  • The famed British naturalist warns that our current rate of population growth is unsustainable and will ultimately have devastating consequences for the human race.
  • He recommends several ways to combat this problem, emphasizing a need to give women political control of their bodies and investing in sex education worldwide.

“A PLAGUE ON EARTH”

David Attenborough, renowned British naturalist and TV presenter, has some pretty scathing words for humanity: “We are a plague on Earth.”

Attenborough made that statement to the Radio Times back 2013, but it’s far from the only time he’s shared his controversial views on population growth. Attenborough has made it clear that he believes that at the rate humans are growing we will soon be unable to feed or house ourselves. It’s an uncomfortable truth, but one that needs to be faced, especially for anyone who agrees with Attenborough that humans have become a plague on this planet — a relentless force of destruction tearing its way through a world shared with other creatures.

“It’s coming home to roost over the next 50 years or so. It’s not just climate change; it’s sheer space, places to grow food for this enormous horde,” he said in that same interview. “Either we limit our population growth, or the natural world will do it for us, and the natural world is doing it for us right now.”

The rapid growth of our population is making it very difficult for the world to address several serious environmental challenges. What’s needed is a real discussion about the reality of overpopulation. Too many people, combined with insufficient methods of creating and distributing resources, ultimately leads to loss of life and resources.

“We can’t go on increasing at the rate human beings are increasing forever, because Earth is finite and you can’t put infinity into something that is finite,” Attenborough said in a story published by The Independent.

TOO LITTLE, TOO LATE?

Despite all his efforts to bring awareness to the subject of overpopulation, Attenborough sternly warns that simply acknowledging these eventualities is not enough — we must act. He believes that controlling our population is dependent on investing in sex education globally, giving women more political control over their bodies, and implementing other voluntary means of population control in developing countries.

“The only straw of comfort or of hope, and even that is pretty fragile, is that wherever women are given political control of their bodies, where they have the vote, education, appropriate medical facilities and they can read and have rights and so on, the birth rate falls, there’s no exceptions to that,” Attenborough says.

Putting more emphasis on women’s reproductive rights and empowerment, as well as providing universal access to birth control and education, will ultimately give people an opportunity to make informed family planning choices. Our only hope of living on this planet for a long time into the future is making sure we start planning for it now.

Dinosaurs might have escaped total extinction had doomsday asteroid struck seconds earlier, later

http://www.torontosun.com/2017/05/15/dinosaurs-might-have-escaped-total-extinction-had-doomsday-asteroid-struck-seconds-earlier-later MONDAY, MAY 15, 2017 12:19 PM EDT | UPDATED: MONDAY, MAY 15, 2017 12:53 PM EDT

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A new BBC Two documentary suggests dinosaurs might have escaped extinction if a doomsday asteroid had struck 30 seconds earlier or later.

Instead, it’s believed the massive, 15 km-wide rock smashed into shallow water near the Yucatan Peninsula 66 million years ago, ejecting mass amounts of sulfur into Earth’s atmosphere.

“This is where we get to the great irony of the story,” Ben Garrod, who presents The Day The Dinosaurs Died, told the BBC.

“In the end it wasn’t the size of the asteroid, the scale of blast, or even its global reach that made dinosaurs extinct. It was where the impact happened.”

Researchers contend the ensuing blast caused an extended global winter that left dinosaurs with nothing to sustain themselves.

 

However, had the giant asteroid struck moments earlier or later it might have splashed into deeper waters in the Atlantic or Pacific Oceans.

Such an open water impact could have resulted in less vaporized particles being ejected into the air, thereby allowing more sunlight to reach Earth’s surface.

Scientists believe the impact that formed Mexico’s Chicxulub Crater resulted in an explosion equal to 10 billion Hiroshima A-bombs, according to the report.

The documentary also speculates that the original impact caused immediate death for dinosaurs roaming as far away as New Jersey.

Mass Die-Off of Whales in Atlantic Is Being Investigated

Photo

Workers inspecting a dead humpback whale that washed up on Rockaway Beach in Queens this month.CreditSpencer Platt/Getty Images

Humpback whales have been dying in extraordinary numbers along the Eastern Seaboard since the beginning of last year. Marine biologists have a term for it — an “unusual mortality event” — but they have no firm idea why it is happening.

Forty-one whales have died in the past 15 months along the Atlantic coast from North Carolina to Maine. In a news conference on Thursday, officials from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries said that they had not identified the underlying reason for the mass death, but that 10 of the whales are known to have been killed by collisions with ships.

The agency is starting a broad inquiry into the deaths.

These whales “have evidence of blunt force trauma, or large propeller cuts,” said Deborah Fauquier, a veterinary medical officer at the agency’s Office of Protected Resources. These collisions with ships were “acute events,” Dr. Fauquier said, and were being treated as the “proximate cause of death.”

