Does Wildlife Extinction = Famine?

If it does, will we finally care about biodiversity and conservation? We should:

 

Three-quarters of the world’s food today comes from just 12 crops and five animal species and this leaves supplies very vulnerable to disease and pests that can sweep through large areas of monocultures, as happened in the Irish potato famine when a million people starved to death. Reliance on only a few strains also means the world’s fast changing climate will cut yields just as the demand from a growing global population is rising.

There are tens of thousands of wild or rarely cultivated species that could provide a richly varied range of nutritious foods, resistant to disease and tolerant of the changing environment. But the destruction of wild areas, pollution and overhunting has started a mass extinction of species on Earth. The focus to date has been on wild animals – half of which have been lost in the last 40 years – but the new report reveals that the same pressures are endangering humanity’s food supply, with at least 1,000 cultivated species already endangered.

Everything is connected…

How To Address Overpopulation Without Talking About Overpopulation

“Stop hassling us about population growth. Instead help empower our women and stop consuming so much yourselves!”

Rapid growth in human numbers is a key variable of any equation related to climate, conservation and stress on the planet. But you don’t often hear about it.

Vox writer David Roberts explains why, and argues that it is far more constructive to talk about policies that can help address population and its environmental impact (empowering women and global income inequality) than it is to directly plunge into the morally sticky and inevitably controversial topic of population control:

The first way to look at population is as a pure numbers game. More people means more consumers and more emitters, so the thing to do is slow the rise of population. Specifically, since most of the new people are going to come from poor or developing countries, the question is specifically how to slow population growth there.

Luckily, we know the answer. It is family planning that enables women to have only children they want and choose, and education of girls, giving them access to income opportunities outside the home. We know that women, given the resources and the choice, will opt for smaller families.

Those are the two most powerful levers to bend the population curve. They are also, in and of themselves, an enormously powerful climate policy. When Paul Hawken and his team investigated and ranked carbon-reduction solutions for their Drawdown project, they found that the combination of the two (call it the female-empowerment package) carried the most potential to reduce greenhouse gases later this century, out of any solution. (Together they could prevent 120 gigatons of GHGs by 2050 — more than on- and offshore wind combined.)…

One way to prevent the creation of new high-consumers would be to persuade the wealthy to have fewer babies and to close off the borders of wealthy countries, preventing low-consumers from immigrating and becoming high-consumers. You could try, in short, to engineer population decline in wealthy countries.

That seems … fraught.

For one thing, fertility tends to decline with wealth anyway. For another, any targeted attempt to engineer population decline is going to run into an unholy thicket of moral and political resistance.

Another way to approach the problem would be, rather than prevent the birth of extremely wealthy people, prevent the creation of extremely wealthy people. In other words, prevent the accumulation of massive wealth. You could do that by, for instance, taxing the shit out of wealthy people.

If you approached the problem that way, under the banner of reducing global income inequality, you would find many allies. Income inequality is a top-line concern of people and organizations all over the world, even some conservatives these days.

He’s right. And I’d stress that when wealthy populations preoccupy themselves with the environmental impact of growing developing world populations, instead of their own overconsumption,  they are aiming at the wrong target.

Chart Of The Day: Wealth and C02 Emissions

The idea that wealthier people consume more and emit for greenhouse gases won’t surprise you. But the concentration of global emissions among the planet’s wealthiest might.

How much wealth do you need to be in the richest 10%? $68,800. So now we have a very clear picture of where (most of) the problem lies, and who should (mostly) bear the expense and burden of reducing carbon emissions–and it is not the world’s developing populations. Just in case that wasn’t already clear.

Finally, David Attenborough…

It’s hard not love the amazing and sublime depiction of the planet and all its species in David Attenborough‘s work. But the beauty and wonder he depicted rarely had a hint that there was anything going seriously wrong with the planet, that the beauty and wonder was under threat. Too much of a bummer for a TV audience, perhaps.

But now Attenborough plans to rectify this omission:

David Attenborough vividly remembers, nearly 80 years on, his first encounter with one of the worst scourges of the planet. He was a schoolboy. “I remember my headmaster, who was also my science master, saying: ‘Boys, we’ve entered a new era! We’ve entered, we’ll be proud to say, the plastic era. And what is so wonderful about this is we’ve used all our scientific ingenuity to make sure that it’s virtually indestructible. It doesn’t decay, you know, it’s wonderful.’”

Attenborough lets the last word hang in the air, eyebrows and hands raised. Then the hands fall. “Now we dump thousands of tonnes of it, every year, into the sea, and it has catastrophic effects.”

Pieces of plastic in the ocean will soon outnumber fish. They have, in the past few years, been recognised as one of the most pressing problems we face. Fish eat the plastic debris, mistaking it for food, and can choke or starve to death. The long-term effects are not yet understood, but we do know that plastic microparticles are now found in drinking water across the world, as well as throughout our oceans.

