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Gaia’s Problem Children: Humans

Gaia’s Problem Children: Humans

Also discussed during two podcasts: one here and another here.

Ecological engineering, and a keystone role, in any local ecosystem, is the human cultural adaptive niche. Maybe we should call this a “hyper-keystone” niche, since humans have managed their ecosystems by making use of a host of other keystone species like beavers, wolves, bison, and giraffe in the past when living as hunter-gatherers, in addition to reduced wildfire risks and creating ecological mosaics through the use of small controlled burns.The development of domesticates was an intensification of this hyper-keystone role, under conditions of increased seasonal risks and longer term risks of drought or other temporary decline in food supply. Boserup’s model addressed the next step; development of more intensification under conditions of denser population and more limited options to utilize wild species as these become locally extinct.

Boserupian intensification has helped explain land clearing even in the deep past (Ruddiman and Ellis 2009). At present, as human populations are growing and urbanizing, agricultural demand has increased so much that the most intensive agricultural systems are becoming dominant. The good news is that the most intensive systems tend to focus on the most productive land – marginal lands are increasingly abandoned and left to regenerate ( the “forest transition”; eg. Rudel et al. 2009). So even as we go off the end of Boserup’s chart, disaster is not the result and intensification continues- though the planet will never be the same- our agriculture has now transformed the planet for the long-term (Ellis et al. 2010).
http://ecotope.org/blog/saved-by-ester-boserup/?fbclid=IwAR03YMtSeiKNSzNwnH_CDIKfjV6rU6iw8ZrZP8WiSA99ZBIXRaG-ZYHu8aI

So far, Boserup has been right and Malthus and Ehrlich have been wrong. And I would bet that the future will also be Boseruppian (Boserup 3.0). We humans will be around for the long term, adapting the earth to us, and then adapting to the earth we create…

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

Population explosion to destroy 11% of remaining ecosystems and biodiversity

Population explosion to destroy 11% of remaining ecosystems and biodiversity

Preface. According to a recent paper in Nature Sustainability (Williams et al 2020), we are on the verge of destroying 11% of earth’s remaining ecosystems by 2050 to grow more food. We already are using 75% of Earth’s land. What a species! Reminds me of the ecology phrase “Are Humans Smarter than Yeast?”

But I have several criticisms of this research.

Proposed remedies include increasing crop yields, but we are at peak food, so that isn’t going to happen. We are also at peak pesticides, as we are running out of new toxic chemicals and pests adapt within five years on average. The second idea is to have homo sapiens stop eating meat and adopt a plant-based diet.  As long as meat is available and affordable, that simply won’t happen.  The third way is to cut food waste or loss.  That would require all of us to live in dire poverty given human nature, and then we’d all chop away at the remaining wild lands to grow more food. And finally, the 4th solution would be to export food to the nations that are going to destroy the most creatures and forests.  Which in turn would lead to expanding populations in these regions. Malthus was right about food being the only limitation on population. And it would be difficult to export food when there are 83 million more mouths to feed every year globally.

This research article doesn’t even mention family planning and birth control as a solution.

Or point out the huge increase in greenhouse gases that would be emitted. From “Life After Fossil Fuels: A Reality Check on Alternative Energy”:  The idea that biofuels generate less CO2 than gasoline stems from the fact that biofuels are derived from plants that absorb carbon dioxide…

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

Reindigenizing the Anthropocene

Reindigenizing the Anthropocene

This essay is a response to “Redefining the Anthropocene,” by Erik Molvar, which was published on Counterpunch on May 13, 2021. I recommend that it be read first.

First let me first stress that I am not calling out Molvar personally or even specifically here. As a staunch opponent of livestock grazing on public lands, I greatly value the work of the Western Watersheds Project, of which Molvar is the executive director, and I definitely encourage people to support the organization. As for my critique of his article, what I see as an omission his part is common in environmental circles and is by no means his alone. Also, as I attempt to illustrate a bigger picture, I depart from the context of his article, and it’s entirely possible that we are in accord once I do so, and that his omission was merely an oversight.

Secondly, I totally agree with Molvar that we must work to restore “natural, functioning ecosystems” on the planet, and that this work must include both the prevention of “artificially-caused extinctions” and the protection of “healthy ecosystems.” I also support the campaign he mentions that seeks to safeguard 30% of the planet by 2030 and 50% by 2050.

