Tag Archive: ecological crisis
The nature of evolution is speciation — to produce diversity of life, even in the harshest and most challenging conditions. Indeed, after the five previous major extinctions events on earth, nature responded not only by restabilizing ecological dynamics, but by proliferating even more life and enhancing biodiversity such as happened during the Cambrian Explosion.
The diversity of life involves not only the proliferation of plant and animal species, but also of unique human cultures and languages. At all levels, we are currently losing the rich diversity of biological, cultural, and linguistic forms; in a profound sense, we can no longer speak of “evolution” but rather must understand that planet earth is undergoing a profound devolutionary process in the sense that diversity of all kinds is rapidly receding not advancing.
Thus, in the midst of the sixth extinction crisis in the history of this planet that is currently underway, we are also witness to the precipitous loss of cultural and linguistic diversity as well, as we leave the prior Holocene epoch and enter the new Anthropocene era. This new and emergent geological epoch is defined by the dominant role played by humans, not the natural world, in altering the planet, and clearly not in desirable ways. Beginning in the mid-nineteenth century, the combined forces of the modernization, the Industrial Revolution, fossil-fuel addiction, a grow-or-die metastasizing system of global capitalism, the spread of agribusiness and rising world meat consumption, human overpopulation, mass culture, rampant consumerism, and other forces have brought about habitat loss, rainforest destruction, desertification, climate change, and species extinction.
In fact since the emergence of agricultural society 10-15,000 years ago, the now dominant mode of production began a war of extermination against hunting and gathering tribes that preserved traditional nomadic and non-hierarchical life ways, as opposed to the growth-oriented, hierarchical farming societies based on domesticating nature and animals, obsessive concerns with control, expansion, war, and conquest.
The war still being waged against indigenous peoples, first nations, and other non-modern/non-Western cultures certainly fully advanced with colonialism five centuries ago, but ultimately is a continuation of the exterminism agricultural society launched against all peoples who did not conform to the pathological imperatives of “civilization” and “progress.”
While from the standpoint of the earth and nonhuman animal species, the ideal would be for Homo rapiens as a whole to die off as rapidly as possible. But the alternative to what most humans find repugnant and nauseating, for those who believe we still have a right to inhabit this planet even if we prove we do not have the ability to harmonize our societies with animal communities and the natural world as a whole, is to do everything possible to resist global capitalism and its war against tribal and indigenous peoples everywhere.
For not only is it vital that indigenous peoples and ancient lifeways be preserved in their own right against the genocidal onslaught of global capitalism, and that we have more diverse languages, cultures, and lifeways than market societies and forces of cultural homogenization will tolerate. It is also crucial, if we want to preserve what biodiversity is left, that we protect and preserve premodern and non-traditional peoples.
One obvious reason — although this has often been overstated in romanticized ways — is that they retain a more reverential ethic toward the earth, they have a far deeper connectedness to life and land, they value tradition over novelty and create far more sustainable cultures, and that they are far more capable of caring for the earth and animals that predatory and rapacious capitalist societies.
Despite the fact that indigenous peoples (such as the Clovis Indians who first inhabited North America) have often throughout history overshot ecological limits and driven animals into extinction, they nonetheless are clearly more suited “custodians” of the earth than the IMF, World Bank, WTO, ExxonMobil, Shell, Monsanto, Cargill, Maxxam, Du Pont, Japanese whalers, NGOs, ignorant narcissistic Western consumers, and so on.
As the essay below makes clear, the areas now highest in biodiversity are the same areas inhabited by indigeous peoples (and this is partly so because plant and animal species are struggling to adjust to escape the ravages of climate change). Thus, the key to preserving what biodiversity remains amidst the rapidly unfolding sixth extinction crisis in the history of the planet is to preserve the remaining cultural and linguistic diversity — to support, help defend, and sustain the indigenous peoples inhabiting the areas with the most dense and diverse plant and animal species.
Thus, here we see yet another vivid example of the politics of total liberation, and how the multiple struggles to save humans, animals, and nature from the devastating effects of the capitalist-dominated Anthropocene era are ultimately one struggle ad must be formulated in theory and practice accordingly.
So there are two main options to save biodiversity: either through the collapse of “civilization” and the extinction of the human species, or through advancing the only politics suitable for the twenty-first century and era of global social and ecological crisis — a politics of total liberation that preserves biodiversity by preserving cultural and linguistic diversity. And this, unavoidably, demands a total war against global capitalism and the sundry institutions and forces of destruction bound up with advanced market societies and this nihilistic world system.
By Dady Chery NEWS JUNKIE POST, Oct 11, 2012
An unprecedented study of global biological and cultural diversity paints a dire picture of the state of our species.
