Category Archives: rain forests

Ecology: The Keystone Science

A missing piece from most critiques of modern capitalism revolves around the misunderstanding of ecology. To put it bluntly, there will be no squaring the circle of mass industrial civilization and an inhabitable Earth. There is no way for energy and resource use, along with all the strife, warfare, and poverty that comes along with it, to continue under the business as usual model that contemporary Western nations operate under.

There is also the problem of constructing millions of solar panels and gigantic wind farms to attempt to bring the entire world’s population to a middle class existence based on a North American or even European levels of energy use. All of the hypothetical robots and artificial intelligence to be constructed for such a mega-endeavor needed to enact such a project would at least initially rely on fossil fuels and metals plundered from the planet, and only lead to more rapacious destruction of the world.

The dominant technological model is utterly delusional. Here I would urge each of us to consider our “human nature” (a problematic term, no doubt) and the costs and the manner of the work involved: if each of us had to kill a cow for food, would we? If each of us had to mine or blast a mountain for coal or iron, or even for a wind turbine, would we do it? If each of us had to drill an oil well or bulldoze land for a gigantic solar array next to many endangered species or a threatened coral reef, would we?

My guess would be no, for the vast majority of the population. Instead, we employ corporations and specialists to carry out the dirty work in the fossil fuel industries and animal slaughtering, to name just a few. Most of us in the West have reaped the benefits of such atrocities for the past few centuries of the industrial revolution. That era is coming to a close, and there’s no turning back.

The gravy train is running out of steam, and our age of comfort and the enslavement of a global proletariat to produce and gift-wrap our extravagances will hopefully be ending shortly, too. Some may romanticize loggers, factory workers, oil drillers, coal miners, or steel foundries but the chance is less than a needle through a camel’s eye that those jobs are coming back in a significant way. Overpopulation in much of the world continues to put strain upon habitat and farmlands to provide for the Earth’s 7.5 billion — and growing — humans.

Tragically, many with the most influence on the Left today, such as Sanders, Corbyn, and Melenchon want to preserve industrial civilization. Theirs is an over-sentimental outlook which warps their thinking to want to prop up a dying model in order to redistribute wealth to the poor and working classes. Empathy for the less fortunate is no doubt a good thing, but the fact remains that the real wealth lies in our planet’s natural resources, not an artificial economy, and its ability to regenerate and provide the fertile ground upon which we all rely. If we follow their narrow path, we are doomed.

Theirs is a sort of one-dimensional, infantile distortion of Vishnu-consciousness (preservation, in their minds at all costs), an unadulterated cogito, which does not let in the wisdom of his partner Lakshmi (true prosperity) or the harbinger of change and the symbol of death and rebirth, Shiva. Industrial life must be dismantled from the core for a new order to arise. Instead of clinging to this techno-dystopian model of the elites, we must replace it with what I call a Planetary Vision.

The Stone that the Builders Refuse

Only a serious education in ecology for a significant minority of the globe’s workforce can allow for a return to naturally abundant and life-enhancing complex habitats for humanity and all species to thrive. Understandably, fields such as botany, zoology, and conservationism are not for everyone, as much of humanity has been and continues to be more interested in technological fields, the arts, music, sports, religion, etc. It would only take perhaps 10% of the globe to be critically informed, and to be able to act, deliberatively and democratically, about subjects relating to ecosystem preservation and all the attendant sub-fields for a functional, ecocentric culture to flourish.

Thankfully, the foundation of such an ecological vision has been laid by millennia of indigenous cultures, as well as modern prophets and science whizzes such as Rachel Carson, Fritjof Capra, James Lovelock, Lynn Margulis, Barry Commoner, Donella Meadows, Bill Mollison and David Holmgren, Masanobu Fukuoka, and many others.

Even Marx and Engels observed the basic deteriorating nature of advanced agriculture in what they termed “metabolic rift”, where they learned from European scientists of the overwhelming degradation of soil fertility on the continent due to poor farming techniques, razing of forests, and heavy industry.

Despite its current limitations, the United Nations offers a model of supra-national regulation and governance, especially the UN Declaration of Human Rights, and the almost totally forgotten Brundtland report of 1987.

The Deep Wisdom of Ecology

Modern nations, corporations, vertical hierarchies, and industrial civilization do not serve human health or well-being. It excludes the majority, cuts them from a connection to their neighbors and the land, and privileges an elite rentier class who sponges and sucks the marrow out of the bowels of the Earth and those born money, property, privilege, without a silver spoon in hand.

Ecological thinking, on the other hand, imparts us with the deep truth that we are all connected to each other, and the planet.

Permaculture farming has managed to match and even outpace productivity on giant agribusiness farms using low-impact or even no-till methods.

Food forests can be created around the globe using layers of edible plants at high densities to allow for the growth fruit and nut trees, vines, and perennial shrubs, groundcover, and herbs. This is the real meaning of the Garden of Eden, an agroforestry model which ancient people lived off of for millennia alongside responsible crop rotation, seasonal burns, biochar, animal herding, hunting and foraging, and obtaining protein from fish and shellfish.

Arid, barren lands have been reforested by planting native trees: in Assam, India, one man recovered over 1300 acres by planting just one sapling a day for 30 years.

