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human activity and the destruction of the planet


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Research shows humans insignificant globally in terms of numbers but are responsible for destroying 83% of wild mammals

This research, published in the Proceedings  of the National Academy of Sciences by Prof Ron Milo at the Weizmann Institute of Science, Israel, has been reported in The Guardian (21st May 2018).

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/may/21/human-race-just-001-of-all-life-but-has-destroyed-over-80-of-wild-mammals-study

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Image with thanks to http://www.mammal.org.uk

According to Milo, the 7.6 billion people on earth represent just 0.01% of all life forms, yet have caused the loss of 83% of all wild mammals and half of all plants. The data was derived by calculating the total biomass of each group.  Thus,

All life on earth is made up of:

82% Plants; 13% Bacteria and 5% of everything else (including the 0.01% of humans).

86% of life is found on land and 1% in the oceans.  Of all the mammals on earth, 96% are livestock and humans (60% livestock, 36% humans, 4% wild mammals).  Even more surprising is that 70% of birds on the planet are poultry and 30% wild birds.  Further statistics and graphics are available in The Guardian.

The original article can be found at: http://www.pnas.org/content/115/25/6506

The article argues that humans have been extremely efficient in utilising the resources available on the planet.  However, I would not describe this as efficient, if it has led to the loss of much of the diverse life on the planet. Humans have plundered the planet but not sustainably.

Another article from The Mammal Society (www.mammal.org.uk), states that almost one in five British mammals face a high risk of extinction.  These include:

the red squirrel; the wildcat; the grey long-eared bat, the hedgehog and the water vole.

redsquirrel

wildcat

Another article in The Guardian, cites Chris Packham (a BBC Springwatch presenter) as having warned of ‘an ecological apocalypse’ in Britain and that Britain is becoming “a green and unpleasant land”.

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/jun/11/chris-packham-springwatch-warns-of-ecological-apocalypse-britain?utm_source=esp&utm_medium=Email&utm_campaign=Green+Light+2016&utm_term=278208&subid=2617869&CMP=EMCENVEML1631

Packham is also reported to have said: “We need a peaceful public uprising. We need people to say we’ve had enough. We do that every time there’s a terror attack. We need a similar movement for nature. We need people to stand up and say we want action now. We have the ability to fix our countryside.”

He is urging people to join him next month on a10-day “bioblitz”, visiting road verges, farmland, parks, allotments and community nature reserves across the country to record what wildlife remains – from butterflies to bryophytes, linnets to lichens.


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Bringing it all together and a way forward

CHAPTER 9

So there we have it!  A plethora of human activities which have put the harmonious cycles of our beautiful planet out of balance, leading to loss of habitat for many species, increasing global temperatures, climate change, extreme weather events, melting of the ice caps, raised sea levels, deforestation, acidification of the sea, space junk, accumulations of waste plastic and the threat of a mass extinction – all related to increasing carbon emissions, a process which may never be reversed unless urgent action is taken.

And, alongside of this, there has been the rapidly increasing human population, now seven times greater than at pre-industrial levels, leading to a multiplication of the destructive effects of human activity and loss of habitat for many species. Each of these activities has an inter-connectedness, which has led to a situation where a domino effect may take place, one factor triggering another factor, the total effect of which may make our planet unstable and uninhabitable in just three generations:

  • Industrial revolution, which did not end pre-1900 but which continued with an ever-increasing momentum, through the IR Continuum, to the present time;
  • Increasing human population, multiplying the effects of the IR;
  • Changes to economies from local agrarian economies to market economies, which encourage further industrialisation and rewards businesses who increase manufactured production;
  • International and multinational trading patterns, adding to the IR Continuum and leading to local situations where more is imported than is exported, and politicians desiring to take action for more and more economic growth; such actions are counter-productive, adding to the carbon load;
  • Greater divisions between the rich and poor in the world, leading to migration, unrest and wars, and with the rich contributing considerably more to climate change than the poor and with wars adding to the carbon footprint.

Fig. 75 attempts to show how all of these factors are interrelated and how each is contributing to ecological instability, both in its own right and by interaction with the others.  For example, the increasing human population has a multiplying effect on all the others; weakening economies result in increased efforts to promote economic growth, which multiply the effects of industrialisation, trading systems and global travel; increasing affluence of the super-rich provides a multiplying effect through increased multi-national trading; poverty in some areas being related to deforestation in order to grow crops to survive, this has the effect of reducing the number of trees available to absorb carbon dioxide as part of the photosynthetic cycle; market economies exaggerate the effects of the industrial revolution and its continuum, as well as affecting trading systems; greater unrest in the world, leading to wars, which add to the carbon load.

fig75

Fig. 75:  Our beautiful planet no longer in harmony due to ten of the

                interrelated factors at work in the world today

I hope I have made a convincing case about the urgent need for change in the ways in which the global human population organises its affairs.  To bring this change about needs a complete re-think by everybody, a complete change in the way in which we go about our normal lives and our business (see also Naomi Klein8).

As this book has unfolded, and during the writing of it, I have learnt so much myself – but this new learning has also opened me up to seeing things in a totally different light. It has been a revolution in my own thinking and responses. So, what started as a gut instinct has been transformed into an urgent imperative. I hope it does the same to you as well.

Many of the things that clutter up our lives, or make our lives more comfortable or exciting, have been produced at the cost of the planet.

