Posts Tagged With: rain forests

ECOLOGICAL END OF DAYS

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.

 

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ENVIRONMENTALLY SOUND

On Sunday mornings, as is my practice, I like to take about a one-hour stroll through the seniors neighborhood that I live in here in Las Vegas. Yesterday morning it was an especially pleasant walk because the sky was a brilliant azure blue without a single cloud, the bright sun cast a golden hue on the landscape, and the weather was extremely warm for this time of year. In fact, it set a record for April 22, as the temperature climbed to near 100 degrees. My wife had been Easterners all our lives before we moved West in the 1990s, to where”the deer and the antelope play.” Actually I’ve never seen a deer or antelope in Las Vegas, but we do have coyotes and bobcats, and lots of bunnies running around. I guess the rabbits along with fresh water from the golf course, make it an ideal habitat for the coyotes and bobcats to thrive on. Anyway it’s a very pastoral setting, with all homeowners required by the condo commandoes (some refer to them as Nazis) to maintain full and well manicured landscapes, thick with shrubs and trees. It’s also a very quiet setting, as I seldom run into anyone else along these streets. The only break in the quietude is the occasional blaring of sirens from ambulances coming to take another senior to his or her final resting place, where there is always 100% quietude.

Anyway it got me to thinking about how different this pastoral community was from the impoverished neighborhood I grew up in Brooklyn. There, the streets always seemed so grimy and soiled, and the people, ground down by poverty and the stress of having to eke out a living as best they could, rarely had a pleasant word. We lived on the top floor of an apartment building that had a flat roof covered in black tar. In the summers, our apartment absorbed all the heat from that black roof, making it impossible to think about going to sleep before 12-1 in the morning when temperatures would cool down a little. We would sit out on the stoop with our neighbors waiting for a few cool nightly breezes. Air-conditioning was something only the rich were privileged to have. We didn’t have a car, and I commuted into Manhattan to go to college and then later to work, by subway, which was a good 12 block hike from where we lived. Subway trains were always packed and hot, even in the winter, and the walk to the station, through those grimy streets was always a sheer delight, especially in the pouring rain or bitter cold. Heat in the winter was provided by a coal-fired furnace in the basement, but went off from 10 at night until 6 in the morning, while the landlord, who shoveled the coal into the furnace, got his full night’s sleep.

In those days I used to think that people weren’t supposed to live like that. I would retreat into books written by Shakespeare, or Charles Dickens, or Nathaniel Hawthorne, where people were always portrayed with so much more nobility and purpose of life, than existed on those hard-scrabble streets in Brooklyn, and I became envious of not being able to live in those fictitious settings. I came to believe that it was real-life man, as compared to the fictitious nobility I had read about, that polluted the neighborhood I lived in, with dirty air, grimy, embedded filthy streets, foul language, and mean tempers and spirits. Today I live in a cleaner neighborhood, without air and water pollution, and with people usually in a better frame of mind, but I still think about how real-life man continues to pollute our planet and degrade our environment. While there is no air or water pollution in Las vegas, generally because there is no industry here (other than throwing your money away in the casinos), there has been a general ecological degradation throughout the planet.

Global warming has gotten most of the headlines in the last two decades as an environmental spoiler. But global warming is just a small component. It’s caused by change in the composition of the Earth’s atmosphere whereby carbon dioxide is becoming more dominant, which in turn, lessens the amount of oxygen, nitrogen, and other elements that have been part of this planet for billions of years. Do global warming deniers think that you can arbitrarily change the Earth’s atmosphere without any adverse consequences. More serious than global warming, however, is the steady degradation of the planet’s oceans and rain forests, which are absolutely essential to sustaining life on this planet. Rain forests are shrinking at a fairly rapid rate as local tribes keep encroaching on rain forest lands, as they clear trees to make room for farming. Native wildlife is more and more in retreat as the lands they’re used to roaming in, slowly disappear. Rain forests absorb a huge amount of CO2, while at the same time putting out a huge amount of oxygen, so, as I’ve said, life just isn’t sustainable without them. Ocean life is also steadily being degraded, with a steady shrinkage of marine life. Today, in the Pacific alone, there are thousands of miles of plastic refuse which is unsinkable and floating on the ocean’s surface. Marine and bird life are often casualties when they mistake this refuse for food, nibble on it, and die. Oceans also absorb huge amounts of CO2, while providing food for much of the world’s population. You can picture what happens to the planet’s welfare when the health of our oceans go down the tubes.

Many other environmental disasters are also on the horizon. I could go on and on. But before man made his appearance on this planet some hundreds of thousands of years ago, (yes there was evolution despite the majority of people in this country that don’t believe in it) the planet’s ecology was in pristine shape. Animals roamed the planet in harmony with their environment. True, if you were an animal, you wouldn’t want to get too close to, say, a dinosaur’s habitat without becoming their lunch, but ecologically the planet was in great shape. Now its been despoiled by real-life man. Fictional man that I used to read about, would never have done such misdeeds.

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