Where Molvar falls short, in my opinion, is in the view he presents of “humanity.” To illustrate what I mean, here are a few snippets:

* “I propose a new definition of the Anthropocene, as the age in which humanity has become not only recklessly out of balance with nature but also an overwhelming negative force of ecological destruction.”

* “By recognizing the Anthropocene as the period where humankind has gotten out of balance with nature…”

* “It’s our fault, as a species. All of it… That’s where humanity, with our monomania for economic growth and exploitation of natural resources, is right now as a species.”

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

‘A Garage Sale for the Last Old Growth’

‘A Garage Sale for the Last Old Growth’

As BC’s watchdog slams the province’s own logging agency for wrecking ecosystems, advocates demand action. A special report.

Two summers ago, Brenda Sayers knelt atop what was left of British Columbia’s likely ninth widest Douglas fir tree. Sayers, a member of the Hupačasath First Nation, has long fought to protect old growth in her territory on the west coast of Vancouver Island.

“The old growth holds a lot of our history,” she said. “That tree must have been 800 years old.”

It had been felled in the Nahmint Valley by companies given the go-ahead by BC Timber Sales, the province’s own logging agency, and the largest tenure holder in the province.

On Wednesday, B.C.’s forestry watchdog found that BC Timber Sales erred when it allowed that tree and the forests surrounding it to be clearcut.

Three years after it was launched, the investigation found that the province wrongly greenlit a plan from BC Timber Sales that failed to protect land-use objectives for biodiversity and old growth protection in the Nahmint River Watershed as set out by the Vancouver Island Land Use Plan.

According to the BC Forest Practices Board report, “gaps” in BC Timber Sales’ planning “occurred over a long period of time and are creating real risks to ecosystems.” It also found that although BC Timber Sales knew about those gaps, it didn’t adequately address them.

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

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.

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

an outside chance,

Transforming life on our home planet, perennially

book coverEd. note: This piece is the first contribution in the new book The Perennial Turn: Contemporary Essays from the Field, ed. by Bill Vitek and published as a free ebook by New Perennials Publishing. 

For those who are willing to face the multiple, cascading crises that humans have created, one task is analysis: How did we get here? In the 200,000 years of Homo sapiens, what have been key thresholds of systemic change?

A good case can be made for agriculture, which the polymath scientist Jared Diamond (1987) called “the worst mistake in the history of the human race.” Three decades later, historian Yuval Noah Harari (2015, p. 77) called the Agricultural Revolution “history’s biggest fraud.” When we started taking control of animals’ lives and breaking the soil to produce energy-rich grain, we intervened in ecosystems in ways we could not predict or control, to the detriment of many organisms, including humans.

With nearly eight billion people on the planet, we aren’t going back to hunting and gathering. But around the world, often under the banner of agroecology, people are using modern science and traditional knowledge to develop ways of farming that are less ecologically and socially destructive.

Over the past four decades, one of the most promising projects in sustainable agriculture has been Natural Systems Agriculture (perennial grains grown in mixtures rather than annuals grown in monocultures) at The Land Institute. The institute’s Ecosphere Studies program nurtures and explores this perennial thinking through research and education based in an ecological worldview that challenges the dominant industrial model defining contemporary ways of feeding bodies and minds. This essay outlines our approach, including a diagnosis of our agricultural past and present in a broader ecospheric context, which resonates with other ecocentric projects while building on the lessons learned on the Kansas prairie that is home to The Land Institute.

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

Dear David Attenborough, beautiful Netflix documentary. But your ‘solutions’ destroy nature even more

I recently saw your new film, A Life on Our Planet – a beautiful, harrowing documentary about the global decline of our natural ecosystems. It’s a bitter pill with a sweet dessert: a possible way out of this mess. I couldn’t help but choke on that dessert – because you suddenly mention the Netherlands as a leading example for the rest of the world.

As a Dutch person, this would be a great honour, if it weren’t for the fact that you are gravely mistaken.

Your reasoning is as follows. We humans are cultivating more and more land for agriculture to support our growing global population, thereby destroying natural ecosystems. The most important example is a seemingly endless succession of palm oil plantations in Borneo, built at the expense of the richest nature on Earth, including orangutans, our siblings in the canopy.