So, some of the questions that have come to me, I will pose also to my readers:

  • Can we continue to slavishly follow consumer trends? Buying the latest gadgets, regardless of whether they have been transported across the world, thus increasing carbon emissions?
  • Can we continue to use our motor cars just to travel down the road to the shops or the school?
  • Should we continue to import foodstuffs that can be produced in our own country by our own farmers?
  • Can we continue to rob other species which share this planet with us, of their habitats?
  • Can we continue to clutter up the space around our planet with redundant and unused space junk?
  • Can we continue to fill our oceans with discarded, non-biodegradable plastic, which can also kill many marine species?
  • Can we continue to support the free-trade movement, which feeds into further industrialisation and the IR continuum?
  • Can we continue to give tacit support to a market economy, which rewards those companies and individuals who selfishly add to the carbon footprint of our planet?
  • Can we continue to support those industries which make unheeding use of fossil fuels in order to make a profit for themselves?
  • Can we continue to let the super-rich control most of the systems of the planet to feed their own greed, at the expense of the planet and of the poorest of the poor?
  • Can we continue to use nuclear power and manufacture nuclear weapons, when there is no safe way to dispose of nuclear waste?
  • Can we continue to go to war at the drop of a hat, when the carbon emissions released in such a war, add substantially to the carbon footprint of the planet?
  • Can we continue to trade in weapons and spend vast amounts of money in producing them, when many millions of people across the world go hungry?
  • Can we continue to allow the rich and multi-national companies to evade taxes, at the expense of supporting poorer nations to drag themselves out of poverty?
  • Can we continue to ignore the comfortable relationship that our governments have with the business world, which leads them to take decisions which support the business world, regardless of the damage they are doing to our planet and at the expense of the majority of the population?
  • Can we continue to take long-haul holidays, travelling across the world, using airlines, which are one of the worst polluters of the atmosphere?
  • Can we continue to give birth to babies, when the planet is already over-populated, with humans robbing many beautiful species of their habitats?
  • Can we control or curb the results of human curiosity and inventiveness? Or should it be channelled into less world-destroying end-products, such as innovations to produce clean energy?
  • Can we put sufficient pressure on our politicians to change direction regarding current economic thinking, the mathematics of which are flawed?
  • Can changes in the economy be introduced in time to save the planet?
  • What are the risks of changing trading practices on the economy?
  • What if one country makes changes and is exploited by other, less scrupulous, nations?
  • Will big business play ball?
  • What about the rich super elite? Will they recognise the urgency of the situation and change their behaviour to a more altruistic approach?
  • Is the idea of global co-operation to save the planet realistic?

So many questions have come to me and I am sure that other questions have come to you too as you have read this book.  There are so many decisions we need to take as well, both as individuals and as nations and global citizens.

Some groups are looking at the issue of climate justice, in which reparation is made by the greatest polluters, to poorer countries whose way of life is severely affected by climate change. Indeed, this formed part of the COP21 Paris agreement.

fig76

Fig.76:   ©Joel Pett, with permission

Reasons for the lethargy

Of course, many people already realise and understand about the damage we have done to the planet, as a species, and many people are already taking action across the globe, but there seems to be a lethargy to make the significant changes needed, so I will address this too.

Part of the lethargy is, I think, due to the success of the big business-climate-change-deniers, who have influenced people to think that the scientists are wrong and that there is nothing to worry about. Naomi Klein8 addresses this issue strongly in her book, “This Changes Everything”, as she places most of the blame for the desperate situation we face today, firmly in the courts of the big corporate businesses. In her opinion, they have used their money, and lots of it, to establish a climate-denial movement, in which the credibility of the climate scientists is attacked and the seriousness of global warming is minimised. She identifies a strong right wing caucus, which sees those campaigning for climate action, as a group of left wingers who wish to establish their own political agendas on the rest of the world. They also see it as a new battle they must fight in much the same way as they fought communism during the Cold War.  And they believe that they can use their $ millions to protect themselves from climate change disasters. In her view, they have little empathy for the victims of global warming and climate change, especially the poor in developing nations and island states; their attitude to such people is cruel and nothing short of racism.

Another reason for the lethargy is, I believe, that the whole concept of another mass extinction caused by climate change is too horrendous to think about and, in a way, unthinkable. Thus, people blank it out and just concentrate on their own lives and their normal agendas for the next few years.  It is easier to do this than to institute, and campaign for, the major lifestyle changes that are needed to avert this crisis. And it is easier to label people who, like me, write books to raise the issues, as doom-mongers, greenies or left-wing loonies.

I have come across people who look at the greenness of the English countryside, stretching for mile upon mile and, looking at the lovely green foliage, they cannot take on board that this is likely to disappear and so, like others, they dismiss global warming as unlikely.  The problem with this approach is that, we probably will see the countryside looking greener for a while, as plants and trees, in response to the increased carbon dioxide in the air, will produce more chlorophyll.  This may have a minimal effect on atmospheric carbon dioxide. But the mind-set fails to acknowledge that ocean acidification is already taking place and rises in sea levels have already swallowed up some islands (five of the Solomon Islands, for example), that coral is bleaching and that the ice caps are melting at increasing rates.  And that, whilst some areas are greening, other parts of the world are being ravaged and scorched by unprecedented temperatures and others suffering more and more wildfires and bush fires due to tinder-dry conditions (see also the quote from India at the end of chapter 10).