Dr. Fauquier said that the number of whale strandings was “alarming,” and that she hoped the investigation might give a sense of what kind of threat this presents to this population of humpback whales and those around the world.

COn average, eight humpback whales are stranded each year from Maine to Virginia, and fewer than two are hit by ships, according to data from NOAA.

An unusual mortality event is a specific designation under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, and is defined as “a stranding that is unexpected, involves a significant die-off of any marine mammal population, and demands immediate response.”

Whale or other marine mammal die-offs are often poorly understood by scientists, and this case is no exception. Officials from NOAA Fisheries could not explain why the animals were coming into greater contact with vessels, or if there were any human-caused or climate-related disturbances that had changed their behavior.

Gregory Silber, marine resources manager in the agency’s Office of Protected Resources, said that there had not been any increase in ship traffic in the region, and that the whales might be following their prey — they mostly eat krill and small fish — to areas where there could be more shipping.

Ten whales other than those killed by ships have been examined, but officials have not yet determined the cause of death. There is no indication that they were killed by disease.

Humpback whales — which can be as long as 60 feet, weigh as much as 40 tons and can live for 50 years — are found in all of the world’s oceans. There are 14 distinct population segments — groups that follow certain migration and breeding patterns — of humpback whales, some of which are classified as endangered or threatened. The population along the Atlantic coast, which winters in the Caribbean and summers in the North Atlantic or Arctic regions, is not now considered threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

Around the world, there are an estimated 30,000 to 40,000 humpback whales, about a third of its original population. The Atlantic population is around 10,000.

Scientists have suggested that some whale deaths could be a result of marine noise, often a result of military activity, offshore drilling or exploration, which can disorient the animals and send them in the wrong direction, possibly toward beaches where they get stuck instead of into the deeper ocean. Mr. Silber, the NOAA manager, said he was not aware of a connection between ocean noise and these strandings.

A recent study has shown that dolphins, when escaping predators or the source of marine noise, might shoot up from a dive more quickly than they otherwise would, switching from slow, deliberate strokes to faster, longer ones, which can cause them to use double the energy they normally do, and exhaust them.

The last major mass casualty event for marine mammals in this part of the world took place from 2013 to 2015, when a resurgence of the morbillivirus killed thousands of bottlenose dolphins on the Eastern Seaboard.

Among humpback whales, there was an unusual mortality event in 2006, following others in 2005, which involved other large whales, and 2003, which was primarily humpback whales. In each investigation, the cause was undetermined, officials said.

NOAA officials said members of the public looking to help could report stranded or dead floating whales to numbers listed on their website.

Resurrecting extinct species might come at a terrible cost

https://phys.org/news/2017-02-resurrecting-extinct-species-terrible.html

February 27, 2017
Resurrecting extinct species might come at a terrible cost
A Lord Howe Island woodhen Gallirallus sylvestris. Credit: Toby Hudson

Bringing back extinct species could lead to biodiversity loss rather than gain, according to work featuring University of Queensland researchers.

UQ scientist Professor Hugh Possingham said the research suggested further stretching already-strained budgets to cover the costs of de-extinction could endanger extant species (species still in existence).

“If the risk of failure and the costs associated with establishing viable populations could also be calculated, estimates of potential net losses or missed opportunities would probably be considerably higher,” Professor Possingham said.

“De-extinction could be useful for inspiring new science and could be beneficial for conservation if we ensure it doesn’t reduce existing conservation resources.

“However, in general it is best if we focus on the many species that need our help now.”

“Given the considerable potential for missed opportunity, and risks inherent in assuming a resurrected species would fulfil its role as an ecosystem engineer or flagship species, it is unlikely that de-extinction could be justified on grounds of biodiversity conservation.”

The study was led by Dr Joseph Bennett, formerly of the ARC Centre for Environmental Decisions at UQ and now of Carleton University, Canada.

It analysed the number of species governments in New Zealand and New South Wales could afford to conserve.

“We based cost estimates on recently extinct species and similar extant species,” Dr Bennett said.

The Lord Howe pigeon, eastern bettong, bush moa and Waitomo frog were among the extinct species included in calculations.

The researchers found reintroducing some recently extinct species to their old habitats might improve biodiversity locally, but government-funded conservation for 11 focal in New Zealand would sacrifice conservation for nearly three times as many (31) extant species.

External funding for conservation of the five focal extinct NSW species could instead be used to conserve more than eight times as many (42) extant species.

Although the technology for de-extinction is still some way off, the research found that careful thought would be required about what to reintroduce, and where.

Professor Possingham is Chief Scientist with The Nature Conservancy, the world’s largest conservation organisation, and a scientist with UQ’s School of Biological Sciences, The Centre for Biodiversity and Conservation Science at UQ, the ARC Centre of Excellence for Environmental Decisions (CEED) and the Australian Government’s National Environmental Science Program Threatened Species Recovery Hub.