So, you say, we need to focus all our energies on cultivating more food on less land. “The Dutch have become experts at getting the most out of every hectare,” we hear you say with your familiar eloquent tone. “Despite its size, the Netherlands is now the world’s second largest exporter of food.”

According to you, the Netherlands has increased its production tenfold, while using fewer pesticides and artificial fertilisers, with lower CO2 emissions. We see tomatoes growing in futuristic greenhouses, and even vertical farming: heads of lettuce growing one above the other, 10 storeys high, illuminated by purple LED lighting.

But the fact that we are champion exporters is not because we pile heads of lettuce on top of each other or because we grow sustainable sci-fi tomatoes.

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

The Coming Financial Crisis of 2021

Economist Steve Keen predicts that even if the covid-19 health crisis subsides next year, a brewing financial crisis on par with the 2008 Great Recession is in the making.

He sees the pandemic as having delivered an “unprecedented shock” to the global economy, and the response from authorities as nothing less than a “catastrophe”.

With tens of millions of households having lost their income this year, personal savings becoming exhausted, government support programs on their way to drying up, and lots more company layoffs/bankruptcies/closures ahead — Steve expects a punishing recession to arrive in full force in 2021.

And on a larger scale, he sees modern neoclassical economics — which ignores the importance of natural resources and the health of our ecosystems — as completely unsuited for the reality in which we live today. He warns that if we don’t adapt a more informed approach to managing the global economy, we will only continue to make the mess we’re in worse:

Scientists’ warning to humanity on insect extinctions

Scientists’ warning to humanity on insect extinctions

Preface. Below are excerpts from Cardoso, P., et al. 2020. Scientists’ warning to humanity on insect extinctions. Biological Conservation.

***

Highlights:

  • We are pushing many ecosystems beyond recovery, resulting in insect extinctions.
  • Causes are habitat loss, pollution, invasives, climate change, and over exploitation.
  • We lose biomass, diversity, unique histories, functions, and interaction networks.
  • Insect declines lead to loss of essential, irreplaceable services to humanity.
  • Action to save insect species is urgent, for both ecosystems and human survival.

Abstract

Here we build on the manifesto ‘World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity, issued by the Alliance of World Scientists. As a group of conservation biologists deeply concerned about the decline of insect populations, we here review what we know about the drivers of insect extinctions, their consequences, and how extinctions can negatively impact humanity.

We are causing insect extinctions by driving habitat loss, degradation, and fragmentation, use of polluting and harmful substances, the spread of invasive species, global climate change, direct over-exploitation, and co-extinction of species dependent on other species.

With insect extinctions, we lose much more than species. We lose abundance and biomass of insects, diversity across space and time with consequent homogenization, large parts of the tree of life, unique ecological functions and traits, and fundamental parts of extensive networks of biotic interactions. Such losses lead to the decline of key ecosystem services on which humanity depends. From pollination and decomposition, to being resources for new medicines, habitat quality indication and many others, insects provide essential and irreplaceable services.

1. Introduction

Insect extinctions, their drivers, and consequences have received increasing public attention in recent years. Media releases have caught the interest of the general public, and until recently, we were largely unaware that insects could be imperiled to such an extent, and that their loss would have consequences for our own well-being. Fueled by declining numbers from specific regions, concern over the fate of insects has gained traction in the non-scientific realm.

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

How Low Flows Due to Irrigation are Destroying Oregon’s Deschutes River

How Low Flows Due to Irrigation are Destroying Oregon’s Deschutes River

The majority of water removed from the Deschutes is used to grow irrigated pasture and hay for livestock not crops consumed directly by humans.  Photo by George Wuerthner

The recent article “Low Flows On Deschutes” highlights why irrigation is a significant threat to our river’s ecological integrity.

According to the report, flows on a portion of the Deschutes dropped to 60 CFS leaving many parts of the river channel dry. To put this into perspective, historically, before irrigators took our water from us,  the river ran at 1000-1200 CFS year-round.  As a spring-fed river, the Deschutes supported outstanding fisheries.

Huge trout caught out of the Deschutes near the turn of the century before irrigation destroyed the river.

This tragedy continues because the public is not standing up for its rights. We, the people, own the water in the river, not the irrigators. We allow the irrigators to take water from the river without any compensation to the public, and regardless of the damage done to aquatic ecosystems. This system was devised by irrigators to serve irrigators a century ago.