In the Chesapeake Bay, oyster restoration has been ongoing for years to help improve water quality. Just one adult oyster can filter 50 gallons of water in a single day.

An average acre of boreal forest can hold over 100 tons of carbon above and below ground in soil and biomass. As more forests burn carbon is instantly released, and as temperatures rise soils thaw out, leading to increased soil respiration and thus increasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. With 1,400 gigatons of methane stored in the Earth’s permafrost, any significant release into the atmosphere could ramp up warming even faster.

Wildlife corridors must be funded at multiples of current levels and substantially increased in size to allow for keystone, threatened, and endangered species to maintain population sizes and spread over increasingly patchy and unsustainable habitat due to urban growth, roads, and industry. Millions of acres of land should be reforested (some say 500 million total) to provide carbon sinks to offset the coming effects of global warming. Currently 18 million acres of forest are lost per year due to deforestation for grazing and corporate agriculture.

National parks, forests, monuments, as well as coastal, marine, and wildlife refuges as well as state-run areas should be coordinated at the highest levels of national and international regulation. I say coordinated, but I do not mean controlled by in a vertical hierarchy. Responsibility should “telescope” (borrowing a term from political scientist Robyn Eckersley) according to the size of the problem at hand: local deliberative councils may work best for bioregional approaches, whereas some framework of a supra-national structure will be needed for the mega-problems of climate change, plastic pollution, and GMO proliferation, just to name a few.

We have all heard terms such as “apex predator” or “top of the food chain” which capitalists and social Darwinists have misconstrued and adopted to fit their own hierarchical, fascistic beliefs. Yet anyone who has examined a food web knows there are interrelationships and mutualistic interdependencies between myriad species which dwarf and blow away any notion of rigid, calcified structures of permanent dominance of any species or eco-biome.

A systemic examination of global trade would teach the same lesson. There is no way to make any one country “great again” at the expense of other nations. This is a false binary embedded in Western culture that goes by the name of the “Either/Or”.  Rather, we must adopt the “And/Both” model of cultures synergistically and mutually thriving.

(Trickster/Provocateur homework for US citizens: Welcome or respond to someone on our upcoming 4th of July with a cheery greeting of “Happy Interdependence Day!”)

This false dichotomy has insidiously found its way into the Earth sciences, with the categorization and response to “invasive species”. Human disturbance accounts for upwards of 95% of invasives causing harm to new ecosystems, yet even within the academy, detailed plans for shifting our lifestyles are few and far between, and predictably ignored by mainstream society.

Nowhere has this sort of milquetoast-iness been more visceral for me than in listening to a guest lecturer years ago in a conservation biology class, when, at the outset of the lecture and without prompting, she announced that she would not tolerate any questions about humans as “invasive species”. This was perhaps understandable given the narrow definition of the term by some, or the aim and scope of her forthcoming talk, yet still, the rigid reactionary nature and tone of her dictum managed to produce a chill.

Further, the steps involved in combating invasive, non-woody plants do not usually involve more than a tractor mower or a backpack sprayer and Round-up, in public and private operations. Little is done to thwart the habitat systemically disturbed by human activity, the nutrient-depleted soil, over-salinization, etc. No thought given to the notion that the invasives in many cases are the only plants able to germinate and tolerate nutrient-starved soil and edge habitat which falls outside the purview of agricultural land, or the delusional urge within forestry management to preserve wooded or grassland areas in some pre-colonial or pre-industrial chrysalis.

We all observed this duplicitous portrayal of those evil invasives for many years following the media-driven and pseudo-scientific outrage and mania of the kudzu vine in the South. Covering roadsides and disturbed, recently deforested areas, the vine was portrayed with puritanical hatred. The loathed vine cannot penetrate into shaded forest and acted as a projection of our own fears, malicious intent, and ignorance.

The Revolution as Poetic Enchantment

There is also the problem of revolutionary activity where organization and specific roles are needed. We’ve been told that any and all organizing inevitably leads to corruption, hierarchy, greed, and ego inflation. Yet nature has managed to organize and spontaneously birth everything we depend on for sustenance and pleasure. The works of Mauss, Sahlins, and others have shown human behavior to be mostly peaceful, based on reciprocity, lived in balance with a naturally abundant environment.

The succession of a habitat, from the first pioneer species advancing to a climax community in dynamic equilibrium, is poetry in motion, an endless cycle of community relations where the dead provide for the living, just as the winds of history continue to shape our present, the lessons of our ancestors provide the courage to persevere, and the very real trauma and torment of past generations continues to stalk humanity, perhaps even epigenetically in our cells.

Nature’s ability to play freely and its tendency for creative, regenerative self-discovery offers a model attractive to the public where traditional approaches to ideology, mainstream politics, and moral exhortation have failed. Ecology uniquely offers an approach to our self-interest, with pragmatic and deep ethical implications, and in our nuclear and fossil fuel age, to our very survival.

Recent uprisings in Zucotti Park, South Dakota, Tahrir and Taksim Squares, Tunisia, and many other places demonstrate the organic, spontaneous nature of our ability to resist the systemic oppression endemic to our neoliberal, colonial, imperial world order.