Read more at: https://phys.org/news/2017-02-resurrecting-extinct-species-terrible.html#jCp

North America’s skeleton crew of megafauna

Proc.Royal Soc.B:Biological Sciences  January 11 2017
 
What North America’s skeleton crew of megafauna tells us about community disassembly
Matt Davis
 
Abstract
 
Functional trait diversity is increasingly used to model future changes in community structure despite a poor understanding of community disassembly’s effects on functional diversity. By tracking the functional diversity of the North American large mammal fauna through the End-Pleistocene megafaunal extinction and up to the present, I show that contrary to expectations, functionally unique species are no more likely to go extinct than functionally redundant species. This makes total functional richness loss no worse than expected given similar taxonomic richness declines. However, where current species sit in functional space relative to pre-anthropogenic baselines is not random and likely explains ecosystem functional changes better than total functional richness declines. Prehistoric extinctions have left many extant species functionally isolated and future extinctions will cause even more rapid drops in functional richness.

How to Avoid Stephen Hawking’s Dark Prediction for Humanity

http://www.livescience.com/56926-stephen-hawking-humanity-extinct-1000-years.html

Stephen Hawking thinks humanity has only 1,000 years left of survival on Earth and that our species needs to colonize other planets.

The famed physicist made the statement in a speech at Oxford University Union, in which he promoted the goal of searching for and colonizing Earth-like exoplanets. Developing the technology to allow humans to travel to and live on faraway alien worlds is a challenge, to say the least. But is Hawking right that humanity has only 1,000 years to figure it out?

The dangers Hawking cited — from climate change, to nuclear weapons, to genetically engineered viruses — could indeed pose existential threats to our species, experts say, but predicting a millennium into the future is a murky business.

“While I respect Stephen Hawking enormously, speculating on how long Homo sapiens will survive before extinction is foolish,” said John Sterman, director of the MIT Sloan Sustainability Initiative. “Whether we survive and thrive or descend into chaos is not something to predict or lay odds on, but a choice to be made.” [Top 10 Ways to Destroy Earth]

If climate change continues apace, it will likely lead to a great deal of friction for the human species.

“There may be incredible amounts of food and water stress in some regions; combined with sea-level rise, this will lead to massive numbers of environmental refugees — enough to make the Syrian diaspora seem simple to absorb,” said Shawn Marshall, a professor of geography and a climate change researcher at the University of Calgary in Canada.

Humanity is surviving now only by depleting the planet’s natural resources and poisoning its environment, Sterman told Live Science. The nonprofit Global Footprint Network estimates that humanity uses up the resources of 1.5 Earths each year, essentially overdrawing from the planet’s natural bank account. The problems of sustainability can’t wait 1,000 years, Sterman said.

“Whether we can prevent damaging climate change, and the broader issue of whether we can learn to live within the limits of our finite world, will likely be determined this century,” he said.

Emmanuel Vincent, a research scientist at the University of California, Merced and founder of the outreach organization Climate Feedback, echoed the call to make sustainable decisions now.

“It is important to remind [people] that one cannot predict whether a catastrophic event will wipe out humans within the next thousand years,” Vincent told Live Science. “What Hawking is doing here is speculating on the risk that this will happen, and he estimates that the probability of extinction is high. While I agree that this is possible, I would like to emphasize that this primarily depends on how we manage to prevent such catastrophic outcome as a society.” [7 Iconic Animals Humans Are Driving to Extinction]

This doesn’t mean humans will necessarily go extinct if we make poor choices. Climate-wise, the planet is currently about 1 degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) warmer than preindustrial averages, Marshall said. (The past year has set multiple modern heat records.)

In comparison, temperatures during the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods were about 10 degrees C (18 F) warmer than preindustrial averages, or about 25 degrees C (45 F) compared with today’s 16 degrees C (29 F), Marshall said. Yet life was quite abundant at that time, he told Live Science.

“It would be a habitable but rather different world,” he said. “We’ll run out of fossil fuels before we evaporate the oceans away.”

So humans probably won’t manage to actually bake themselves in an oven made of greenhouse gases, though tropical areas may become too hot for habitation, Vincent said. The real question is whether humans would be able to handle the upheaval that climate change would bring as coastlines vanish, diseases spread and weather patterns change.

“On its own, I don’t see how climate change would lead to human extinction,” Marshall said. “It would have to be through the social unrest triggering nuclear warfare, or some other societal implosion as a result of the environmental degradation.”

Already, there are warning signs beyond warming temperatures. About half of global wildlife has been wiped out over the past 50 years, Vincent said. The situation is serious enough that many scientists believe the planet is in the midst of its sixth mass extinction.

“Anyone who thinks we can solve these problems by colonizing other worlds has been watching too much ‘Star Trek,'” Sterman said. “We must learn to live sustainably here, on the one planet we have, and there is no time to lose.”

Original article on Live Science.