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Going to extremes

Going to extremes

It only took us a century to use up the best of the planet’s finite reserves of fossil fuels. The dawning century will be a lot different.

In the autumn of 1987 I often sipped my morning coffee while watching a slow parade roll through the hazy dawn.

I had given up my apartment for a few months, so I could spend the rent money on quality bike-camping equipment for a planned trip to the Canadian arctic. My substitute lodgings were what is now referred to as “wild camping”, though most nights I slept in the heart of downtown Toronto. One of my favourite sites afforded a panoramic view of the scenic Don Valley Parkway, which was and remains a key automobile route from the suburbs into the city.

Even thirty-five years ago, the bumper-to-bumper traffic at “rush hour” had earned this route the nickname “Don Valley Parking Lot”. On weekday mornings, the endless procession of cars, most of them carrying a single passenger but powered by heat-throwing engines of a hundred or two hundred horsepower, lumbered downtown at speeds that could have been matched by your average cyclist.

Sometimes I would try to calculate how much heavy work could have been done by all that power … let’s see, 1000 cars/lane/hour X 3 lanes = 3000 cars/hour, X 200 horsepower each = the power of 600,000 horses! Think of all the pyramids, or Stonehenges, or wagon-loads of grain, that could be moved every hour by those 600,000 horses, if they weren’t busy hauling 3000 humans to the office.

This car culture is making someone a lot of money, I thought, but it isn’t making a lot of sense.

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an outside chance,

Fifth Of Countries Worldwide At-Risk Of “Environmental Shocks” Collapsing Ecosystem 

A new report via insurance firm Swiss Re warns that one-fifth of countries worldwide are at risk of their ecosystems collapsing because of a decline in biodiversity.

The reinsurer said more than half of global GDP, equal to about $41.7 trillion, is highly dependent on “high-functioning biodiversity and ecosystem services” and warns 20% of countries are nearing tipping points.

Swiss Re Institute’s new Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services Index (BES), built on ten critical ecosystem services (water security, timber provision, food provision, habitat intactness, pollination, soil fertility, water quality, regulation of air quality and local climate, erosion control and coastal protection), offers government officials and business leaders with a more enhanced view into their local ecosystems that are so critical to their economies. Reinsurers can use BES to develop insurance solutions that protect communities at risk from biodiversity loss.

Among G20 economies, South Africa, India, Turkey, Mexico, and Italy had the highest shares of fragile ecosystems within the BES index. Meanwhile, countries, including Germany, Canada, Indonesia, Brazil, and the United Kingdom, had very low percentages of their ecosystems in a fragile state.

Global BES Index Map

BES Index Ranking G20 Countries 

Christian Mumenthaler, Swiss Re’s Group Chief Executive Officer, said: “This important piece of work provides a data-driven foundation for understanding the economic risks of deteriorating biodiversity and ecosystems. In turn, we can inform governmental decision-making to help improve ecosystem restoration and preservation.”

“We can also support corporations and investors as they fortify themselves against environmental shocks. Armed with this information, we can also ensure the provision of stronger sustainable insurance services,” Mumenthaler said.

One example Swiss Re said is that certain developing and developed countries were at risk for water scarcity issues, which could damage manufacturing sectors, properties, and supply chains. The domino effect of biodiversity loss could have on economies is catastrophic if nothing is done.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Abrupt Ecosystem Collapse

Abrupt Ecosystem Collapse

A new study in Nature (April 2020) casts a disturbing light on the prospects of abrupt ecosystem collapse. The report analyzes the probabilities of collapsing ecosystems en masse, and not simply the loss of individual species. (Source: Trisos, C.H. et al, The Projected Timing of Abrupt Ecological Disruption From Climate Change, Nature, April 8, 2020)

The paper states that a high percentage of species will be exposed to harmful climate conditions at about the same time, potentially leading to sudden and catastrophic die-offs of biodiversity. If high greenhouse gas emissions remain in place, abrupt events are forecast to begin before 2030 in tropical oceans and spread to tropical forests and temperate regions over time.

Without doubt, no nation is prepared for the consequences of collapsing ecosystems nor are they doing anything to avert it. Yet, it is all about the quintessence of life on the planet.

