Text 21 Oct 12 notes 10 Scary Facts About Our Planet and What to Do About Them

A nod to this ghoulish time of year, below are some scary facts about our changing planet.

The best way to tackle our fears when confronted with things that scare us, according to many mental health experts, is to face them. With that in mind, here are some scary facts about our planet, complete with suggestions for what you can do to help make our future less frightening.

FACT 1: Earth Just Experienced the Warmest Six-Month Stretch Ever, Says NASA 
Meteorologist Eric Holthaus reports for Slate: ”Recent research shows the current warm stretch is probably the planet’s warmest in at least 4,000 years. That means global temperatures may have already passed a level that human civilization has never experienced.

What You Can Do About it:
Burning fossil fuels such as natural gas, coal, oil and gasoline raises the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and carbon dioxide is a major contributor to the greenhouse effect and global warming.

You can help to reduce the demand for fossil fuels, which in turn reduces global warming, by using energy more wisely. Here are 10 simple actions you can take to help reduce global warming.

FACT 2: The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is twice the size of the continental U.S. and is believed to hold almost 100 million tons of garbage. Also known as the Pacific trash vortex, it’s a collection of marine debris in the North Pacific Ocean that spans waters from the West Coast of North America to Japan.

Even scarier, perhaps, is the possibility that the seafloor beneath the Great Pacific Garbage Patch may also be an underwater trash heap. Oceanographers and ecologists recently discovered that about 70 percent of marine debris actually sinks to the bottom of the ocean.

What You Can Do About it:
Reduce, reuse and recycle! The Great Pacific Garbage Patch debris accumulates because much of it is not biodegradable, largely made up of small bits of plastic, and the average American produces a half-pound of plastic waste every day. Talk about scary.

FACT 3: Our planet is now in the midst of its sixth mass extinction of plants and animals — the sixth wave of extinctions in the past half-billion years. Center for Biological Diversity reports:

We’re currently experiencing the worst spate of species die-offs since the loss of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. Although extinction is a natural phenomenon, it occurs at a natural “background” rate of about one to five species per year. Scientists estimate we’re now losing species at 1,000 to 10,000 times the background rate, with literally dozens going extinct every day. It could be a scary future indeed, with as many as 30 to 50 percent of all species possibly heading toward extinction by mid-century.

What You Can Do About it:
Support meaningful and effective habitat protections like this effort to save koala habitat, and consider signing these petitions that address climate changeCenter for Biological Diversity explains:

Unlike past mass extinctions, caused by events like asteroid strikes, volcanic eruptions, and natural climate shifts, the current crisis is almost entirely caused by us — humans. In fact, 99 percent of currently threatened species are at risk from human activities, primarily those driving habitat loss, introduction of exotic species, and global warming.

FACT 4: Over 75 percent of waste is recyclable, but we only recycle about 30 percent of it. Americans throw away 25,000,000 plastic bottles every hour.

What You Can Do About it:
You don’t need me to tell you what to do here, do you? Remember to encourage those around you to recycle too, at the very least these 10 items.

FACT 5: Animal agriculture is responsible for 18 percent of the total release of greenhouse gases worldwide. This is more than all the cars, trucks, planes and ships in the world combined.

What You Can Do About it:
Have you considered going meat-free? Now is the perfect time since October is World Vegetarian Awareness Month.

FACT 6: The California drought could last decades. Right now the state is in the third year of a deepening drought, but it may be part of a much longer trend, one that could last decades, even centuries according to paleoclimatologist B. Lynn Ingram at the University of California, Berkeley.

What You Can Do About it:
Conserve water in your daily life, of course. Here are some tips to get you started. On a larger scale, support municipal-level efforts such as reuse of gray water and not flushing our toilets with drinking water.

FACT 7: More than 100 million Americans live in urban areas where the air is officially classified by the EPA as unsafe to breathe.

What You Can Do About it:
There are lots of ways you can help reduce air pollution at home, by what you buy and how you get around. Conserving energy helps; choose efficient, low-polluting products, including appliances and vehicles, and make mindful choices like commuting via carpool, bike or public transportation instead of driving.

