For most people long-range planning consists of preparations for the coming weekend. Some people might establish long-range plans for their retirement years by creating specially-crafted financial investments. Most don’t, however. Some parents might establish college funds for their children’s future. A few of these often decide to vacation in places like Las Vegas and wind up blowing the kid’s college funds at the craps tables or slot machines. In the end, it’s human nature not to think very far into the future because most have a full plate just coping with the present. But if you are the parents of young children, or are just a young person period, you might want to give some thought to the long-range prospects for the fragile eco-system of this planet. Because it ain’t looking too good.
Most people are aware of the dangers of global warming and the resultant climate change that is taking place because of ever increasing amounts of carbon dioxide being pored into the atmosphere. Man-made CO2 emissions caused by the ever-increasing burning of fossil fuels. But few are aware of just how fragile the Earth’s eco-system is, and the long-term degradation of both our oceans and rain forests. Or that the ecological loss of either will in turn destroy life on this planet as we know it. Let’s start with the oceans which cover 71% of the planet’s surface. Most people have probably never heard of phytoplankton and couldn’t care less. But the oceans have lost 40% of its phytoplankton since 1950, and are currently losing about 1% of the remainder every year. Do the math to figure out how long it will be before its all gone. And why does this matter? Because if you’ve gotten into that nasty habit of inhaling oxygen every day, (isn’t it amazing how we’ve all become oxygen junkies) phytoplankton provides our planet with 50% of its total atmospheric oxygen. Breathing might become a wee bit more difficult without it. For those not in the know, phytoplankton is basically microscopic marine algae that is the foundation of all oceanic food chains. All marine life relies on phytoplankton for its food supply, including sea mammals, sea birds, fish, and in the end, humans. Also phytoplankton absorbs about half of all the CO2 that we pump into the atmosphere on a daily basis. So in the end once these microscopic critters are fully destroyed there’s no going back and fixing the oceans. And, of course, our old friend, increased CO2 emissions is the cause of all this degradation.
O course, other factors are also destroying our oceans. Such as acidity. Oceans have become 30% more acidic in the last 100 years, thanks again to our old friend, carbon dioxide. Also more man-made fertilizer is wending its way into our oceans which further exacerbates the problem. Much marine wildlife will not be able to survive in water that has become increasingly acidic. Coral reefs, which provide habitat for over 25% of marine wildlife are disappearing at an alarming rate, and are estimated to be virtually gone within 50 years, thanks to higher levels of acidity. And I won’t even get into other oceanic destroyers like vast chunks of the Pacific Ocean being covered with plastic debris that floats on top of the water. Sea birds sometimes mistake this debris for food, nibble away at it, only to choke to death. Concerned yet? If not, perhaps a look at our rain forests might have you thinking otherwise.
Like oceans, rain forests produce a prodigious amount of oxygen and absorb huge quantities of CO2. Rain forests cover only 2% of the Earth’s surface but are home to about 50% of the planet’s plant and wildlife. I’ve written before about how scarce drinkable water is on this planet, but it’s interesting to note that about one-fifth is in the Amazon forest alone. The problem here is that rain forests are disappearing faster than a pile of snow on a warm spring day. Originally, it has been estimated that rain forests comprised about 6 million square miles of land. At least until homo sapiens came upon the scene. Then they started shrinking like a cheap cotton garment thrown in the dryer. Of course, the biggest shrinkage has been in the last 100 years when Earth’s population mushroomed from about 1.5 billion to currently, over 7 billion and climbing. Today, only about 2.6 million square miles of rain forest remain, and the rate of deforestation is accelerating. Currently more than 56,000 square miles of rain forest are lost each year. That’s about 80,000 acres lost on a daily basis. Most losses are attributed to uncontrolled logging, farming, cattle ranching, dam building, and mining. As Earth’s population continues to explode, more people are hacking down rain forest trees so they can grow crops or raise cattle. The Amazon in Brazil alone, the largest of all rain forests, is expected to be wiped out in about 40-50 years. Oh, and did I mention that life on this planet no longer becomes sustainable with the loss of either the oceans or rain forests. Is your interest piqued yet?
A few days ago, Congresswoman Michele Bachman, when commenting on the current ongoing political debacle in Washington concerning the government shut-down, stated, in her unabashed delusional, religious fanaticism style, that she believes all this political dysfunction indicates that we are in “the end of days.” In full dingbat mode, she went on to say that this was actually a good thing, because then Jesus would reappear and sweep all those that are worthy into heaven. But laying aside her religious crackpotism, she may be on to something. Because if the degradation of the planet’s ecology continues on its present course, these indeed, may be the end of days.
Perhaps this the the natural course of universal planetary life. Perhaps there was once a thriving civilization on Mars, maybe millions, or even billions of years ago, only to be swept away because of indifference to the planet’s ecological system. As I’ve said before, old guys like me can probably make it to the end without severe ecological consequences. But for young people, or those that care about the young, it might well behoove you to take notice about the on-going ecological destruction of this planet. And perhaps even initiate some actions that could make a difference.