Plastics are the latest in a long line of concerns for the 91-year-old naturalist. They are a key theme of his latest work for television, the new series of The Blue Planet, which he will return to writing after our interview. Premiering at the BFI Imax in London this Wednesday – with Prince William as a special guest – the series will focus not only on the marvels of ocean life, but the threats to it, of which plastic is one of the worst. It will also deal with what people can do to help.

It’s often argued that negative news just depresses an audience into helplessness. That has always seemed like a cop out, a plea to be given permission to live as we live, buying every new iPhone, flying frequently to holiday destinations, and chowing down on burgers. Maybe the reality that this lifestyle is killing the planet is depressing. But it is also necessary if there is any hope of mobilizing the human nation into seeking a dramatically different, more planet-friendly, lifestyle. So it is good news that one of the planet’s premier naturalists and film-makers will focus his work on raising these issues and solutions. Finally.

 

Photo Of The Times: Realism Rather Than Romanticism

“Sewage Surfer.” Photo by Justin Hofman / Wildlife Photographer of the Year

This photo is both very sad and very powerful, and tells you all you need to know about what we are doing to our oceans. Fittingly, it is a finalist in the Wildlife Photographer Of The Year competition, and that is a good thing because it is important that wildlife photography do more to show things as they are instead of romanticizing a pristine and unspoiled natural world that no longer exists.

Here is the explanation of the photo provided by the UK Natural History Museum:

Hopping from one floating object to another, seahorses often hitch rides on currents and grasp onto ocean debris with their delicate tails.

But the subject of photographer Justin Hofman’s lens swam into trouble when it let go of a piece of seagrass and seized a thin piece of clear plastic. As a brisk wind picked up at the surface of a reef near Indonesia’s Sumbawa Island, the small swimmer’s ride became a rough one.

In search of a more stable raft, the seahorse then landed upon a waterlogged cotton bud that washed in on the incoming tide.

Indonesia is known for having the broadest selection of marine biodiversity in the world. But the country is also second only to China in its contribution to marine plastic – fuelling the growing concern that unnatural ocean waste could outweigh fish by 2050.

Justin not only captured the seahorse and its unnatural vehicle, but also murky water filled with debris.

Indonesia has pledged that by 2025 it will reduce the amount of waste being discharged into the ocean by 70%.

You can get more of the backstory of the photo, and comments from Justin Hofman, here. And follow Justin’s Instagram here.

Escaped Atlantic Salmon Dispersing Into The Pacific

Not a surprise (to me, anyhow), but Atlantic salmon that escaped as a result of the great Pacific Northwest fish spill have now been spotted more than 250 kilometers from the San Juan islands, the site of their collapsed net pens:

The non-native species of salmon have been reported as far north as Tofino on the west side of Vancouver Island and Campbell River on the island’s east side, according to Byron Andres, head of the federal Atlantic Salmon Watch program.

“Quite a distance. I’m not sure whether we should be surprised by that but they have travelled further than I initially anticipated,” Andres told Gregor Craigie, host of On the Island.

The Atlantic Salmon Watch program has been monitoring B.C. waters since 1991 and in that time has rarely logged confirmed sightings.

Between 2011 and 2017, there were only three confirmed reports of Atlantic salmon in B.C., with some appearing as far north as Hecate Strait and the Kitimat River. There had been zero reports in the three years leading up to the escape.

So now we monitor and try to assess what happens when you release hundreds of thousands of salmon from one ocean into an entirely different ocean. Exactly the sort of science project you get when you play Sorcerer’s Apprentice by manipulating and short-circuiting nature with the goal of farming lots of affordable salmon.

Here’s the audio for a fuller version of the story.

The Demand For Soybeans For Animal Feed Is Deforesting The Planet

The conversion of forest to field for soybeans is not news. But the use of drones is opening up a new perspective on this problem:

The hamburger chain Burger King has been buying animal feed produced in soy plantations carved out by the burning of tropical forests in Brazil and Bolivia, according to a new report.

Jaguars, giant anteaters and sloths have all been affected by the disappearance of around 700,000 hectares (1,729,738 acres) of forest land between 2011 and 2015.

The campaign group Mighty Earth says that evidence gathered from aerial drones, satellite imaging, supply-chain mapping and field research shows a systematic pattern of forest-burning.

Local farmers carried out the forest-burning to grow soybeans for Burger King’s suppliers Cargill and Bunge, the only two agricultural traders known to be operating in the area.

Mighty Earth’s devastating report can be found here. Perhaps it will help people connect their love of fast food and burgers to the changing face of the planet. Have to hope at least…