Isn’t it time for us to enter the modern age? Using water in the desert to grow hay for livestock is just a crazy waste of a valuable resource. Keeping water in the river would provide for greater recreational use. And maintaining viable flows would protect aquatic life like spotted frogs, trout, and salmon, not to mention all the other water-dependent species like eagles, mink, otter, and the rest.

Despite the claims to “water rights” the actual water in all state rivers belongs to  Oregon citizens as affirmed by the Oregon Supreme Court.

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

Nurturing vital diversity & resilience: Scaling out, rather than scaling-up!

Photo: NASA

Nurturing vital diversity & resilience: Scaling out, rather than scaling-up!

There is an unfortunate knee-jerk response programmed into many people in leadership positions to want to ask: “How do we scale it up?” every time they hear a seemingly good idea. To a larger or lesser extent, many of the people who have this response have contracted the virus of neoliberal economic indoctrination. Once infected you do not question the economic growth imperative, its hidden subsidies and externalities, the inadequacy of GDP as a measure of positive progress, nor the implied assumption that bigger is better or more efficient and effective. Very often it is not!

Of course we need to find a way that regenerative practice and careful restoration of healthy ecosystems functions spreads from community to community and bioregion to bioregion to reach global impact as quickly as possible. We need to reach scale, but not by scaling-up!

Many regenerative solutions will no longer be regenerative if they are simply scaled up into a mega-project or replicated in a cut & paste (cookie cutter) fashion. Such expansionist approaches tends to loose touch with the necessity for solutions to be born out of the cultural and ecological uniqueness of a place — its people and its bioregion. We can learn from the patterns of natural system how to design as nature, create place-sourced solutions and create conditions conducive to life.

In general natural systems do not keep growing exponentially in quantity and size. They tend to follow a logistic curve of growing to a certain point and then changing and maturing in qualities, relationships and interconnections without continuing to grow quantitatively in size or numbers. Just reflect on your own development from childhood to adulthood, if you want an example for that pattern. Our species has long passed the point where we should have switched from quantitative growth to qualitative growth, from more and bigger, to better and more appropriate.

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

Bold New Campaign Highlights How ‘Nature Can Save Us’ From Climate and Ecological Breakdown

Bold New Campaign Highlights How ‘Nature Can Save Us’ From Climate and Ecological Breakdown

“The protection and restoration of these ecosystems can help to minimize a sixth great extinction, while enhancing local people’s resilience against climate disaster.”

Erie National Wildlife Refuge

A new campaign launched Wednesday calls for “drawing carbon dioxide out of the air by protecting and restoring ecosystems.” (Photo: Nicholas Tonelli/Flickr/cc)

A group of activists, experts, and writers on Wednesday launched a bold new campaign calling for the “thrilling but neglected approach” of embracing nature’s awesome restorative powers to battle the existential crises of climate and ecological breakdown.

Averting catastrophic global warming and devastating declines in biodiversity, scientists warn, requires not only overhauling human activities that generate planet-heating emissions—like phasing out fossil fuels—but also cutting down on the carbon that is already in the atmosphere.

In a letter to governments, NGOs, the U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity, and the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, the Natural Climate Solutionscampaign calls for tackling these crises by not only rapidly decarbonizing economies, but also by “drawing carbon dioxide out of the air by protecting and restoring ecosystems.”

Along with stopping fossil fuel emissions, we badly need to restore natural systems. Important new effort spearheaded by @GeorgeMonbiot https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/apr/03/let-nature-heal-climate-and-biodiversity-crises-say-campaigners …4708:58 AM – Apr 3, 2019Twitter Ads info and privacyLet nature heal climate and biodiversity crises, say campaignersRestoration of forests and coasts can tackle ‘existential crises’ but is being overlookedtheguardian.com

“By defending, restoring and re-establishing forests, peatlands, mangroves, salt marshes, natural seabeds, and other crucial ecosystems, very large amounts of carbon can be removed from the air and stored,” the letter says. “At the same time, the protection and restoration of these ecosystems can help to minimize a sixth great extinction, while enhancing local people’s resilience against climate disaster.”