The scientist James Lovelock, who described the Gaia Hypothesis and who came up with methods to measure CFCs in the atmosphere, followed up his thesis with a warning124.  He comments in his book that:  “… it seemed there was little understanding of the great dangers that we face. The recipients of climate forecasts, the news media, government departments, the financial market – normally as skittish as blushing teenagers – and the insurance companies all seem relatively unperturbed about climate change and continued with business as usual until their world, the global economy, almost collapsed.”

Human Responses to warnings

One of the things that I find quite intriguing is how some people fail to take heed of warnings, a fire alarm for example. Whilst I get up, grab my things and run out of the door to the nearest fire exit, most people just carry on as if nothing had happened.  The same thing happens on motorways, when warning messages urge you to slow down because there is some hazard ahead.  Why is this?  Of course, these could be false alarms but why take the risk?  I can remember reading an article once about a tragedy when a ferry sank, drowning many people on board.  It would appear that those who survived were the ones, who reacted immediately and made extreme efforts to get to the upper decks and the lifeboats.  Are people unable to visualise a hazardous and different future?  Why do we continue to live for the present even if it makes the future more risky?

In an article in the New Scientist125, Robert Gifford, a Canadian environmental psychologist looked at the psychological reasons why people have failed to take action on climate change.  He came up with 33 reasons, which he grouped under certain headings.  I’ll attempt to give a short summary of them:

  1. LIMITED UNDERSTANDING

Gifford believes that humans are far less rational than was once believed and gives a list of 10 reasons why humans are not acting on climate change. The reasons range through sheer ignorance, limited brain power, not knowing what to do about it, a lack of priority to climate change because it does not seem to be causing any immediate problems, hearing the message so often that we switch off to it (message numbness), not understanding the urgency of the situation, due to poor reporting, undervaluing distant and future risks, a tendency to over-optimism, a perception that climate change is a complex global problem, so people think that their own behaviour will have little or no impact. Some have a fatalistic bias because they think nothing can be done, even by collective human action. People with doubts about the reality of climate change tend to read newspapers or listen to broadcasters which reinforce their convictions.  Also, studies show that, when people view the time they have available to do something in monetary terms,they tend to skip acting in environmentally friendly ways. Some think they are unable to take climate-friendly action because they don’t have the knowledge or skill and some claim they are unable to take certain actions, such as riding a bicycle or changing their diet.

 

 

fig77

Fig. 77

  1. IDEOLOGIES

Gifford believes that there are four broad belief systems that inhibit climate-positive behaviour. These include a strong belief in capitalism, a tendency to justify the status quo, a belief that a religious or secular deity will not forsake them or that “Mother Nature will take a course that we mere mortals cannot influence” and a belief that technology will be able to solve all the problems.

This category of Gifford’s has resonance with Naomi Klein’s views, though he does not place it first, as she has.

 SOCIAL COMPARISON

Gifford believes that, as humans are social animals, we will gravitate towards the choices of people we admire, so that, if they are climate change deniers, we will also deny that it is happening.  He also believes that, if we see others not changing their behaviour, we will think, “Why should I change if they don’t?” So this also leads to inaction about climate change.


fig78


Fig.78:  From: Justin Bilicki, with permission

We buy things and spend money to make our lives more comfortable and some of these will not be climate-positive.  They include financial investments, in a car, for example, or working in a fossil-fuel burning industry. Habit can also lead to repeating actions which increase climate change, in order to keep life more ordered and regular; people also have conflicting goals, values and aspirations, which do not always accord with climate friendly actions. People have strong aspirations to “get ahead” and their actions may compete with climate change goals, such as buying a larger house or car, taking an exotic holiday for example. This is a form of the consumer culture, which I mentioned in an earlier chapter. Gifford also believes that people get attached to a place and may thus oppose nearby wind farms (Nimbyism).


fig79

 


Fig.79  From : Joe Heller with permission

4.  DISCREDANCE (OR DISAPPROVAL)

When people think ill of others, they are unlikely to believe what they say or take direction from them.  For example, many people mistrust scientists, government officials or politicians, so do not take on board what they are saying. Some programmes have been introduced by government to encourage climate-friendly behaviour (such as solar panels at reduced costs) but are not considered by some to be generous enough. Large numbers of people in most countries do not believe that climate change is happening and so deny it; they are called climate change deniers and would include ordinary people as well as those with vested interests in using fossil fuels.

In chapter 3, I discussed the attractiveness of the concept of freedom and many people may struggle against what they consider will restrict their freedom.  This includes big business, which strongly adhere to the free trade movement.

  1. PERCEIVED RISK

Some people may consider that changing their behaviour and/or possessions is risky (eg buying an electric car, cycling instead of driving) or cost them too much or they may be afraid of being judged or teased by their peers for their choices.

  1. LIMITED BEHAVIOUR

Most of us engage in some climate-friendly actions but these are not enough and may be just tokenistic.  Others may make positive changes but these are cancelled out by other actions they take, which are not so climate-friendly.

It is helpful knowing the reasons why more action against climate change has not taken place but, in acknowledging these, we must also find ways to reduce their effect. In reading through them, I can find examples within my own behaviour amongst the lists, as well as in people I have discussed the issue with.  For example, I have found people with a strong sense of fatalism about it (“What will be will be”), as well as those who react as if its old hat: “We’ve heard it all before. What’s new?”  I feel that perceived risks also feature very strongly and the government could do much more, by providing more generous subsidies for conversion to solar panels, for example, and by encouraging the motor industry to develop greener cars, which do not have perceived operational problems.