The question of what comes after a successful revolt undoubtedly plagues many people, considering the bloody sectarianism that followed in many historical instances. Yet one of the root causes of such post-revolutionary failings necessarily includes the loss of jouissance, the senses of optimism, exuberance, and mutual aid which erupted throughout history in Paris communes, military barracks and factories in Petrograd, communes in Catalonia, etc.

Many progressives and so-called radicals in the US today seem more interested in internecine bickering and petty squabbling over turf than in implementing an authentic plan to re-enchant a comatose public. A citizenry, mind you, which has become exhausted and disillusioned from politics and any notion of defending the public sphere and commons due to relentless propaganda, neoliberal economics, structural racism, and a perverse imperial edict of global warfare which knows no bounds and sees no end.

Such small-mindedness and insularity is only compounded by a geographically isolated, narcissistic, spectacle craving media, celebrity-worshiping culture, and chattering class smugness which has robotized, dehumanized, and intoxicated a public which no longer seems to have the psychic or physiological energy and stamina to resist. This can be countered by providing material and intellectual nourishment, especially to our youth, through wholesome organic farming, natural medicines, and alternative education systems which promote and instill environmentalism, forms of direct democracy, and critical thinking skills, as well as continuing education for adults and seniors.

Much of our culture’s confusion is reinforced by a digital, social media driven, an ahistorical narrative, and a dematerialized market in the West where information and leisure is metered out to the poor, elderly, disabled, and working classes in a slow drip of bandwidth, bytes, pixels: poisonous cups of soma which we believe must all imbibe to partake in our “culture”.

Yet so many are now beginning to rattle their cages. Part of the reason being that savings and material wealth for the majority has declined, life expectancy dropping in neglected areas, suicide and addictive behaviors are increasing, inequality and gentrification skyrocketing. Yet also partly because creativity has been stifled, free time is eaten up by a gig economy relentlessly eating up our leisure, wild open spaces are diminishing, and the effects of a polluted, over-crowded world where alienation appears to reign and many see No Exit.

Digital technology, trickle-down finance, and media narratives are pushed so hard by the powers-that-be, in a pyramid scheme Ponzi economy bound to collapse. And data-driven, quantifiable, “objective” information doused on the public is losing its effect. Masses can now see through the high priests of officialdom, because their policies do not relate to any place or time, it is not embodied in the commons. The deluge of “empirical” statistics and innovation spouting out of mainstream media, government bureaucracies, and non-profit policy centers borders on absurd, and one could summarize their work as Informationism, for it truly represents an ideology. These are the apologists and court historians for the grand viziers of capital. They have created their own veritable echo-chamber ecology within the former swamplands of the Potomac basin.

How can the hegemony of corporate and state rule be further undermined? By acknowledging how they employ words, propaganda, ideology, and a false version of history as weapons to create a habitat of hate and fear. As the Situationists wrote: “Words work — on behalf of the dominant organizations of life…Power presents only the falsified, official sense of words.”

As the SI further noted:

Every revolution has been born in poetry, has first of all been made with the force of poetry. This phenomenon continues to escape theorists of revolution — indeed, it cannot be understood if one still clings to the old conception of revolution or of poetry — but it has generally been sensed by counterrevolutionaries. Poetry terrifies them. Whenever it appears they do their best to get rid of it by every kind of exorcism, from auto-da-fé to pure stylistic research. Real poetry, which has “world enough and time,” seeks to reorient the entire world and the entire future to its own ends. As long as it lasts, its demands admit of no compromise. It brings back into play all the unsettled debts of history.

Part of poetic resistance simply is awareness. We are not going to save the world without learning how to actually live in the world. Here words fall far short, they “float”, are too abstract. At the level of ontological awareness helpful concepts like “Dasein” and “existence precedes essence” can only show the doorway, yet the point is to walk through it. This is why I don’t consider, for example, Leary’s words of “Find the others” to be an escapist fantasy: they are a call to mytho-poetic revolution, for only in collective struggle can one transcend a selfish ego and a sick, dying culture. Communal living will be a big part of this, especially as the world economy seems very likely to fall into depression or outright collapse within a couple decades at most.

Initiation into adulthood, a model of dying and rebirth, is of utmost importance, as Barry Spector and Martin Prechtel, among others, have shown. Without this, the modern world is stuck in an infantile state, forever craving more, never satisfied.

The domination of man by man and nature by man now reaches global proportions. In our Anthropocene Age all boundaries between human and nature collapse, as we come to understand the web we are enmeshed in. Studies in modern psychics prove on the cosmological scale (relativity) and sub-atomic scales (quantum entanglement, superposition, double-slit experiment) have all proven definitely what ancient traditions have understood for millennia. Andre Malraux was correct when he prophesized that: “The 21st century will be spiritual or will not be.”

All major religions hold ecological balance, love of your neighbor, and conservation as a core truth. Teachings from the Sermon on the Mount, Hindu concepts of ahimsa and karma, Buddhist right livelihood, Islam’s tawhid, khilafa, and akhirah all have shown this, as well as indigenous mythology.