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

Of Insects and Men

Of Insects and Men

Photo by John Severns – Source Wikimedia Commons

Invisible denizens — everywhere

Insects are all over the world – in and over the waters at the edge of the seas, in and over the waters of lakes, rivers and creeks and swamps and irrigation ditches. They thrive in the forests, mountains, deserts, land, cities, villages, in the tropics and in the homes of the poor and the powerful. Their populations are the largest of all other species. They have been occupying the Earth for 400 million years.

However, insects are tiny, short-lived organisms, hiding for the most part under the surface of the land, crawling in the floor, among rocks, and on everything that has roots, trunk or leaves. So, unless they are beautiful like the Monarch butterflies and obviously very useful like honeybees, insects are invisible.

We call scientists who study insects entomologists from the Greek word for insect, entomon, something that is divided in parts. Aristotle gave this name to insects, saying these parts or notches are on the bellies or the backs and bellies of insects. He studied honeybees and mayflies and some other five-hundred animals in his pioneering zoological research. He founded science and biology as we know them.He urged us to study and love animals because we live in their midst. They make up the natural world, which is absolutely essential for human survival and happiness.

Entomologists are confirming the science and wisdom of Aristotle. They have been saying insects hold ecosystems together. By ecosystems they mean large parts of the natural world: mountains, lakes, rivers, creeks, swamps, seas, deserts, and land. Insects work hard to survive and, in that process, they keep the natural world healthy.

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

What will it feel like to be left behind?

What will it feel like to be left behind?

Chris Martenson’s recent article about collapse and the plummeting of biodiversity made me think about what it feels like to be left behind.  Few people living in affluent countries or communities understand what this means. 

Americans closed their eyes to the plight of people in underdeveloped countries whose soil, water, and air were exploited by US corporations seeking profits at the expense of people.  Instead we touted our booming economic growth as American exceptionalism.  We deserved a better lifestyle because we earned it, right?  But today as billionaires are capturing more and more of the world’s wealth and most of the rest are being left behind, we no longer think the situation is fair.  We don’t enjoy it when we are the ones left behind. “The 12% increase in the wealth of the very richest contrasted with a fall of 11% in the wealth of the poorest half of the world’s population.”

Human exploitation of the environment is competing for the resources other species of life need to survive.  Climate change and the use of pesticides toxic to most species is causing a severe decline in species of insects, amphibians, birds, butterflies, bats, etc.  It is also causing a decline in human health.  Species are going extinct at rates unprecedented except by catastrophic natural events such as a meteorite impact.  Our decision to protect or conserve nature has evolved from ideas in the 1960’s that we should protect “nature for nature itself” to the idea in the 1990’s that we should preserve “nature for people”.     Economic policy dictated that the needs of people mattered first and foremost.  It is only more recently that people are slowly realizing the importance of natural ecosystems, and that it is “humans and nature” we need to understand and protect.

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

Human and Planetary Health [Part II: Going Upstream]

Human and Planetary Health [Part II: Going Upstream]

Transcript of Daniel Wahl’s ‘Findhorn Talk’ on Human and Planetary Health: Ecosystems Restoration at the dawn of the Century of Regeneration; October 13th, 2018

[…Part I] We need to go upstream and look at this ‘crisis of perception’. We need to start rethinking the story of who we are and why we are here. We need to start thinking about what we could do if we actually lived in a way that is: “creating conditions conducive to life.”

[…], Janine Benyus, the founder of the biomimicry work, says “Life creates conditions conducive to life.” This is in nutshell what we should be doing. I would also say that life is a regenerative community (1). We need to rejoin that community.

To do that we need to change the stories we tell about ourselves and we need to change the ‘organizing ideas’ that shape our perception. What do I mean by that? Have a look at that [the image below].

Some of you are seeing the head of an animal, others are seeing only a black and white circle with black dots in it. — If I give you the organizing idea ‘head-of-a-giraffe’. Ahh — some people go ‘ohh, I can see it now’. This is the neck, these are the horn, these are the eyes, this is the snout. She is looking down this way [from center line to bottom right of the circle].

This is just to show that organizing ideas are incredibly powerful. We don’t see things because they are out-there and they just come-in. We see things because we have ideas about what is out-there and we make the world. We bring forth a world together in conversation. That is the power of reshaping the world for us as well.

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

Olduvai IV: Courage
In progress...

Olduvai II: Exodus
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