Like the amphibians that climb to ever tinier areas at higher altitudes to avoid being extinguished by global warming, most of the world’s species currently huddle in a tiny fraction of the Earth’s surface, and most human cultural diversity — as measured by the number of languages — occupies essentially the same tiny fraction of the planet.
We are dying.
A scientist would never say it quite this way. Instead, he would tell you that the world’s animal and plant species are disappearing 1,000 times faster than ever in recorded history. He might add that some areas of the world have lost 60% of their languages since the mid-1970’s, and 90% of the world’s languages are expected to vanish by the year 2099.
In Haitian Creole, we would yell “Amwe!” (Help!), and this would be right and proper.
As ever, the best scientific studies merely quantify what everybody has known all along. Life, in general, has suffered horribly from the runaway spread of European values and the notions of progress that began with the Industrial Revolution. A sharp bit of mathematics finally brings forth the maps that expose the poverty of the world’s major carbon emitters and the little wealth that remains in those parts of the world where the indigenous are making their final stand.
High-biodiversity wilderness areas
There currently exist very few places on Earth that could be considered intact. The researchers found only five such areas, which are numbered 36-40 on the biodiversity map and colored in shades of green.
These are, by number: 36: Amazonia; 37: Congo Forests; 38: Miombo-Mopane Woodlands and Savannas; 39: New Guinea; 40: North American Deserts.
Together these intact spots amounted to only about six percent of the terrestrial surface but were home to 17 percent of vascular plants and eight percent of vertebrates that could not be found anywhere else. The same areas were the refuge for 1,622 of the world’s 6,900 languages, with little New Guinea topping the chart at 976 tongues.
The only glimmer of hope from the study was the discovery that, contrary to what conservationists might presume, a place does not have to be untouched by humans to serve as a refuge for the world’s plants and animals. Instead, habitats must be handled in the right way, and more than anything, they must be protected from the kinds of blows dealt by industrialization.
The researchers additionally identified 35 “biodiversity hotspots” (numbered 1-35 and colored in shades of yellow to red on the biodiversity map), defined as places with a high density of endemic species despite having lost over 70% of natural habitat.
These were, by number: 1: Atlantic Forest; 2: California Floristic Province; 3: Cape Floristic Region; 4: Caribbean Islands; 5: Caucasus; 6: Cerrado; 7: Chilean Winter Rainfall-Valdivian Forests; 8: Coastal Forests of Eastern Africa; 9: East Melanesian Islands; 10: Eastern Afromontane; 11: Forests of East Australia; 12: Guinean Forests of West Africa; 13: Himalaya; 14: Horn of Africa; 15: Indo-Burma; 16: Irano-Anatolian; 17: Japan; 18: Madagascar and the Indian Ocean Islands; 19: Madrean Pine-Oak Woodlands; 20: Maputaland-Pondoland-Albany; 21: Mediterranean Basin; 22: Mesoamerica; 23: Mountains of Central Asia; 24: Mountains of Southwest China; 25: New Caledonia; 26: New Zealand; 27: Philippines; 28: Polynesia-Micronesia; 29: Southwest Australia; 30: Succulent Karoo; 31: Sundaland; 32: Tropical Andes; 33: Tumbes-Chocó-Magdalena; 34: Wallacea; 35: Western Ghats and Sri Lanka.
The biodiversity hotspots amounted only to about two percent of the Earth’s surface, but they were home to a whopping 50% of plant species and 43% of vertebrates that could be found nowhere else. Again, there was a stunning correlation of biodiversity with culture, with the hotspots being home to 3,202 of the world’s languages.
Biodiversity is being lost, but what’s far worse is that the ability to express this loss is vanishing. For example, 1,553 of the languages in hotspots were spoken by only 10,000 or fewer people, and 544 were spoken by fewer than 1,000 people. Ironically, the American researchers who did this study are now regarded as experts on biodiversity, although the only real experts on how to maintain biodiversity in places occupied by humans are the world’s indigenous.
The logical conclusion to take from this study is that modern science, with all its sophisticated technology, is completely trumped by the thousands of years of experimentation by the world’s indigenous, although their findings have been transmitted by oral tradition and other simple means. To be fair, it isn’t so much the fault of modern science as the fault of the industrialized world, which worships power, greed, and the absurdity of exponential growth.
One cannot disdain all other living beings, grind mountains to extract minerals, build roads without a thought for habitat fragmentation, design gardens to please only human aesthetics, or harvest monocultures that serve solely human needs, and expect one’s world to continue for long. There is room for humans at Earth’s banquet, but only those who have lived in place long enough to have learned the contours of their terrain, the language of their plant and animal neighbors and, more than anything, the needs of non humans.