At the start of this book, I mentioned that it took me 22 years to begin to write it, after first becoming aware of the clouds of pollution hanging over each of the cities that I visited on my world trip in 1994. So, I have been part of the lethargy in a way that seems to hit most people to one degree or another. When I look back over those 22 years, I can see that I have been altering my behaviour in small ways to be more climate friendly, though like others, not by enough. Also, when I returned from my world trip in 1994, there were other imperatives for me to attend to, most of which have been described in my second book (The Desert will Rejoice). During that trip, I was introduced to many models of good social projects for working with the urban poor and marginalised and I became involved in developing or founding some new inner city projects. And I also had two other books to write – the story of my journey and the inspiration behind these inner city projects.  So, global warming and climate needs went to the back of my mind. But they didn’t totally disappear. Maybe a similar thing happens to others – we all lead such busy lives. Being too busy to take action about global warming may be another thing to add to Gifford’s lists.  But I am glad that I eventually became jolted into researching and putting together the evidence for this book.

And, for those who are still in denial after reading this book, I have just one thing to say “JUST LOOK AT THE EVIDENCE” and let it work on you, just as the clouds of hazy pollution I saw in 1994 eventually worked on me.

2015 has been the hottest year on record, this last winter too has been the wettest, with excessive rainfall leading to devastating floods in the north of England and elsewhere, causing £250 million worth of damage.  The immediate reaction of people who have had their homes flooded is to accuse the government of not spending enough money on flood defences.  This is important but, far more important is that they lobby government to do more to reduce carbon emissions nationally and to take a global lead to institute some of the changes necessary to avert global climate disaster. Just focussing on flood defences is an example of limited understanding (cognition) from Gifford’s lists.

Is the idea of global co-operation to save the planet realistic?

This is a question I posed earlier in this chapter and it is worth looking at the difficulties in more detail.  Global co-operation is the idea I have promoted throughout this book because I believe it is the only way to produce the kind of rapid changes in human activity that are needed if we are to save the world from destruction.  We are all in this together, so the divisiveness promoted by some groups and countries is just not appropriate.  The world is facing a crisis and we need to join hands and work together to solve it.

So, what are the factors which are likely to limit global co-operation? I list some of them below:

  • The massive size of the global population;
  • Differences in national priorities, ethos and cultures;
  • Differences across the world in how climate change is affecting individual countries;
  • Lack of trust between nations;
  • Ideological differences;
  • Other crises seem more important to address, such as terrorism, migration etc.;
  • Risks to national economies;
  • Fears that other nations will not do likewise;
  • Fears of being left behind in trading competitiveness;
  • Unwillingness to give up prestigious possessions, power and status.

Unless some of these factors are overcome, then global co-operation will not occur.  They are all challenging but I do believe that the human intellect is capable of finding ways to take global co-operation forward.  What is less likely to happen is to find the will to do it.

In the meantime

In the meantime a group of UK climate activists found themselves in the dock recently.  The following is a post on Barbara Panvel’s website “Antidote to doom and gloom” which describes what happened.  The five activists had whitewashed the walls of the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) and painted on them, in black: “The Department for Extreme Climate Change”, to expose the department’s hypocrisy.

The five activists, members of the Climate Change Action Group, were ordered to pay £340 each at Hammersmith Magistrates Court. The defendants, who represented themselves, did not dispute their presence at the scene or the actions attributed to them, but argued that they had a ‘lawful excuse’ under section 5 of the Criminal Damage Act.126

DECC was not fined.

Their letter, which was handed in to Energy Secretary Amber Rudd, made many powerful points. In a preamble, they declared:

Climate change is not one in a number of issues to be addressed. A stable climate is a fundamental need on which the maintenance of our civilisation and the earth’s abundant life relies. There will be no economy, health or security to speak of on the planet towards which we are currently heading”.

Edited extract from list of actions June-Sept 2015:

In 2009 G20 countries, including the UK, pledged to phase out ‘inefficient’ fossil fuel subsidies. But on the 19 March 2015: George Osborne announces £1 billion worth of subsidies for North Sea Oil, on top of a whole series of previous measures, including support for further exploration:

16 June: The European Union says the UK is set to miss its EU target of generating 15 per cent of its energy (not just electricity) by renewable methods, despite being set one of the lowest targets of all EU countries.

17 June: On the evening of the Big Climate Lobby on the 17th June, when thousands met with their MPs to ask them to put climate as a priority, you announced the first of your ‘cut-the-green-crap’ policies, that new onshore wind farms (the cheapest form of renewable energy) will be excluded from a subsidy scheme from 1 April 2016, a year earlier than planned.

25 June: The UK says it will sell off up to 70% of its Green Bank, set up to lend money to risky green schemes such as wind farms that couldn’t raise cash elsewhere. The sell-off means it may no longer focus on risky green schemes, and most of the profits will not go to taxpayers. By contrast, a similar US scheme is set to make $5 billion profit for taxpayers on $30 billion-worth of loans. Companies it helped include Tesla Motors, which paid back its loan early.

30 June: The Committee on Climate Change warns that the UK is not on course to meet targets after 2020. Its recommendations include taking action to encourage long-term investment in low-carbon energy, such as by extending existing short-term schemes to a 10-year timescale.