FACT 8: The UNs Food Scarcity prediction: there will be 250 million environmental refugees searching for food by 2050. It’s predicted that by 2050 global agriculture production needs to increase by 60-110 percent to provide food security but new research by PLOS ONE looked at agriculture statistics from across the world, and found that yields of four key crops — maize, rice, wheat and soybean — will only increase by 38-67 percent by 2050.

What You Can Do About it:
Care2 writer Joe Leech shares What You Can Do to Fix It: Spread the word to minimize food demand, reduce your food waste footprint, and consider going meat-free.

FACT 9: Human overpopulation threatens our survival. We’re at seven billion now, and by 2050, we are projected to reach nine billion. The human population has grown more in the last 50 years than it did in the previous four million years.

As TIME Magazine put it, the real victim of overpopulation will be the environment, reporting that “there’s an undeniable cost to all these people and all this growth: the planet itself.”

What You Can Do About it:
Start by reading this eye-opening Care2 interview from 2011 with Searle Whitney, president of HowMany.org, a population studies organization.

FACT 10: At least 50 million acres of rainforest are lost every year, totaling an area the size of England, Wales and Scotland combined. Recent estimates confirm an increase in Amazon forest destruction rate, so lately it’s been getting worse.

According to the BBC, besides agricultural expansion, the rebound in deforestation is due to illegal logging and the invasion of public lands adjacent to big infrastructure projects in the Amazon, such as roads and hydroelectric dams.

What You Can Do About it:
Greenpeace points out that, “Combating deforestation is a complex issue that requires a variety of approaches.” Here are a few key solutions that Greenpeace supports.

Spread Awareness

Nelson Mandela once said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” By learning about these threats that many of us fear, you are already taking action. Consider sharing this post to spread awareness about these scary realities, and how we can tackle them.

Text 20 Oct 20 notes Why is the U.S. Government Failing to Tackle Ocean Acidification?

The Government Accountability Office has issued a stark warning that the federal government has failed to fully implement a 2009 law that requires the United States to tackle the problem of ocean acidification.

The report says that while a number of plans have been set up to try to stem ocean acidification, when looked at as a whole, the government has failed to follow through on commitments made in the Federal Ocean Acidification Research and Monitoring Act.

To be clear, agencies like the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the National Science Foundation and NASA have studied and analyzed the effects of ocean acidification but, according to the report, the government has not actually created a plan to stem rising acidification rates and, without that, momentum has stalled.

In particular, the GAO has found that a chief hurdle has been the fact that Congress and federal agencies have yet to provide proper budgetary outlines and estimates on the costs of implementing research efforts and taking action on their findings. Given Congress’ apparent lack of appetite to address climate change and related environmental issues, this perhaps isn’t surprising.

“The [agencies] have not developed the adaptation and mitigation strategies to conserve marine organisms and ecosystems exposed to ocean acidification that are required,” the report notes. “In regard to mitigation, many officials and stakeholders we interviewed said that without timely action to mitigate its root causes, ocean acidification is likely to have significant impacts.”

What is Acidification?

The process of burning fossil fuels increases the amount of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere. In turn, most of that carbon dioxide eventually finds its way into our oceans, and there it combines with seawater whereby it produces carbonic acid which increases the water’s acidity levels. Of itself, and thinking in the short term, this is unlikely to be a direct threat to human life — we’re in no danger of swimming in the sea only to have our flesh burnt off — but it is increasingly creating ocean environments that are hostile for animals that rely on calcium carbonate structures or shells. The acid in the water will erode the shells, severely compromising the health of the animal in question, if not killing vast swathes of them.

Acidification also erodes coral, with the ability to bleach whole regions of coral alarmingly quickly. As many fish species rely on reefs, either directly as areas in which to hide and raise their young, or as a hunting ground, acidification is incredibly concerning. There is also the fact that acidification could impact plankton, and as plankton is a major food source for several branches of marine life, this could pose a significant problem for the fishing industry as well as for conservation efforts.

It’s estimated that ocean acidity levels have increased by as much as 30 percent as a result of our fuel burning activities, and that figure will keep rising for as long as we continue to use fossil fuels — that is, unless we can either stop using those fuels or find a way to neutralize some of the acidity in our oceans.

What Does the GAO Recommend to Remedy This Problem?

