Mum and I took a trip to Florida the year after Dad died. It’d been a very hard year for both of us, we were mired in a funk and one day upon her return from work, Mum announced that we were going to go south, lie on a beach in the sun, sip tropical drinks decorated with umbrellas, play at Disney world and most importantly of all, leave our sadness behind. We left two weeks later. It was one of the happiest and busiest vacations I’ve ever had and it was perfectly restorative for the pair of us.
No two people could have crammed more into their vacation than us. We went to Kennedy Space Centre, Daytona Beach, Disney World, Epcot Centre, Cypress Gardens, Busch Gardens, Dunedin and took a boat cruise to mention but a few of the highlights. My favourite was Busch Gardens because it was fun and I learned a lot about the animal kingdom – it is so much more than a zoo. Their main slogan at that time (and in the gift shop, it was for sale emblazoned on just about every product known to man) was “Extinction is Forever”. True, it was an early warning commentary on our lack of respect for the environment, but it was catchy and trendy and I couldn’t resist; I came home with the tee shirt for both Cam and I.
For the past two weeks I have been reading, and doing my best to assimilate, a new extinction report released by PNAS, titled:
“Biological annihilation via the ongoing sixth mass extinction signalled by vertebrate population losses and declines.”
What sets this study apart from the hundreds (thousands?) done before it is the use of population extinction/range contraction data, not just species extinction data. Population loss is significant because it puts ecosystem services at risk.
Sadly, damage to ecosystem services is all caused by humans: Habitat destruction or degradation, overpopulation, pollution, toxification, climate change, disease, overconsumption (mostly by the rich), and the magnification of each caused by the interplay amongst these factors. Some scary statistics:
- Nearly a quarter (22%) of North American species have experienced a range contraction of at least 80%.
- 50% of North American species have experienced a range contraction of at least 41%.
- More than 30% of the insect population has experienced a range contraction.
- 32% of all known vertebrate species are decreasing.
- 40% of mammals have experienced population losses and 100% of mammals have lost 30% or more of their geographic range.
- 2 species of vertebrates become extinct every year.
- LPI records wildlife abundance on the planet down 58%
Despite these staggering statistics – which will adversely affect human life in the years to come – public concern ranges from indifference to only the mildest concern, my friends and colleagues included. But here is the real kicker – this is all on us – the boomers: This decimation has occurred between 1970 and 2012. We cannot sit back and blame this extinction on our parents generation or our kids generation. We. Did. This.
The study indicates that although the window of opportunity is very small, there remain two to three decades in which a reversal of our current behaviours will positively affect the environment, allowing some populations to grow and some ecosystems to recover. Thirty years at most! Predictions indicate that our destruction of biological diversity will continue for twenty more years and the trend is toward more powerful decimation of both wildlife and ecosystems. According to Dr. Erlich, one of the authors of the study, the only solution is “to reduce the scale of human enterprise”. For each of you reading this blog, there are two things you, personally, can do to make a positive change:
- Reduce your use of fuel. Anything powered/any generation of heating or cooling requires fuel, whether it be gas, electricity, wood, coal, uranium, etc.; and
- Contact your federal representatives; urge them to vigorously support the implementation of measures to meet and exceed the terms of the Paris Accord.
It is Friday morning, I am sitting writing this post in my notebook on a picnic table beside Lake Ontario at Presqu’ile. It is slightly overcast, very hot and a little humid but there is a lovely fresh breeze blowing off the water. Cormorants, mallards, geese and swans are all bobbing happily on the surface of the lake. Chipmunks and squirrels are frolicking in the bushes at the shoreline. Seagulls, of course, are everywhere – mostly mooching scraps from the tables of novice picnickers. I’ve had a massive case of the heebie-jeebies all the while because of the ants and other creepy-crawlies falling from the tree limbs above. My point is that, amid all this wildlife, it is hard if not impossible to believe in the sixth mass extinction. Yet it has been scientifically proven to be so. The damage we have done to our ecosystems is significantly worse than common belief. Of course, here in the park, protection of wildlife and ecosystems is the order of the day but as a society, as the generation most responsible for this carnage, we must do better, and most of all, we must understand what it will take for us to make the necessary changes.
’Til next time, y’all…
Sixth Mass Extinction: We are living in the sixth geological epoch, also known as The Holocene . The sixth mass extinction refers to the mass rate of extinction in progress, primarily caused by human exploits.
PNAS: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.
biodiversity: Biological diversity refers to the number of different species of plants and animals coexisting in a specific area or the globe in general. More is always better.
population extinction: Population refers to either a geographic or demographic (interbreeding) group within a particular species. Population extinction means the obliteration of a species from a specific area, or a breeding group dying out. Population extinction is often a prelude to species extinction.
Ecosystem services are any benefits to human life that are provided by either wildlife or their ecosystems. These benefits are divided into four subgroups:
Cultural Services (intangibles, ie recreational, psychological, social, creative); and
Regulating Services (essential to human life, ie the cleaning of our air and water, waste decomposition, erosion control, pollination); and
Supporting Services (fundamentals such as soil creation, photosynthesis, the nutrient and water cycles); and
Provisioning Services (production of food, water, fuels, remedies)
LPI = Living Planet Index