Sadly, most of the dissenters in our culture have been totally marginalized. The best minds of our generation have no longer fallen to madness; they are ignored, imprisoned, killed, or shipped off to a permanent “Desolation Row”. Consider the great works of Gary Snyder, Arne Naess, Robinson Jeffers, Wendell Barry, as well as environmentalists such as Wangari Maathai, Vandana Shiva, Sylvia Earle: the collective brilliance is astounding, yet industrialism allows no avenues for a praxis, for their ideas to be put to work or play.

Only an understanding of relationship and interdependencies can account for how our policy at the border, for instance, is connected to environmental destruction, factory farming, resource extraction, habitat destruction, the killings overseas in Yemen, Gaza, Syria, Libya, Afghanistan, Iraq, and the list goes on. It goes on for so long that the mind grows numb. Yet, we must counter this. Our government is the primary driver of the perpetual crimes of total warfare, planetary destruction, neo-feudal debt-based serfdom and global immiseration, and most of us have been complicit in varying degrees.

Have no doubt, many in power around the world, consciously or not, are waiting to start a new Kristallnacht against minorities and the poor which they will use to further the next stage of their privatized, totalitarian, surveillance-laden brave new world. It’s already started here in the US and in Italy against the Roma among other places. Theirs is an aesthetic of terror and brainwashing which knows no bounds.

Yet their individual pathologies only tell us part of the story: it is the system of alienation which breeds hate and must be dismantled, not replacing one figurehead leader with another seemingly benign one, as we did with Obama. Only a culture which understands the connections of how capitalism ultimately leads to fascism, one which comprehends the Earth’s limits, our own psycho-somatic frailties, and our bio-social relationships with each other and with flora and fauna can provide the resistance needed in this perilous age.

Three Climatic Monsters with Asteroid Impact

Three monster climatic events are currently shaping up to collide. It’ll be like an asteroid collision. In that regard, this article, in two parts, explores real, already happening, indisputable climate change that is starting to take down ecosystems throughout the biosphere. It’s happening now.

For perspective on asteroids, the last one, 7½ miles wide, hit 65 million years ago (dinosaurs wiped-out), vaporizing sulfate rocks, filling the atmosphere with sulfuric particles, blocking out sunlight, temps dropped 18-29F, followed thereafter by vaporized carbonate rocks, emitting CO2 at the rate of 0.2 ppm over 100,000 years as temps increased by 5C.

Today, CO2 increases at the rate of 3.0 ppm after only 200+ years of anthropogenic (human) influence. Ergo, humans are 15xs more powerful than an asteroid! Try that one on for size, mister extinction!

The three monsters are: (1) A State Shift in the biosphere; (2) Human-caused greenhouse gases — GHG — alter the planet, disrupting the Holocene Era of 10,000 years of Goldilocks’ climate, not too hot, not too cold, going away fast; (3) Collapsing ecosystems 100% due to human footprint, inclusive of excessive toxic chemicals galore, worldwide.

Monster #1: A State Shift has been detected in a landmark study by twenty-two biologists and ecologists1 concluding that when more than 50% of ice-free land converts to crops, livestock, highways, schools, towns, bridges, cities or the human footprint in toto, the ecological web collapses. As of today, human impact is fast approaching that milestone, as the Great Acceleration smothers the planet with human footprint.

The crux of monster #1 involves inventory of ecologically productive land. How much and for whom? Estimates are 3-4 acres of ecologically productive land per capita for 7.5B people. The problem is: Twenty-five percent (25%) of the world’s population; i.e., the developed/industrialized countries, requires nearly 100% of ecologically productive land to support sustainability of lifestyles, like razor blades, automobiles, houses, and bread and butter and ice cream, beyond which natural capital goes into deficit. It’s why 3B people live on $3/day. There’s not enough room for everybody’s lifestyle like the top 25%, period, end of story as human influence nears the planetary boundary, forcing State Shift, which implies collapsing ecosystems. This is already happening.

Monster #2 greenhouse gases (“GHG”) alter ecosystems, which disrupt the Holocene Epoch (The Age of Man) over the past 10,000 years of a Goldilocks’ climate, not too hot, not too cold, coming to an end. The key driver is excessive amounts of carbon dioxide, CO2. Today, CO2 registers 410 ppm in the atmosphere.

Prompting the question: How is it that CO2 dictates climate change? The answer is found in paleoclimate history, especially when viewed at extreme levels:

(1)  Fifteen million years ago CO2 registered 400 ppm for a sustained period; temps were 5° to 10° warmer than today; sea levels were 75’ higher than today (UCLA science research).

2) Whereas, 20,000 years ago, CO2 was 200 ppm; temps were icy cold; seal level was 400’ lower than today; Florida was twice its size; it was the last Ice Age.

Ergo, proof positive of a direct relationship between levels of CO2 in the atmosphere, temps, and sea levels, high or low, as the amount of carbon dioxide dictates planetary habitability.

But then again, what about that 400 ppm 15 million years ago with sea levels 75’ higher vis a vis today’s 410 ppm?

Answer: Back in the day, geological-time, meaning 1000s of years, dictated the climate versus today’s version or anthropogenic time (human-caused) putting CO2 on steroids with little jets attached, accomplishing as much in 200 years in CO2 emissions as did sluggish ole geological-time over multiples of centuries. A natural change of 100 ppm normally takes 5,000 to 20,000 years. We’ve just exceeded an increase of 100 ppm (280 ppm to 410 ppm) in about 200 years, hyper speed. Temps have not had enough time to catch up and rise up!