There is a high probability that fossil fuel emissions will not be curtailed enough in enough time to prevent abrupt ecosystem collapse(s). Sufficient mitigation efforts to slowdown carbon emissions are not happening, not even close.

Regrettably the International Energy Agency (IEA) projects future usage of fossil fuels that look an awful lot like “the reverse” of rapid emission mitigation with plans afoot by the U.S., Russia, Saudi Arabia, and other major producers to increase fossil fuel production by 120% by 2030, and China and India have elaborate, surprisingly huge, plans to increase usage of coal. All of which portends big-big-big trouble down the pike. Of course, it’s a crushing blow to the Paris ‘15 climate accord. (Sources: Dangerous Levels of Warming Locked in by Planned Jump in fossil Fuels Output, National Geographic, Nov. 20, 2019 and BBC News d/d November 20, 2019: “Climate Change: China Coal Surge Threatens Paris Targets” and IEA)

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“Which species are we sure we can survive without?” Revisited

“Which species are we sure we can survive without?” Revisited

Two years ago I asked the question in the title of this piece. Now comes a wide-ranging study that suggests we are about to test that question in a major way.

The study predicts that at the current rate of loss of insect species, 40 percent could be gone “in the next few decades.” What is particularly alarming is that this “could trigger wide-ranging cascading effects within several of the world’s ecosystems.” That means that many other life-forms including other animals and plants could find themselves without what they need to survive in this dangerous game of musical chairs orchestrated by humans. Might we be one of those species?

Insects do much of the crop pollination necessary for food production. A list of crops pollinated by bees is quite long. Humans could survive without these foods, but the nutrition and variety in our diets would be severely limited. And yet there is a greater problem. Outside of agriculture 80 to 95 percent of plant species require animal pollination. Since those plants are the base of every food chain, catastrophic declines in insect populations could lead to a collapse of existing ecosystems. The exact scope and effects of such a collapse cannot be fully anticipated. But it is doubtful humans would be unharmed.

Human civilization uses an enormous amount of free ecoservices, that is, services provided by nature including the purification of water, the formation of soil, the regulation of climate, and energy resources such as hydropower and biomass. However one values these services, the value is enormous. If humans had to pay for these services, that is, if we had to set up mechanical and chemical substitutes, we would never able to afford it. But, we probably wouldn’t be able to set up substitute systems that work as precisely and effectively as nature’s.

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CO2 on Track for Largest Rise in 62 Years

CO2 on Track for Largest Rise in 62 Years

Around the world, atypical climate change grows increasingly threatening to all life on the planet, principally because of excessive CO2 emissions. Paradoxically, this is happening on the heels of the Paris 2015 climate accord among nations of the world.

But, didn’t almost all of the countries of the world pledge to cut back greenhouse gas emissions?

Oh yes, they did, but CO2 emissions set new records year after year after year. Ever since Paris 2015 nothing positive has happened to halt global warming, almost nothing!

Granted, it’s true that renewable installations, especially in China, are hot items but so is fossil fuel usage, which had its largest increase in seven years in 2018. Ya gotta wonder: Where’s Waldo/Paris2015?

By all appearances, pledges to reduce greenhouse gases at Paris 2015 are fatigued because the climate system is staggering and sending early warning signs of rapid deterioration of key ecosystems that support life, which, in large measure, is caused by ever-increasing bursts of CO2 emissions.

On January 25, 2019, the prestigious Met Office Hadley Centre/UK issued a dismal CO2 forecast: “Faster CO2 Rise Expected in 2019.”

“During 2019, Met Office climate scientists expect to see one of the largest rises in atmospheric carbon-dioxide concentration in 62 years.”

As of today, 4 years since Paris 2015, CO2 is supposed to be plateauing or leveling, flattish, not roaring ahead in a 62-year ascendency to new record highs as it continues to ratchet up. Something’s horribly amiss about the pledges by countries to reduce CO2 emissions in order to minimize the risks of climate change/global warming. Those pledges are going backwards, falling into a deep black abyss.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Collapsing Rainforest Ecosystems

Collapsing Rainforest Ecosystems

Photo Source A.Davey | CC BY 2.0

The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences recently issued a report on the status of arthropods in rainforests (Bradford C. Lister and Andres Garcia, Climate-Driven Declines in Arthropod Abundance Restructure a Rainforest Food Web, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2018 https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1722477115).