Ruth Jarman, one of the five members of the Christian Climate Action demonstration, who are deeply concerned about climate change and its impact on God’s creation, the lives of people now the world over, and future generations, said:

We do not agree with today’s judgement. The point of the law is to maintain justice, stability and order. Climate change threatens all these things so fundamentally that the law should be used to defend those who are trying to stop climate change, not those who are creating it. We think DECC should have been in the dock, not us. The department speaks fine words, but with its actions scuppers any possibility of global action to tackle climate change.”

Michael Northcott, Professor of Ethics at the University of Edinburgh reminds us that without such acts in the history of the United Kingdom, the vote would not have been conferred on non-land owning citizens, nor on women and slavery, or forced child labour in our factories would not have ended. He said:

“The actions of these protestors were a non-violent and peaceable way to expose the hypocrisy of current UK government energy policies. The UK has the potential still to lead the world towards the new sustainable energy economy that the climate crisis calls for and this type of action is essential to the democratic process in the UK.”

I believe that we will see many more actions like this, as the world in which we live gets more and more unstable.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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Our Beautiful World in Harmony

CHAPTER 1

Our beautiful world in harmony

One October, when I was about 6 years old, my mother took me out for a treat. My older siblings were involved in other things and this was a rare opportunity for me to have my mother’s undivided attention. We walked to a local park, Scotch Common, which had a variety of trees, beginning to show their autumn colours: coppers, browns, golds, ochres and reds. We identified some of the trees as horse chestnut, oak and sycamore and then searched beneath them to collect their seeds: shiny brown conkers with a varnish-like sheen, green and brown acorns, some separated from their craggy cups, and the winged sycamore paired seeds, which would spiral slowly down to the ground if you threw them into the air.  Mum suggested I take a selection to school to put on the nature table.

I don’t know why this incident sticks in my mind but I believe that it may have been the beginning of a growing love of nature in me, which is still a significant part of my identity.  Though I am now 73 years old, each autumn I still collect conkers and acorns and sycamore seeds for my own nature table at home. I don’t know how much longer I will be able to do this, as the seasons are changing so much. Already the conker crop last year seemed smaller and autumn was extended with a mild spell, with golden leaves on the trees until well into November, and winter still not started by Christmas. Are we in danger of losing some of these great trees and their fruit and their annual cycles related to the seasons?  Why is it that we have summer flowers still in blossom in December and reports that in some parts of the UK, the spring flowers (daffodils etc) are already in blossom in December?

Yes, I love nature but my love of animals far surpasses that of the plant kingdom.  We share this world with some wonderful creatures: the large wild carnivores and herbivores of Africa and Asia; the strange marsupials of Australasia; the prairie animals; the domesticated pets who share our homes with us; the birds who visit our gardens and who migrate across great oceans every year; the creatures and fish of the seas; the inhabitants of the polar ice caps and the smaller secretive wild mammals who live in burrows.

I believe that I am not the only person in this world who loves nature in this way and who respects and enjoys the splendour of our world. We live on a magnificent planet and share it with some spectacular creatures.

I am writing this book because I believe that we are in danger of losing it all. And the magnitude of this loss is greater, and the need for action more urgent, than many believe.

How everything fits together in harmony

It has been known for more than 50 years, and certainly since I was at school during the 50s and 60s, that the process of photosynthesis in plants is closely linked to the process of respiration in animals. Indeed, one could almost describe the relationship between plants and animals as symbiotic, one being dependent upon the other to maintain its life.  The plant life on the planet absorbs carbon dioxide from the air and water from the soil and, through chemical reactions, changes them into glucose and oxygen. The oxygen is released into the air and breathed in by the animal life (including ourselves). In animals, oxygen is inhaled and carbon dioxide is released through the process of respiration.  Thus, plants provide oxygen for animals to breathe and animals exhale carbon dioxide, which is used by plants in the process of photosynthesis.

This photosynthetic cycle has been analysed and shown to be a series of chemical reactions, all initially triggered by light energy from the sun.  Chloroplasts in plants (in the green chlorophyll) trap the sunlight, which provides the energy for the photosynthetic cycle (Fig.1).

Fig 1. The relationship between photosynthesis in plants and respiration in animals

the process of photosynthesis

From: http://www.motherearthnews.com/nature-and-environment/nature/how-photosynthesis-works-zw0z1406zwea.aspx                                          with permission

This process happens throughout nature, from the very smallest algae and plankton to the giant trees in our forests and from the smallest amoebae and zooplankton in water to the largest of our land and sea mammals (elephants and whales) – an interchange of gases and chemical products between plants and animals which is important to sustain life.

But the photosynthetic and respiratory cycles do not stand alone.  They are inter-linked with other kinds of cycles, the chemical processes of which have been carefully studied by scientists.  For example, plants store another product of photosynthesis (glucose or starch) and this is consumed by herbivorous and omnivorous animals and provides them with the energy they need for growth and development. Thus, there is a transfer of energy from the sun to plants and then on to animals, this energy is needed to sustain life.  And none of this could begin without the presence of the sun itself – at exactly the right strength.

Fig 2 THE CARBON CYCLE

Illustration by LizzardBrandInc, with permission from UCAR

There are other cycles in nature too: the nitrogen cycle, the Krebs cycle (to process and release energy) and the carbon cycle (Fig 2), which is closely linked to the respiratory cycle of animals.  The carbon cycle involves the decomposition of dead and decaying matter into fossil fuels (see later for the significance of this).