As such, today there is a latency effect, as today’s CO2 will register in temps down the road. Problem is: This means the near future is destined to heat up big time as CO2 is/has been accelerating at rates beyond imagination, from 0.6 ppm to 3.0 ppm per annum in only 70 years, thus likely tipping monster events into various stages of RWG (“runaway global warming”)… it’ll be hot as blazes one day in the near future, already baked in the cake, as temps naturally slowly catch up with turbo-charged CO2.

Monster #2 GHG disruption: The Arctic has warmed up 2-3xs faster than the planet as a whole, thus losing its infrastructure of thick multi-year ice, thus exposing its normally ice-covered frigid water to solar radiation for the first time in eons. The consequences are profound, really profound, no kidding about it, impacting the entire Northern Hemisphere in a boundless negative twist of fate.

According to Peter Glick (Pacific Institute/California), who has studied the Arctic for decades: “What is happening in the Arctic now is unprecedented and possibly catastrophic.”

It’s already catastrophic; e.g., (a) the jet streams at 30-39,000 feet have gone loopy berserk becuz of radical change in the Arctic. Result: Colorado, which is one of several examples of wacko, weird weather dictated by wacko jet streams, was hit with tropical weather for one-month in 2013, Noah’s Arc flooding, 10 dead, 6 missing, $4B damage, and (b) Methane clathrates frozen for eons are suddenly exposed, threatening RWG with consequent loss of agriculture. This scenario is already active, bubbling to surface right now, ouch! And, (c) Greenland ice melt is amplified by changing Arctic, as the entire surface turned to slush in only four days for the first time in geologic history, scaring the daylights out of climate scientists.2

Monster #2 GHG disruption: Antarctica’s meltdown turns dead serious as the great white continent loses three massive ice shelves 1995- 2002- 2017 with the final crashing shelf of last year a one trillion ton massive splintering ice cube, forcing National Geographic to redraw the World Atlas. Previously, over millennia, ice shelves served a key purpose by holding back the rapid flow of inland glaciers. Oops, that scenario is suddenly seriously dangerous for coastal cities, like NY and Miami as scientists recently detected Antarctic ice flow three times faster than 10 years ago.3 This is horrible news for the world’s coastal cities, and it’s already started.

Monster #2 GHG disruption: The consequences of ice melt are manifold. Mainstream science (IPCC) claims sea levels will rise by 2 feet by 2100. Who knows? That could be conservative, but so what, sea level rise is already impacting America: (1) Outer Banks, North Carolina, 200-mile island chain, 57,000 population, major tourists’ destination, down to 25% original width at some points because of rising seas; moving beach houses inland, iconic Highway 12 repeatedly washes out; (2) Miami Beach raising streets by 2 feet because of rising seas (To see photo of raised streets, “Miami Beach is raising streets by 2 feet to combat rising seas”); (3) America’s first eco migrants/climate refuges at Isle de Jean Charles, Louisiana have been moved to higher grounds by HUD at costs of $50M.

Monster #2 GHG disruption: Headwater glaciers are a favorite target of global warming: China’s Lancang “Danube of the East” River is the longest in S.E. Asia at 3,500 miles flowing thru China, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam. According to senior geological engineer Cheng Haining of China, global warming has taken out 70% of the headwater glaciers that feed the river.

A major branch of the Slims River in the Yukon disappeared over a period of 4 days because of the rapid retreat of Kaskawulsh Glacier beyond the headwaters, now a dusty riverbed. It’s one more victim of GHG and global warming/climate change.

Monster #2 GHG disruption: Andes glaciers hit hard by global warming as the World Bank (Google “Andean Glaciers Could Disappear”) warns 100 million people endangered by loss of glacial water towers for irrigation, drinking, and hydropower.

Monster #2 GHG disruption: Amazon Rain Forest (the planet’s lungs) targeted by global warming (it’s too big of a target to miss) with back-to-back-to-back severe droughts 2005-2010-2016 as atmospheric warming shifts rain away from the rain forest, a major, major, really significant ecosystem trouble spot.

Plus, making matters much, much worse, within a couple hours of every day the equivalence of 200 football fields of rain forests chopped down, as the forces of globalization strike hard.

Monster #2 GHG disruption: Permafrost thrives on global warming, like bees to honey, as it releases massive quantities of methane (“CH4”). The Siberian region may be on the verge of collapse, which would/could heat up the planet by several degrees; agriculture couldn’t possibly survive. Russian scientists identified 7,000 pingos or mounds of earth pushed upwards by melting permafrost and erupting methane gas, often times imploding into huge craters. Russian scientists believe there may be as many as 100,000 pingos.4

Alaskan permafrost is mimicking Siberia as global warming strikes hard, and a tipping point is triggered, as a 2-yr flyover scientific expedition registered 220 million tons of carbon emissions spewing out of Alaska permafrost, equivalent to all U.S. commercial emissions per year. This is extremely horribly bad news as Alaskan permafrost naturally competes with human carbon emissions. Absolutely horrible news!5

Curiously, ecosystem disruptions, as mentioned herein, all occur where nobody lives, nobody sees, nobody hears, except for the occasional scientist on expedition. It’s little wonder that people do not really understand climate change; they’re completely out of touch.