The report’s shocking analysis discovered a collapsing food web in tropical rainforests. Oh please! Can ecological news get any worse than this?

Biologists Brad Lister and Andres Garcia of the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México returned to Puerto Rico’s Luquillo Rainforest after 40 years, and what they found blew them away. The abundance of insects, and arthropods in general, declined by as much as 60-fold and average temps had risen by 2°C over the past four decades. According to the scientists, global warming is impacting the rainforest with distinctive gusto.

According to Lister: “It was just a collapse in the insect community. A really dramatic change… The insect populations in the Luquillo forest are crashing.” (Source: Climate-Driven Crash in a Rainforest Food Web, Every Day Matters, Oct. 22, 2018).

It doesn’t get much worse than “crashing” of ecosystem support systems, i.e., insects and arthropods in general, which are in the phylum Euarthropoda, inclusive of insects, arachnids, myriapods, and crustaceans. This equates to a loss of basic structures of biosphere life forces.

The research team believes they are already seeing today what the recent IPCC report predicted for climate change in 2040. In their words: “It’s a harbinger of a global unraveling of natural systems.”

“The central question addressed by our research is why simultaneous, long-term declines in arthropods, lizards, frogs, and birds have occurred over the past four decades in the relatively undisturbed rainforests of northeastern Puerto Rico.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The New Politics of Climate Change

The New Politics of Climate Change

As climate change accelerates, the political environment will start to boil. It’s happening already.

More and more ordinary people are beginning to connect the dots between extreme weather, rising climate related death tolls, collapsing ecosystems, refugee/resource crises, and other grave anomalies.

The political outcome of all this will either be a reactionary or progressive response.

On the reactionary side, the tendency will be to put up strong national defenses and seek out convenient sacrificial lambs such as migrants and refugees. It will attempt a screeching halt to cosmopolitanism, liberalism, and globalism.

On the progressive side, either some of the old parties will broadly transform themselves or new parties, such as the Greens, will seize new ground. Here the tendency would ideally be to aggressively endeavor to bring about a rapid phase of global/local decarbonization combined with generously funded technological-ecological innovation whether geoengineered or otherwise.

Whether we choose the former or the latter, will in large part be due to whoever has the greater political will as well as the power to transform that will into effective organizations.

In Europe, particularly in Germany, the Green party is beginning to show that something like this can and might be done effectively.

In the United States, both mainstream parties have yet to show a serious concern, other than mouthing platitudes, about the potential catastrophic threat to long term health and wealth.

Due to the two-party system in the United States, the Greens have a formidable barrier to political entry to confront. However, either a shake up in their party leadership or, better yet, a defection of a major political figure (such as Bernie Sanders) to their camp would definitely help their cause.

But if the US Greens are ever to have a chance at power of any kind, now is the time for action.

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Three Climatic Monsters with Asteroid Impact

Three Climatic Monsters with Asteroid Impact

Continuing from Part 1: Monster #2 Greenhouse Gases (“GHG”) alter ecosystems.

The biggest impact of anthropogenic GHG hits the oceans. There is no doubt about the importance of the oceans as a great sink, 2/3rds of the planet. After all, the oceans have saved humanity’s butt ever since industrialization started emitting CO2 over 200 years ago.

Sorrowfully, CO2 with consequent global warming, when excessive, literally kills the oceans. As it happens, the oceans absorb 30-40% of CO2 and 80-90% of planetary heat. Otherwise, one can only imagine the awesomely horrendous, gruesome, horrid consequences, but maybe not, as human imagination has trouble focusing on total annihilation. It never seems a reality.

However, a new carbon sink theory claims the oceans have maxed-out, thus unable to absorb additional CO2 after taking up approximately 130B tons of CO2 over the past century (all-time approximately 38,000 gigatons of CO2, which is 16xs terrestrial CO2).

Further to the point, it is believed the oceans could reverse course and start emitting CO2, a “reverse sink,” at some juncture. The implications are daunting, putting it oh so mildly.