The GAO’s chief takeaway from this report is that planning and studying is good, but unless federal agencies are empowered to act on those findings, the millions of dollars of research really adds up to nothing at all. To that end, and to overcome the impasse that seems to have stalled these efforts, the GAO says one way to move forward might be to create a collaborative national ocean acidification program office that could act as one voice to give direction to how the United States tackles acidification. However, the GAO notes that unless the problem of funding projections is finally sorted out, no such national agency can be set up.

“GAO recommends the appropriate entities within the Executive Office of the President take steps to improve the federal response to ocean acidification. [That includes] estimating the funding that would be needed to implement the research and monitoring plan and designating the entity responsible for coordinating the next steps in the federal response.”

Until that is done, the report says, securing any kind of clarity on how to tackle acidification will be very difficult indeed, and all the while the problem of ocean acidification grows steadily worse.


Text 18 Oct 70 notes Wolves Can Change Entire Ecosystems. Now Can We Change How We Treat Them?

We’re all connected to each other and to our environment, and we all have our part to play to keep ecosystems balanced. Sometimes, though, nature has its own incredible way of finding balance — a process known as a trophic cascade. In a new video, we see how the presence of wolves played a part in an amazing example of a trophic cascade that profoundly altered Yellowstone National Park.

Whats a Trophic Cascade?

According to Nature, trophic cascades are totally indirect interactions. In mother nature’s perfect balancing act, big, scary predators “limit the density and/or behavior of their prey.” Naturally, prey don’t want to hang around what’s trying to eat them, so they’ll change where they’re going or their behavior to avoid them.

These indirect changes help the trophic level below survive. Ironically, often the prey’s prey gets a better chance to survive, so the original prey has their predator to thank for lunch. These interactions will trickle, or cascade, down the rest of the food chain. Trophic cascades are happening all around us; they can occur in terrestrial, freshwater and marine ecosystems.

The Wolves of Yellowstone

Yellowstone National Park was wolfless for seventy years. The deer had a ball without their predators around. They could graze wherever, whenever and as much as they liked. Because of this imbalance, Yellowstone National Park’s vegetation became almost nonexistent. But when a few wolves were reintroduced into the park, exciting things started happening.

According to Sustainable Man, the presence of wolves changed deer behavior. They started avoiding areas like valleys and gorges because they were most vulnerable to attack there. Vegetation had a chance to bounce back, and forests started looking like forests again.

Forests full of trees brought the birds and beavers back. Busy beavers built habitats for a host of other animals, fish, amphibians and reptiles. Wolves also controlled the coyote numbers. Fewer coyotes meant more mice and rats. Birds of prey, weasels, badgers and foxes followed their food. Bald eagles, bears and ravens would feast on wolf leftovers.

Pretty cool stuff, right? But this is where it gets really surprising. The presence of wolves changed the park’s physical geography. When the forest got a break and got to bounce back, the river banks became more stable. Rivers didn’t have to meander as much and pockets of habitats emerged for wildlife.

Don’t believe me? Check out the amazing video here:

Wolves Are Misunderstood

Despite the important role that wolves play, many would rather get rid of them. Idaho has plans to senselessly massacre wolves and other wildlife during its shooting derby. Angry ranchers want revenge for the livestock that wolves killed. Hunters want the prized head of a wolf mounted on their wall or want to eliminate their “competition” for prey. The general public fears the elusive predator that many haven’t seen, but have grown to fear through childhood stories.

Once upon a time, hundreds of thousands of wolves roamed across the United States. But as our population grew, their numbers and habitat began to shrink. We also justified the massacre of wolves by reducing these highly intelligent animals with complex social networks to vermin and pests. Their federal protection status as endangered is still shaky. According to Defenders, where wolves aren’t protected, hunting and trapping are the most common causes of death.

The world of the wolf is shrinking right before us. Luckily, filmmakers Jim and Jamie Dutcher took it upon themselves to live with a pack of wolves that they raised as pups, known as The Sawtooth Pack, to give us a glimpse of the hidden lives of wolves that go beyond ferocious predator. Let the pack be ambassadors for their species.

The presence of wolves has the power to change an entire ecosystem. For environments to thrive, wolves just have to be wolves. Now the bigger question is: will we ever change and let them?

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