And, just think, Trump is president.

• To be continued as Part 2

  1. “Approaching A State Shift In Earth’s Biosphere,” Nature, June 2012.
  2. Shocking: Greenland Ice Melt: Global Warming or Just Heat Wave”, Ker Than for National Geographic News, June 25, 2012.
  3. Antarctica is Melting Faster Than We Knew”, Phoebe Braithwaite, Wired, June 17, 2018.
  4. The Siberian Times, March 29, 2018: “Crater Formed by Exploding Pingo in Arctic Erupts a Second Time From Methane Emissions”.
  5. Chris Mooney. “We All Knew This Was Coming: Alaska’s Thawing Soils Are Now Pouring Carbon Dioxide Into the Air,” Washington Post, May 8, 2017.

Diet, Ignorance and the Environmental Crisis

Climate change sounds vast and impersonal, but it’s really a very personal matter; a global crisis caused by the individual actions humanity has collectively taken. All too often such actions proceed from a position of ignorance, selfishness and habit, and are undertaken with little or no understanding of the effects on the natural environment.

The debate around climate change commonly focuses on transportation, deforestation, and energy – replacing fossil fuels with renewables. This is right and urgent, and some countries are taking steps; however, what is not tackled at all is the devastating impact of a meat/dairy diet – common to 97% of humanity. According to Reducing Foods Environmental Impacts Through Producers and Consumers (RFEI), a detailed report published in the journal Science, consumption of animal produce is “degrading terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems, depleting water resources, and driving climate change.”

Industrial farming of cows, pigs, sheep and chickens, plus harvesting fish, for human consumption is the single greatest cause of the interconnected environmental catastrophe; unless urgent substantive change takes place this could single-handedly lead to a polluting point beyond redemption. Misinformed, irresponsible lifestyle choices are behind the environmental crisis. The vast majority of people are unaware of the devastating effects of our collective eating habits, and from this position of uninformed ignorance disaster flows; the earth is poisoned, the climate disrupted and all manner of lives are lost.

Animal agriculture is responsible for approximately 15% of all greenhouse gas emissions (GGE), according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). This is more than any other sector, including manufacturing and transportation. The principal climate change contaminate is methane (44%), which comes mainly from rearing cattle – the source of 65% of all livestock GGE’s. While methane’s atmospheric life is only decades compared to centuries/millennia for carbon-dioxide (Co2) Scientific American reports that it “warms the planet by 86 times as much as CO2,” before degrading to become CO2: So it’s a double whammy, an intensely damaging one.

In addition to high levels of GGE’s the meat and dairy industry is responsible for a range of environmental ills: Colossal amounts of both land and water are used to produce meat and dairy for the dinner plate a third of all the Earths fresh water is soaked up by the industry, according to PNAS, and Waterfootprint relates that over 15,000 litres of water are required to produce a kilogram of beef, compared to the 322 litres of water needed for a kilo of vegetables. In America, 55% of total water usage goes to animal agriculture, compared to 5% for domestic use.

Globally the human population drinks around 5.2 billion gallons of water and eats 21 billion pounds of food daily, the documentary Conspiracy states. Though a lot, this pales into insignificance compared to the 45 billion gallons of water the world’s 1.5 billion cows drink daily and the 135 billion pounds of food they consume.

Land: use and degradation

The demand livestock farming makes on worldwide land resources is equally alarming. Between 25% and 30% of all (ice-free) land is utilized for grazing (up to 60 times more than the combined urban conurbations of the world); add in land used to grow feed crops and the figure leaps to 45% according to the International Livestock Research Institute. This voracious appetite for land is the primary cause of rainforest deforestation (which generates 10% of global GGE, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists) as huge tracts of land are cleared to graze cattle and grow genetically manipulated soya beans and maize, which are used in animal feed.

The World Resource Institute estimates that only 15% of the world’s rainforests remain, the other 85% has been leveled, badly degraded or broken up, destroying ancient ecosystems and displacing hundreds of thousands of indigenous people; and 91% of the lost rainforest is due to farming livestock to feed human beings with meat and dairy.

Tropical rainforests are the lungs of the planet, but an acre of this most precious land is being cleared every second, and it’s increasing: In the world’s largest rainforest, the Brazilian Amazon, from August 2015 to July 2016 deforestation rose sharply, to, The New York Times (NYT) reported “nearly two million acres…. that’s a jump from about 1.5 million acres a year earlier.” In neighboring Bolivia, the Bolivia Documentation and Information Center estimates that 865,000 acres of land have been cleared every year since 2011 – a huge increase on the 366,000 acres a year during the 1990’s and the 667,000 acres a year in the early 2000’s. The reason for the increase is “a strategy by multinational food companies to source their agricultural commodities from ever more remote areas around the world.” Areas where law is weak and corporations can do as they like – all in the name of profit.

Deforestation and soil degradation/erosion leading to desertification are closely connected. The UNCCD (United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification), records that “12 million hectares of arable land, enough to grow 20 tonnes of grain, are lost to desertification annually. With over 70% of the global arable land being used to grow crops for livestock, its clear that “animal agriculture is the leading driver for approximately 1/3 of the land lost on earth due to desertification.”