Also, dreadfully, ocean chemistry is changing because of excessive CO2, more acidic, thus imperiling the life cycle of pteropods, tiny pea-like free-swimming snails at the base of the food chain that multiply by the billions, maybe trillions, serving as a source of sustenance for everything from krill to large whales. Analyses of pteropods in the Southern Ocean revealed failure to fully develop protective outer shells (acidification at work), which inhibits maturation and reproduction. It goes without saying, after enough time, it could evolve into a major ecosystem collapse.

Not only is the marine food chain at risk, excessive warming kills coral, for example, one-half of the Great Barrier Reef, one of Nature’s Seven Wonders of the World, died in 2016-17 from extreme heat. Scientists around the world were, and still are, totally freaked-out.

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Conflict Over the Future of the Planet

Conflict Over the Future of the Planet

On this Earth Day, it is difficult to look at the state of the planet and the current political leadership and see much hope. In “Junk Planet”, Robert Burrowes writes a comprehensive description of the degradation of the atmosphere, oceans, waterways, groundwater, and soil as well as the modern pollution of antibiotic waste, genetic engineering, nanowaste, space junk, military waste and nuclear, a description of a planet degraded by pollution impacting our bodies and health as well as the planet’s future.

Burrowes includes another form of waste, junk information, that denies reality, e.g. climate change, the dangers of extreme energy extraction and food polluted by genetic engineering, pesticides, and depleted soils. This false reporting results in policies that create a risk of ecosystem collapse.

Political and economic elites want people to believe these problems do not exist. Those in power seek to protect profits from dirty energy rather than transition to 100 percent clean energy. They seek to protect agribusiness food, pesticides, and genetically modified foods rather than transform food to organic, locally grown foods using regenerative agriculture. They deny the reality of environmental racism rather than correct decades of racism and provide reparations. They seek to put profits ahead of the health and necessities of people as well as ahead of protecting and restoring the planet.

Despite this, a growing portion of the public understands these realities and is taking action to challenge the system. People know, for example, as activist Steven Norris writes, that they should be concerned about the impact of carbon infrastructure on their communities and the planet.

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If you can’t see it, it can kill you. Propaganda, for instance.

If you can’t see it, it can kill you. Propaganda, for instance.

If you never took this test before, spend two minutes on it before reading the text below. 
The “selective attention” test you see above was developed in 1999 by Christopher Chablis and Daniel Simons.  It shows how people have difficulties in perceiving the most obvious things when they are focused on something that engages their attention. Often, it has been seen as just a sort of psychological parlor game, but it has a deep significance.
This selective attention phenomenon may well describe the current world’s situation. Our aging leaders seem to be so fixated on their manhood – and unsure about it – that they try to reassure themselves by firing missiles around. And, in doing that, they neglect everything else. But it is not just a question of aging leaders, the whole Western world shows evident signs of senility at the societal level. Most of us in our daily life are fixated on details of no relevance and miss the important issues that threaten our very existence.
So, we are missing the gorilla which is climate change, as well as other gorillas which go under different names: ecosystem collapse, resource depletion, overpopulation, widespread pollution, and more. Some of these gorillas are recognized and described by the scientific community, but the public and the leaders alike fail to hear the advice they receive.
Even more worrisome is the possibility that there exist gorillas which not even scientists can detect. As an example, we are daily being exposed to a cocktail or toxic metals resulting from industrial activity. We know that each single metal, alone, doesn’t (normally) reach concentrations in our bodies so high to be deemed as dangerous. But we don’t really know what happens when people have several low concentration metals inside their body – which is the case for most of us.

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The Great Acceleration Death Trap

The Great Acceleration Death Trap

The Great Acceleration, post WWII humanity forcing the earth system, is charging ahead at exponential speed, including record temps year-after-year-after year-after year and on and on it goes, relentlessly.

Fatally, many parts of the world become uninhabitable with a 2°-4°C increase in temps, too hot for human physiology. Under the circumstances, the human body cannot get rid of bodily heat fast enough. People die. Will worldwide average temps increase by 2°-4° and if so, how fast? Nobody knows for sure, but the outlook is lousy.