Following the discovery of interactive cycles in nature, it was not long before the whole concept of food chains was proposed, with the lowest forms of life being consumed by the next species up the food chain, from herbivores (plant eaters) to omnivores (plant and meat eaters), with the carnivores (big cats, birds of prey etc) at the top of the food chain.  Thus, the sun’s energy is transferred first through plants to animals and then up through the food chain, simplified diagrams of which are in Figure 3.

Fig 3.  Simple Food chains

From: www.k8schoollessons.com/food-chains-and-food-webs/ (with permission)

 The diagrams in Fig.3 show simplified food chains but, in fact, things are rarely as simple as this and the concept of a “food web” is much closer to reality. Figure 4 shows a woodland food web, which can be seen to be much more complex than a simple chain, with various species being inter-dependent.

Image result for woodland food web

Figure 4:  A Woodland Food Web from www.docbrown.info, (with permission)

 A recent programme on BBC TV, “Secrets of our Living Planet”, also available on DVD9, gave examples of some fascinating food webs throughout the world, from tropical rain forests, to savannahs and in the oceans, and demonstrated that if one member of the web disappeared, then others wouldn’t survive.  The most compelling example of this was the brazil nut tree, which relied on a small rodent, the agouti (Fig. 5), to crack and disperse its seeds, as well as an orchid, which grew on its trunk and attracted a particular species of bee, to pollinate both tree and orchid, the male bee pollinating one and the female bee pollinating the other, with the bees reliant on the nectar in the flowers for their survival.

Fig 5 – the Brazilian agouti (from www.hidephotography.com with permission)

So we can see from this that, not only is there an interaction and inter-dependency between plants and animals, but that inter-dependency continues throughout the animal kingdom, in a complex web.  Thus, if one species disappears, or becomes extinct, this may also affect other species, which are dependent on it as a food source or pollinator. This whole interaction between members of the plant and animal species is called an ecosystem.

I feel that the interaction of all the cycles and ecosystems is close to being miraculous.  Our world has been regulated in an astounding way.  It is as if everything on this planet has been put in place in ecosystems, or has evolved, to work harmoniously, so that all life on this planet remains in balance, in a wonderful connectedness and interdependency that maintains life.

I love to wander through parts of our green land, with rolling hills and tranquil forests, just taking in the beauty of it. I also love to visit beaches to hear the sea and breathe in the clean, salty ocean air. It is not surprising therefore that I have been  excited by the hypothesis proposed by the scientist, James Lovelock, in 197910, which states that the earth itself is a self-regulating body;  that the earth is like one big organism with the ability to regulate critical systems to meet its own needs and to sustain life. It is called the Gaia Hypothesis.

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Fig.6 Gaia Hypothesis (from http://www.google.com)

The regulatory mechanisms which have been keeping all life in balance and harmony for thousands of years are now being undermined and put out of harmony by the hand of man.   Let’s have a look at what we have been doing to place all this at risk and what we need to do to make things right again.

Our beautiful world no longer in harmony

Fossil fuels, produced as part of the carbon cycle, have been used by humans for centuries, but especially since the industrial revolution, to produce other forms of energy for humans to heat their homes, run their vehicles, power up vast factories and to develop more and more complex gadgets and life-enhancing commodities.  The downside of this practice is, of course, that carbon dioxide and other toxic gases are released into the atmosphere as a by-product of their use, resulting in global warming.

Global warming is the rise in average global surface temperature caused primarily by the build-up of human-produced greenhouses gases, mostly carbon dioxide and methane, which trap heat in the lower levels of the atmosphere.

At the beginning of the industrial revolution it was not realised that the plant life on earth could not cope with absorbing all the extra carbon dioxide being released into the atmosphere from manufacturing and the problem was made worse by the felling of many of the great trees in the mighty rainforests of the earth, in order to clear land for agriculture and to sell the wood.  Figure 7 shows the dramatic increase in fossil fuel emissions since 1870. This is comprised mainly of carbon dioxide.

 Fig.7  Fossil fuel emissions since 1751

Projection of global carbon emissions from fossil fuel use, 1751 to 2006 (CDIAC data)

From: http://www.fraw.org.uk/mei/ecolonomics/00/ecolonomics-20091013.shtml

GteC refers to Giga-tonnes of carbon

 Human activity has been bringing all the ecosystems on the planet into an imbalance and a resulting effect of this has been the loss of numerous species, as well as changes to the climate and global temperatures.

Another way in which plant life and animal life (insects and birds) have interactive cycles is the way in which bees depend on flowers for nectar and, in visiting plants to feed on nectar, they inadvertently brush against the pollen in the flower stamens.  They then carry this pollen on their bodies to other flowers and become the means by which pollination occurs in plants (part of the reproductive cycle of plants).  Recently, vast decreases in the numbers of bees have been noticed and this is thought to be caused by the use of pesticides on plants.  If the bees were to disappear altogether, pollination might not occur and this could reduce some of the food sources available to us.  Vegetables and fruit known to be pollinated by bees are okra, kiwifruit, onion, celery, cashew nuts, strawberries, papaya, custard apples, turnips, beet, brazil nuts, carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, water melon, coconut, tangerine, cucumber, quince, fig, apple, walnuts, mangos, avocados, peach, nectarine, pear, raspberry, blackberry, elderberry, cocoa, passion fruit and many others.

Thus, the loss of bees might result in the loss of most of the vegetables and fruits that the human race, and other species, rely upon for their food.