When a shaman leaves a lock of his hair where he has uprooted a medicinal cactus, it is not a bit of imbecility, but a humble acknowledgement that, for each living thing taken, one must give a bit of oneself, however small. For centuries humans have spilled their most beloved animals’ blood to the earth to acknowledge the cyclical aspects of life in preparation for battle and celebration of life’s milestones. These are not concepts that a pharmaceutical corporation could ever understand.
As for every other scientific report, this one concludes that yet more study will be needed, but what is needed, and urgently so, is more humility, because as the world’s indigenous cultures go, so does all humanity.
As a startling United Nations report recently said, by 2050, or much, much sooner, the world will be”unrecognizable,” because OF melting ice caps, drought, desertification, food shortages, scarcity wars, and rapid human population growth. The consequences will be systematic and affect humans, animals, and the environment in profound ways, the melting of the Arctic ice is just one of many profound, simultaneously unfolding anthropogenic-induced changes that will wreak utter havoc on this planet.
Fen Montaigne, August 30, 2012, Yale Environment 360
Scientists say this year’s record declines in Arctic sea ice extent and volume are powerful evidence that the giant cap of ice at the top of the planet is on a trajectory to largely disappear in summer within a decade or two, with profound global consequences.
As the northern summer draws to a close, two milestones have been reached in the Arctic Ocean — record-low sea ice extent, and an even more dramatic new low in Arctic sea ice volume. This extreme melting offers dramatic evidence, many scientists say, that the region’s sea ice has passed a tipping point and that sometime in the next decade or two the North Pole will be largely ice-free in summer.
NASA and U.S. ice experts announced earlier this week that the extent of Arctic sea ice has dropped to 4.1 million square kilometers (1.58 million square miles) — breaking the previous record set in 2007 — and will likely continue to fall even farther until mid-September. As the summer melt season ends, the Arctic Ocean will be covered with 45 percent less ice than the average from 1979 to 2000.
Even more striking is the precipitous decline in the volume of ice in the Arctic Ocean. An analysis conducted by the University of Washington’s Pan Arctic Ice Ocean Model Assimilation System (PIOMAS) estimates that sea ice volumes fell in late August to roughly 3,500 cubic kilometers — a 72-percent drop from the 1979-2010 mean.
Peter Wadhams, who heads the Polar Ocean Physics Group at the University of Cambridge and who has been measuring Arctic Ocean ice thickness from British Navy submarines, says that earlier calculations about Arctic sea ice loss have grossly underestimated how rapidly the ice is disappearing. He believes that the Arctic is likely to become ice-free before 2020 and possibly as early as 2015 or 2016 — decades ahead of projections made just a few years ago.
Mark Drinkwater, mission scientist for the European Space Agency’s CryoSat satellite and the agency’s senior advisor on polar regions, said he and his colleagues have been taken aback by the swiftness of Arctic sea ice retreat in the last 5 years. “If this rate of melting [in 2012] is sustained in 2013, we are staring down the barrel and looking at a summer Arctic which is potentially free of sea ice within this decade,” Drinkwater said in an e-mail interview.
A small number of climate scientists say that natural variability may be playing a significant role in the rapid retreat of Arctic sea ice, intensifying human-caused climate change, and they caution against predicting the imminent demise of the region’s summer sea ice. But an overwhelming majority of Arctic ice experts say that recent data offer powerful evidence that summer sea ice has passed a point of no return.
The dramatic ice loss is being driven by a several key factors, scientists say. Chief among them is that decades of warming have so extensively melted and thinned Arctic sea ice that rapidly expanding areas of dark, open water are absorbing ever-greater amounts of the sun’s radiation, further warming the region in a vicious cycle.
Second, swiftly warming air and ocean temperatures in the Arctic have, for now at least, altered atmospheric activity, with two consequences: Warmer air is being pulled into the Arctic, and increased storms and cyclones in summer are not only driving ice out of the Arctic basin, but also breaking up the ice pack and further exposing more dark water.
And finally there is the inescapable reality that steadily rising levels of carbon dioxide being pumped into the atmosphere by human activity are continuing to warm the Arctic and the rest of the globe, further hastening the loss of Arctic Ocean ice. Several experts say that the only thing that could slow this disappearance — and then only for a few years — would be a major volcanic eruption that reduces the amount of the sun’s energy striking the earth.
“It’s sobering to see the Arctic change so rapidly,” said Ted Scambos, senior research scientist at the National Snow & Ice Data Center in Colorado. “Simply staring at the satellite data that we’re seeing every day is awesome, but in a sad sort of way. It doesn’t look like the Arctic anymore. The summer ice used to look like a cap that nearly filled the Arctic basin. It now looks like a raft with room on every side. You can imagine what it’s going to look like when the North Pole is open water, when there is only a tiny amount of ice left in August and September. The planet will look a lot different.”