“We need to understand that we are in a nonlinear exponential phase… we have overwhelming scientific evidence that humanity now faces a new juncture of grand global risk. We have in just five decades transitioned from being a small world on a big planet where we could allow ourselves to have unsustainable economic growth without Earth sending any invoices back to humanity up to now with overwhelming scientific evidence of a new big world on a small planet. We’ve reached the saturation point. We’re hitting the ceiling of the biophysical capacity where we can no longer exclude destabilizing the entire earth system.” (Source: Beyond the Anthropocene | Johan Rockström, Stockholm Resilience Centre- Sweden, World Economic Forum, Zurich, Feb. 14, 2017)

Ergo, the overriding risk is a complete breakdown of the earth system, ecosystem collapse. In that regard, traversing from a linear to an exponentially charged earth system is risky and could be fatal. Here’s how Johan Rockström describes the impact of the new exponential biosphere, speaking from the World Economic Forum in Zurich: “If I take 35 linear steps, I’ll barely reach the coffee stand outside of this room. What happens if I take 35 exponential steps? I’d reach Copenhagen after 21 steps. Three more steps, I’m in New York. Another two steps and I encircle the entire planet. And, if I add another nine steps to my 35, I reach planet Mars.”

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The Impending Ecosystem Collapse

The Impending Ecosystem Collapse

Climate change/global warming is the main protagonist on the worldwide stage of collapsing ecosystems.

The ecosystem is a combination of living organisms in harmony with nonliving elements like air, water, and mineral soil interacting as one whole. But, what if the living and nonliving elements stop interrelating as “one harmonized whole”? Then, what happens?

As things stand today, the planet’s future is decidedly in the camp of “then, what happens?”

Signals of planetary stress are literally off the charts, meanwhile the world continues spinning like always, as people go to work, drive cars, go out to dinner, and watch TV, some read books but not much these days.

Those routines of going to work, out to dinner, and so forth maintain an equilibrium, a daily pattern on the same freeways, the same faces, the same workplaces. By itself, life seems very normal, nothing much to worry about other than making monthly car payments.

Similarly, the natural world experiences its own rhythm, like the everyday cycle of people going to work, on the freeway, to dinner, watching TV. But, radically dissimilar to that everyday cycle that seems so dependable, so routine, the natural world is amiss, chaotic, crumbling apart, bursting at the seams. However, this deep trouble is not noticed, not recognized, not reported in accordance with severe levels of impending calamity. After all, as long as Wall Street goes up, all is well, isn’t it? Yet, all is not well, not by a long shot.

 

Ecosystem degradation happens in silence, not on freeways, not in theaters, not in malls. There is no ticker tape to watch or CNBC to listen to.

Consider this, what if tire blowouts occurred every day on the commute? What if the television set blacks-out every two minutes? What if faucets unexpectedly turn dry? Those situations could be metaphors for the ecosystem today, anomalous, irregular, variable, faltering! Thus, climate change is very real, and people are already starting to experience ecosystem collapse.

 

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ALERT! Tell #COP20 Climate Delegates: If Not Cutting Emissions, You Are Failing | EcoInternet

ALERT! Tell #COP20 Climate Delegates: If Not Cutting Emissions, You Are Failing | EcoInternet.

TAKE ACTION to urge immediate and fast emissions cuts at UN climate talks.

Abrupt climate change threatens the world with runaway global warming, extreme weather weirding, and global ecosystem collapse unless together we embrace a 1.5° C warming goal and begin to immediately cut emissions. From December 1-12 world leaders gather in Lima, Peru to negotiate the future of our planet. The Climate Change Conference, COP20/CMP, is a key event as we head towards the 2015 Climate Conference in Paris, where a universal agreement on climate change is expected to be adopted. Failure of earlier climate talks to begin cutting emissions means that even the dangerously inadequate target of limiting warming to 2° C is slipping away. Much science indicates that in fact limiting average global warming to 1.5° C is a more sufficient goal to avoid the worst ravages of abrupt climate change and the possibility of biosphere collapse. Neither target will be possible unless ambitious global and differentiated emission reductions begin immediately. Tell climate negotiators as the Lima climate conference opens that if they are not now cutting emissions fast they are failing.

Olduvai IV: Courage
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Olduvai II: Exodus
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