Fig 8:  Bees in the process of pollinating flowers

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Originally from: http://www.kidsgardening.org/node/99559 but no longer at this link, so try: https://www.shutterstock.com/search/pollination for alternatives.

See also: https://www.google.co.uk/search?q=bees+pollinating+flowers&hl=en&tbm=isch&tbs=rimg:CTpuYoMW5ZSSIjgW8_1txAk4IgYpc3e5d-4HgQpGItS4O9xelkTjXySTGVqkykrdJPwSAU6iebYFVLH47ms-8vG_1ppyoSCRbz-3ECTgiBEZYLUJ0fGq3lKhIJilzd7l37geARifWWnCmf-egqEglCkYi1Lg73FxGuZrGBofnZ2ioSCaWRONfJJMZWEbc4FklQt4jCKhIJqTKSt0k_1BIAR_1zn7c-hvXs8qEglTqJ5tgVUsfhFwlTLIh3C8eSoSCTuaz7y8b-mnERK4BV0iiMEp&tbo=u&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwiK4Ln6zd3cAhXCC8AKHZn9DQwQ9C96BAgBEBs&biw=1262&bih=610&dpr=1#imgrc=kfKkyM_dHzHk1M:

or:

http://ib.bioninja.com.au/higher-level/topic-9-plant-biology/untitled-3/plant-reproduction.html

There have been vast changes in the way that farmers have carried out their agricultural activities in recent years; they have copied some processes from the manufacturing industry to become more “productive”, using intensive farming methods, removing hedgerows and maximising the use of their fields.  Over this same period, certain species of birds have been disappearing because the insects in hedgerows that they feed on are no longer there, or have been killed off with pesticides.

Wikipedia lists 190 species of birds which have become extinct since 1500 and a further 321 are currently endangered, including the cuckoo and several of our garden species.

A recent report from American scientists, Ceballos and colleagues11, suggests that human activity has already triggered the beginnings of another mass extinction, thereby threatening our own future. According to this group, there have been five mass extinctions in the earth’s past (the extinction of dinosaurs being the most well-known) and that this latest threat to the planet would be its sixth mass extinction. They state that, in the last century, vertebrates (animals with backbones) have been disappearing at a rate 114 times greater than would normally be expected, without the destructive activity of humans.  They pointed out that, since 1900, over 400 more vertebrates than expected had vanished; this included 69 mammals, 80 birds, 24 reptiles, 146 amphibians and 158 fish species.  They warn that species loss will have a significant effect on human populations in as little as three generations.  The researchers concluded that this destruction of species is accelerating and initiating a mass extinction episode unparalleled for 65 million years.

This report has triggered significant discussion within the scientific community, and some have ventured to include humans (also vertebrates) as part of this extinction.  They are confident that bees will definitely be extinct by then and perhaps many of the large carnivores, such as lions. Whether humans also become extinct depends, one supposes, on whether those creatures and plants which we rely on for food, have disappeared in this mass extinction.  It is estimated that 2,000 sheep and 100 cattle were drowned in the recent floods engulfing the north of England, so the loss of our food sources due to climate change is a possibility.  So, with bees gone and the vegetables that they pollinate and the loss of some of our meat sources, things look bleak for humans in the future too. A number of organisations are predicting crop failures due to climate change by 2030, particularly in the poorer countries in Asia and Africa.

There are also concerns about the effects of climate change on human health12. This 43-page significant publication by Antony Costello and others gives evidence of grave concern to human health.

Anthony Costello, director of the UCL Institute for Global Health said: “Our analysis clearly shows that by tackling climate change, we can also benefit health — and tackling climate change in fact represents one of the greatest opportunities to benefit human health for generations to come”. And Hugh Montgomery who co-chaired the Commission said, “Climate change is a medical emergency. It thus demands an emergency response, using the technologies available right now”.

Also, in its 2010 report “A Human Health Perspective on Climate Change”13 the National Institute on Environmental Health Sciences gives a list of the health consequences of increased greenhouse gases and climate change. The list includes about twelve major health risks.  The human population would therefore seem to be as much at risk as the creatures with whom we share this planet.

And yet, humans don’t seem to be able to stop tinkering with the natural order of things in the ecosystems of the world.  One vivid example comes from Australia where, in 1935, a toad from South America was introduced to Queensland, with the aim of using it to consume cane beetles, which were damaging sugar cane crops.  This toad did not eat the beetle and instead multiplied in huge numbers, because it had no natural predators, so that the cane toad is now a national pest.  It is also poisonous to other species and is now being blamed for a massive reduction in the number of dwarf crocodiles in Australia.

Fig. 9: Cane Toad

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To go back to farming practices:  Fields are no longer left to lie fallow and so do not have a chance to replenish the nutrients found in soil that are essential to plant life, so that they become less productive.  However, some farmers are now introducing permaculture, with good results and organic farming is also on the increase.

During the 1990’s the condition of “mad cow disease” (BSE – bovine spongiform encephalopathy) appeared in the UK and it was eventually discovered that foodstuffs fed to cattle at that time had been processed from animal sources and so cows, who are herbivores, were being fed foodstuffs which turned them into not only carnivores but also cannibals.  This violation of the natural food chains had far reaching consequencies, as it would appear that it could be passed on to humans who consumed meat from cattle with BSE, the human form of the disease being named CJD (Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease).  Another example of human activity which had devastating effects on the life of the planet.