Animal agriculture is also the principal cause behind the unprecedented level of species extinction, and this because of a variety of factors: Clearing forests destroys natural habitat; wild animals are hunted to protect livestock; pesticides, herbicides and chemical fertilizers used in the production of feed crops “interferes with the reproductive systems of animals and poison water supplies.” Together with the broader impact animal agriculture is having on climate change, this all contributes, Conspiracy relates “to global depletion of species and resources.”

The industrial farming of livestock is a multi-layered environmental disaster, a global industry worth an estimated 3.178 $Trillions per year according to the World Bank that is growing at a phenomenal rate. Over the past 50 years global meat production increased fourfold. In 1963 it was 78 million tonnes, now, Global Agriculture records that it’s around 308 million tonnes per year. It’s expected to rise a further 75% by 2050 and demand for dairy to increase by 65%. If this trend continues, research published in Nature calculate that by 2050 agricultural emissions will take up the entire world’s carbon budget, with livestock a major contributor. This would “mean every other sector, including energy, industry and transport, would have to be zero carbon, which is described as ‘impossible’.”

The enormous rise in production, of cheap low-quality food stuff is being generated through large-scale factory farming; it is how 70% of all farm animals are now reared, is the biggest cause of animal cruelty, and the source of many of the health pandemics in recent years. Livestock is regarded as human property – living commodities within a world of commodification to be used and profited from with no concern for the well-being of the animals.

Regionally, Asia produces almost half of the total meat production, Europe and America account for 19 and 15% respectively. The countries that consume most are currently the industrialized nations, Australia tops the chart of meat eaters, with, Forbes tells us, an average Australian eating “205 lbs. of beef and veal, poultry, pork and sheep meat a year”. America follows with 200 lbs. a year, then comes Israel at 189 lbs. It’s interesting to note that these countries also lead the world in wealth and income inequality.

Some will argue that even more livestock is needed to feed a growing global population. This claim is totally unfounded. Whilst the world is certainly overpopulated (7.6 billion), enough food is being produced to feed an estimated 10–12 billion people, but as FAO relates, “an estimated one-third of all food produced for human use, valued at $1 trillion, is lost or wasted each year.” In full sight of this criminal act almost a billion people are starving, whilst 1.9 billion are overweight. As the Meat Atlas makes clear, the global system for producing food is totally broken, it is a failed industry controlled by a handful of multinational corporations sitting within a dysfunctional economic system that places profit before people and the planet.

Change of Lifestyle

If humanity is to overcome the environmental crisis, a major shift in behavior is needed, including a change in diet. The RFEI report reveals that adopting diets which exclude animal products “has [enormous] transformative potential: reducing food’s land use by 2.8-3.3 billion hectares (a 76% reduction), including a 19% reduction in arable land; food’s GHG emissions by 49%; acidification by between 45-54%; eutrophication [excessive richness of nutrients in a body of water] by up to 56%.” In large meat eating societies like America, where meat consumption is three times the global average and a mere 3.5% are vegetarian, changing diet “has the potential for a far greater effect on food’s different emissions, reducing them by up to 73%.”

Awareness is the critical ingredient in change, individually and collectively. In order to raise awareness of the impact of meat/dairy production and create a well-informed society, information needs to be widely available. The lead researcher on RFEI, Joseph Poore from the University of Oxford, proposes labeling which reveals product impact should be made available. Such a step should be compulsory, so “consumers could choose the least damaging options.” In addition, Poore suggests governments subsidize “sustainable and healthy foods” while “reallocating agricultural subsidies that now exceed half a trillion dollars a year worldwide.”

These measures would greatly help, but changing behavior is extremely difficult, particularly on the scale and within the time-frame required, and it won’t happen without incentives. In 2013 a group of scientists proposed “implementing a tax or emission trading scheme on livestock’s greenhouse gas emissions”, this “economically sound policy would modify consumer prices and affect consumption patterns.” Such a common-sense scheme should be implemented throughout the world as part of a set of global policies, consistently enforced, designed to change harmful behaviour and encourage responsible action. We all have a duty to do everything we can to restore the Earth to health and safeguard it for future generations and the most effective way to do this, as the RFEI study shows, is to stop eating animal produce.

The Ecosystem is Breaking Down

The ecosystem is the quintessential essence of life on our planet, and this crucial life system is showing signs of breaking down. It is likely a more pressing problem than climate change. Time will tell but time is short.

The ecosystem consists of all living organisms that interact with nonliving components like air, water, and soil contained within the biosphere, which extends from the bottom of the oceans to the top of the mountains. Although unannounced by authorities or professional orgs, it is already becoming evident that the ecosystem is breaking down. Alas, it’s our only ecosystem.

The evidence is too prevalent to ignore. For example, when (1) abundance of insects plummets by 75%, and (2) tropical rainforests mysteriously emit CO2, and (3) Mt Everest’s snow is too toxic to pass EPA drinking water standards, and (4) squid at 1,000 fathoms carry toxic furniture protection chemicals, and (5) ocean oxygen production plummets, then something is wrong, horribly, horribly, horribly wrong. But, nobody has announced it. Global warming gets all of the attention.

