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.
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.
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.
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.
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.’”
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.
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.
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.
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.
The below is from the New York Times “Watching” e-mail I get (which usefully helps sort the good from the bad in the streaming universe). Hard to imagine them advising “Skip if you don’t want to think a lot about racism.” Or poverty. Or how f*cked we are.
I guess climate change is still an optional existential threat.
I’m doing some reading as I try to frame a book project that will attempt to change the way we see (and therefore treat) animals, and there is an interesting, religious-based argument, that is not about animal rights so much as a plea for the exercise of mercy (which would makes us better humans, and better honor whatever God one believes in). In that context, I came across this prayer from Saint Basil in 375 AD:
Oh, God, enlarge within us the sense of fellowship with all living things, our brothers the animals to whom Thou gavest the earth in common with us. We remember with shame that in the past we have exercised the high dominion of man with ruthless cruelty so that the voice of the earth, which should have gone up to thee in song, has been a groan of travail.
It appears to me that 16 centuries (and free markets powered by industrialization) has brought arguably more cruelty and less shame. But even though I am an atheist I like very much the concept of “fellowship with all living things.” In fact I would extend that idea of fellowship beyond living things to living ecosystems, and the living planet and all its environments. From fellowship would flow respect, moral consideration and compassion. Then the voice of humanity would indeed be a beautiful song instead of a terrible groan.
Just another example of how industrial ag’s endless cycle of pairing new herbicides with new GMO strains leads not to a stable, safe ag system, but to poisonous unintended consequences:
Farmers are locked in an arms race between ever-stronger weeds and ever-stronger weed killers.
The dicamba system, approved for use for the first time this spring, was supposed to break the cycle and guarantee weed control in soybeans and cotton. The herbicide — used in combination with a genetically modified dicamba-resistant soybean — promises better control of unwanted plants such as pigweed, which has become resistant to common weed killers.
The problem, farmers and weed scientists say, is that dicamba has drifted from the fields where it was sprayed, damaging millions of acres of unprotected soybeans and other crops in what some are calling a man-made disaster. Critics say that the herbicide was approved by federal officials without enough data, particularly on the critical question of whether it could drift off target.
This is a perfect representation of a badly broken system, where profits, regulatory capture and the false lure of better farming through technology are devastating farmlands and the environments around them. Organic ag (or “regenerative ag” to be more cutting-edge) isn’t perfect. But it is definitely a superior model, which is why paying a bit more is worth the cost (eat a bit less, which is also good, to compensate).