76. The Environment and the Sixth Great Extermination

“If all mankind were to disappear, the world would regenerate back to the rich state of equilibrium that existed ten thousand years ago. If an insect were to vanish, the environment would collapse into chaos.”
Edward O. Wilson – is an American biologist, researcher, theorist, naturalist and author.

“The worst thing that will probably happen-in fact is already well underway-is not energy depletion, economic collapse, conventional war, or the expansion of totalitarian governments. As terrible as these catastrophes would be for us, they can be repaired in a few generations. The one process now going on that will take millions of years to correct is the loss of genetic and species diversity by the destruction of natural habitats. This is the folly our descendants are least likely to forgive us.” Edward Wilson.

I completely agree with the above quotes. Today America and most of the world is concerned about short term problems. Solving these problems is of great importance, however as Edward Wilson says they will be solved one way or another in a generation or two. A much greater problem is what the human race is now doing to the environment. Five great catastrophes have occurred, according to most scientists in the 4,700,000,000 years of existence of the planet Earth. These catastrophes are known to as the five Great Extinctions. The one most individuals know about happened some 65 million years ago where a six mile across asteroid hit the earth killing all the dinosaurs that roamed the earth. 250 million years ago an extinction thought by most of science to be caused by volcanism occurred. This extinction is referred to as “The Great Killing” and was more disruptive than the extinction of the dinosaurs. It is thought that the extinction of life on our planet 65 million years ago killed approximately 70% of life. “The Great Killing” is thought destroyed approximately 95% of life on earth.

The planet Earth has a maximum life span of another 4.7 billion years. The death of the earth in its present form will come about as the Sun’s fuel is depleted, hydrogen. The sun at this time will grow into a red giant and most likely burn the earth to a crisp. This is the maximum time that the earth will exist as it is today, however many more extinctions between now and then will occur. Many environmentalists and other scientists warn about the coming 6th extinction. The five extinctions that already have occurred came about because of natural phenomena, however the 6th extinction that scientists and others are concerned about most likely will come about by the foolishness of mankind. There is some disagreement about the cause of some of these catastrophes among the possible causes could have been volcanism, gamma ray bursts, and the spread of massive ice sheets that covered the entire Earth. In the case of the Cretaceous-Paleogene Wipeout, an asteroid strike-the one that killed the dinosaurs. But the result of all of the extinctions was the same: death, a lot of it, for 70% to 95% of all species, depending on the event.

Extinction occurs at an uneven rate. Based on the fossil record, the background rate of extinctions on Earth is about two to five taxonomic families of marine animals every million years. Marine fossils are mostly used to measure extinction rates because of their superior fossil record and stratigraphic range compared to land animals

Nowadays, many scientists are predicting that we’re on track for a sixth mass extinction. The world’s species already seem to be vanishing at an unnaturally rapid rate. Humans are altering the Earth’s landscape in far-reaching ways. We’ve hunted animals like the great auk to extinction. We’ve cleared away broad swaths of rainforest. We’ve transported species from their natural habitats to new continents. We’ve pumped billions of tons of carbon-dioxide into the atmosphere and oceans, transforming the climate.

Habitat destruction is a big driver, particularly in rainforests, where 25,000 square miles (75,000 square km) of tree cover are lost annually. Over-exploitation – which is to say killing animals for food, clothing or the sheer perverse pleasure of it-plays a big role, especially among the so-called charismatic megafauna. Elephants slaughtered for their tusks, rhinos poached for their horns and the tiger shot and skinned for their pelts. Man speaks of balancing nature by the use of hunting, however nature is much better balanced in a natural manner by the animals that roam our planet. Then there is global warming, which makes once-hospitable habitats too hot or dry or stormy for species adapted to different conditions.

While our ancestors have been around for about six million years, the modern form of humans only evolved about 200,000 years ago. Civilization as we know it is only about 6,000 years old, and industrialization started in earnest only in the 1800s. Mankind has been destroying our environment long before the Industrial Revolution. It’s just that since the 1800s, this destruction has sped up by the square root. There is much that can be done to slow up the snowball effect that is destroying our environment, however nations such as the United States thinking only in the short run has caused the Earth’s environment to roll faster and faster downhill towards a sixth mass extinction.

The Dust Bowl that occurred in the United States is a good example of how man has added to this tragedy. Many suffered during the period of the Dust Bowl. Some misinformed individuals even today claim that the climate and weather conditions on the planet change often and this was the reason for the Dust Bowl. Yes, the Earth’s climate does change, however the dust bowl came about because during a dry spell the short rooted grass on our prairies could not deal with this change. Man had overgrazed these prairies and planted farm crops on this land that should never have been planted.

If science is able to create a meat product from advancement In Vitro meat animals would not have to be slaughtered and grazed on our prairies deep rooted grass would grow again. In addition, foliage such as trees could be grown replacing some of the damage already done by the destruction of the worlds rainforests.

Much of the planet relies on groundwater. In places around the world – from the United States to Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Latin America – so much water is pumped from the ground that aquifers are being rapidly depleted and wells are going dry.

Groundwater is disappearing beneath cornfields in Kansas. Fields have already turned to dust and farmers are struggling. Aquifers largely remain unmanaged and unregulated, and water that seeped underground over tens of thousands of years is being gradually used up. Many of the world’s aquifers are being depleted. Using measurements from NASA’s GRACE satellites, a team of scientists led by Professor Jay Famiglietti of the University of California, Irvine and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory has found that more than half of the planet’s largest 37 aquifers have declined since 2003. With the use of good water management and the advancements that are now available by science this problem could be controlled, at least slowed.

We in America still are adding to this problem by the denial of global warming. Ice sheets are melting in the Arctic and our oceans all rising. They are also becoming more acid. We in the United States daily pump dangerous chemicals into our lands to bring up natural gas and make some greedy individuals and corporations even more wealthy. The American public stands by and allows this to happen.

I myself will be long gone when the time of the sixth mass extinction comes about however, unless we as a nation take action in a sane and reasonable way it will come about.

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