All of which begs the question: What does it take to determine when the ecosystem is losing it? After all, it surely looks like it is doing exactly that. For example, the loss of 75% of insect abundance in a landmark study in Germany (referenced in prior articles) released only last month is enough, all by itself, to indicate an extinction event is in the works. That is a monstrous wake up call.

Equally horrifying, recent studies show tropical rainforests emitting more CO2 than automobiles, which is kinda like getting hit repeatedly in the head with a wooden two-by-four, a deadly serious wake up call that says the planet is breaking down.

As for the rainforest research: A 12-year study claims the world’s tropical rainforests have reversed gears. Instead of absorbing CO2, as they have forever and ever and ever, serving as a carbon sink, they are emitting CO2 into the atmosphere. It’s not supposed to work that way.1

“The forest is not doing what we thought it was doing,” said Alessandro Baccini, who is one of the lead authors of the research team from Woods Hole Research Center and Boston University. “As always, trees are removing carbon from the atmosphere, but the volume of the forest is no longer enough to compensate for the losses. The region is not a sink any more.”2  The “region is not a sink any more” is almost impossible to accept. How can it be true?

Rainforests competing head-to-head with automobiles for most excessive CO2 emissions is a real shocker, a haunting sign of ill-fated climate change. Who would’ve ever thought? It seems as improbable as the Sun shutting down.  It is a spine-chilling signal that the ecosystem is really, truly in trouble. What to do?

Not only is the ecosystem exhibiting undue stress, human health is under attack like never before. Using a baseline year of 1975, observed case counts of cancer are up 76.6% to 193%, depending upon race. As such, Wall Street has discovered a new growth vehicle in biotechnology companies searching for answers to cancer. Nearly 50 new cancer cases are diagnosed in the time it takes (15 minutes) to read this article. These days everybody knows somebody who has been stricken. It’s the leading cause of death worldwide, and one can only wonder and speculate that ecosystem carnage and the cancer epidemic seem to go hand in hand. Ergo, whatever’s poisoning the ecosystem is the most important issue of the 21st century.

The following quote from Julian Cribb’s Surviving the 21st Century, likely tells the story:

The evidence that we ourselves— along with our descendants, potentially for the rest of history— are at risk from the toxic flood we have unleashed is piling up in literally tens of thousands of peer-reviewed scientific research reports. Despite this mass of evidence, the public in most countries is only dimly aware, or even largely unaware of what is being done to them. The reason is twofold: First, most of these reports are buried in scientific journals, written in the arcane and inaccessible language used by specialists. The pubic may hear a little about certain chemical categories of concern, like pesticides and food additives, or the ‘dirty dozen’ (Stockholm Convention 2013) industrial super-poisons, or ‘air pollution’ in general. However, these represent only a scant few pixels in a much larger image now amassing in the scientific literature of tens of thousands of potentially harmful substances which are disseminating worldwide. Second, the proportion of chemicals which have been well-tested for human safety is quite small…3

In short, humanity is poisoning itself with a massive flood of chemicals all across the world, dripping wet with toxicity. It’s little wonder the ecosystem is breaking down under the venom of peacetime chemical warfare. Is it any wonder that insect abundance suddenly plummets by 75%, which is defined, by any book, as an extinction event? People need insects a lot more than insects need people. Eighty percent (80%) of all the world’s plants are angiosperms, dependent upon pollination. No plants, no survival.

According to a United Nations study, most chemicals are never screened for health concerns, and WWF Global claims only 14% of chemicals used in largest volume have minimum data available for initial safety assessments. Yet, the FDA carefully scrutinizes drugs that are used to combat malfunctions like cancer, like Parkinson’s that may be caused by failure to regulate chemicals in the environment in the first place. After all, the chemicals become part of the living ecosystem!

Over time as the public wises up, it’ll be surprising if people do not come to arms over the failure of government to protect life, its ultimate responsibility. The ecosystem breaking down is too serious to avoid responsibility. It does not happen on its own.

As it happens, the deadly combination of global warming, which may be beyond control, and toxic chemicals, which are all over creation in all quarters, destroys the ecosystem in a slow death march by a thousand cuts, until, similar to Rachel Carson’s idyllic American town in her landmark book Silent Spring, it suddenly experiences a “strange blight,” leaving a swathe of inexplicable illnesses, birds found dead, farm animals unable to reproduce, and fruitless apple trees, an eerie lifelessness, yet unannounced, suddenly happening out of the blue. Like General Custer’s troops, caught flat-footed, it’s over so quickly.

Ignorance of the breadth and depth and mass of our toxic chemical planet will be no excuse when Rachel Carson’s “strange blight” suddenly hits hard because ignorance is never an excuse, especially with life and death at hand.

  1. A. Baccini, et al, “Tropical Forests are a Net Carbon Source Based on Aboveground Measurements of Gain and Loss”, Science, Vol. 358, Issue 6360, pp. 230-234, October 13, 2017.
  2. Jonathan Watts, Alarm as Study Reveals World’s Tropical Forests are Huge Carbon Emission Source, The Guardian, September 28, 2017.
  3. Julian Cribb, Surviving the 21st Century, Springer Int’l Publishing, Switzerland 2017, p. 108.