The loss of the great white dome of ice at the top of the world in summer will have profound effects, scientists say. These include a reduction of the amount of solar radiation reflected back into space by the ice, significant changes to the jet stream and Northern Hemispheric weather patterns, and even-more rapid warming in the far north, speeding the melting of Greenland’s massive ice sheets and increasing global sea levels.
In addition to these impacts, said Drinkwater, “Increased storminess will generate ocean wave systems which, un-damped by the presence of sea ice, will pound the circumpolar north coastlines. Current rates of coastal permafrost degradation will be accelerated, leading to significant coastal erosion and reconfiguration of the high-latitude shoreline. Meanwhile, we have also recently heard about the potential for release of sub-sea methane deposits and thereby an acceleration of the current greenhouse effect.”
The record low sea ice extent in 2007 of 4.2 million square kilometers was due to some unusual circumstances, including a sunny summer in the Arctic and higher temperatures. Summer sea ice extent rebounded somewhat in the next several years, rising to 5.3 million square kilometers in 2009, giving some hope to mainstream scientists that Arctic sea ice was not in a “death spiral.”
But Scambos and other experts say that recent data on plummeting ice extent and volume show that the Arctic has entered a “new normal” in which ice decline seems irreversible. Because of thinning ice and swiftly expanding areas of open water, the Arctic Ocean will no longer be kept frigid in summer by the reflectivity of snow and ice — the so-called ice-albedo effect, in which ice and snow reflect a high percentage of the sun’s energy back into space.
Melting Arctic sea ice.
Thick sea ice that formed over many years is increasingly rare in the Arctic. In the 1960s, submarines routinely encountered 12-foot-thick ice around the North Pole and 20-foot-thick ice in some other areas; now those regions often contain ice that is only three to four feet thick. Many parts of the Arctic Ocean are now covered with thin, year-old ice that melts quickly in spring and summer.
This spring, noted Scambos, extensive late winter snow cover on land melted unusually rapidly, reaching record low levels by June. Sea ice across much of the Arctic began to melt 10 to 14 days earlier than in the preceding few decades. Relatively clear skies from late May through June further hastened the melting of sea ice, but even as cloudier weather prevailed in July and August, the record sea ice retreat continued.
“The sensitivity of the Arctic to a warm summer is much higher now than it was in the 1990s or early 2000s,” said Scambos. “What we’re seeing last year and this year is that 2007 wasn’t a fluke. As we’ve gone forward a few years, we’re seeing that many different patterns of weather lead to significant sea ice loss in the Arctic.”
Scambos does not foresee summer sea ice in the Arctic largely disappearing this decade, estimating that such an event could occur around 2030, “plus or minus a decade.” He said the “endgame” of Arctic summer sea ice will probably mean that around 1 million square kilometers — about 15 percent of what existed in the mid-20th century — will remain in the Canadian High Arctic and some other regions, leaving the North Pole generally ice-free in August and September.
Drinkwater said that changing weather patterns, related to more heat and moisture being released into the Arctic atmosphere, have played a significant role in accelerating sea ice loss. Sea ice retreat in the past decade has been accompanied by a trend toward lower atmospheric pressure and more storms and cyclonic activity, which in turn breaks up the pack ice and exposes more open water. A powerful Arctic storm earlier this month did just that, Drinkwater noted.
He said that Arctic sea ice could conceivably rebound for some period of time if atmospheric circulation changes and a pattern known as the Arctic Oscillation — currently in a positive phase — moves into a negative phase and ushers in a period of prolonged high atmospheric pressure and fewer storms. This, said Drinkwater, would enable sea ice to remain trapped in the Arctic basin and thicken.
“However,” added Drinkwater, “this seems like blind hope in a system whose feedbacks all appear geared to getting rid of sea ice.”
Judith Curry, a climatologist and chair of the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the Georgia Institute of Technology, said that while global warming is “almost certainly” affecting Arctic sea ice, she cautioned that there is a great deal of annual and decadal variability in sea ice cover. She said that the next 5 to 10 years could see a shift in Arctic sea ice behavior, though exactly in which direction is difficult to predict.
“I don’t see [the] summer of 2012 portending some sort of near-term `spiral of death’ in the sea ice behavior,” Curry said in an e-mail interview. “I don’t think this apparent record sea ice minimum is of particular significance in our understanding of climate variability and change of Arctic sea ice.”
Recorded in Barcelona, Spain, September 2012
A powerful speech on pathological humanism, the escalating war on animals, and its suicidal and destructive consequences.