In a recent “Springwatch” programme on BBC TV, we were made aware of another dangerous practice:  the production of exfoliation products for washing our faces; these soap-based products contain tiny particles of plastic (which do the exfoliation); these are washed down sinks and eventually get down via rivers into the sea.  They are absorbed by microplankton, which are subsequently eaten by fish – and thus find their way into the food chain, if they do not kill the fish off first.

So here we have several kinds of human activity that are interfering with the natural cycles and transfer of chemicals and energy through the plant and animal kingdoms, as well as through the food chains:

  • the whole industrialisation process, which releases excessive carbon dioxide and other toxic pollutants into the air;
  • the use of pesticides to enhance agricultural production, which has killed off bees and other insects and also birds;
  • intensive farming methods which have eliminated hedgerows and thus the bird species which rely on them for nests and food;
  • the feeding of processed animal products to herbivores;
  • the expansion in the use of exfoliants, which get into rivers and seas and work their way up through the food chain;
  • the introduction of non-native species into other countries;
  • deforestation and land clearance.

And these have not been the only human activities to do this. Humans also exploit the animal kingdom, sometimes in very cruel ways, in order to make money for themselves and this has also put some species at risk of extinction.  This exploitation includes killing elephants for ivory, rhinos for their horns, sharks for their fins, bears for their bile, pangolins and forest mammals for their meat and capturing baby monkeys and other primates, some from rare species, to sell in markets. Some species, such as the tiger, are currently threatened because of habitat loss or fragmentation. Forests where the tiger lives are cleared for agricultural activity, such as growing palm oil. Many other species are also in danger because of habitat loss (orang utan, elephant, rhino, polar bear etc).  As I write, we hear about a huge fire in the country of Indonesia, originally started to clear forest for the planting of palm oil crops, but now burning out of control, leaving a smoky haze over a wide area.  Indonesia is the only habitat for the endangered orang utan, as well as the rare Bornean white-bearded gibbon, sun bears and pangolins.

Global warming has led to the melting of the ice caps and a subsequent rise of sea levels, so that some island nations are at risk of disappearing into the sea. Scientists have predicted that global average surface temperatures are likely to rise by 3-4˚ within the lifespan of today’s teenagers, though there are efforts to keep it down to below 1.5˚.   The BBC recently reported that, as 2015 has been a particularly hot year, the average global temperature is likely to increase above 1˚ for the first time14. In a later chapter I will discuss the efforts being made at UN level to keep the temperature rise below 1.5˚.

 Fig. 10 – increases in global average temperature since 1860

Temperatures

From: www.bbc.co.uk (GCSE Bitesize)

Recent reports, described in the Guardian, have demonstrated that global temperatures in 2016 have been the hottest since records began15  so that 2016 is likely to be the hottest on record, with 2015 was the hottest year on record before that and 2014 the hottest year before that.

Also affected has been the climate, with more frequent catastrophic events, such as tornados and cyclones, mud slides, flooding, droughts, desertification etc. With the melting of the polar ice caps, the ecological balance of species living in these areas has also been disturbed, the most well-known being the polar bear, which can no longer rely on its main food resource, the seal.

 FIG 11: A starving and emaciated female polar bear on a small block of ice

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Photograph by Kerstin Langenberger with permission

 Already, in several parts of the world there has been a rise in sea level, affecting especially coastal areas and island nations (Maldives, Marshall Islands, Philippines, Tuvalu, Solomon Islands). Over the past century, the world’s oceans have risen 4-8 inches. It is reported that several rocket launch areas and space stations in the US will have to be moved inland, because of the risk of flooding.  Scientific models have suggested that sea levels will rise by 20 centimetres by 2050 (that’s another 8 inches), or triple that if the ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica continue to melt. The acidity of the sea has also increased by 30%, due to it absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to form carbonic acid and this puts some marine creatures and coral at risk.  Coral reefs are particularly in danger, especially the iconic Great Barrier Reef, just off Australia. Australia’s recent surge in industrialisation projects (mega-mines, dredging and railway projects) has put the reef in danger with rapid destruction of the coral. We are told that 50% of coral has been lost since the 1980s, due to the warming of the sea.

Fig. 12: Bleaching of the coral in the Great Barrier Reef

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From: https://fightforthereef.org.au

 Picture

Fig. 13 – the increases in sea level over the last century.                                                  Source: US EPA Climate Change website

Most worrying are the vast permafrost regions of the world (Siberia, Canada, Alaska), where the earth remains below freezing point, even during the summer.  If the temperature of these areas increases, then large quantities of methane will be released into the atmosphere, adding to the problems of global warming that we already have.

At this time, there are campaigning groups trying to stop companies drilling for oil in the Arctic ocean, where the sea ice is already melting at a rapid rate. Recent studies in Greenland have shown that there is evidence that the glaciers are shrinking and the ice is thinning.  A recent report from the Californian Institute of Technology states that one of the biggest glaciers in Greenland, Zachariae Isstrom, which holds enough ice to raise the sea level by 18 inches, has broken loose from a stable position and is melting at both ends, with ice crumbling into the North Atlantic Ocean.  Greenland is the second largest ice body in the world and already contributes to about 40% of the current sea level rise.  Since 1992, 65 million tons of Antarctic ice has melted.

Fig. 14: The Shrinking of Arctic sea ice between 1979 and 2016

copyright: Andy Lee Haviland (with permission)

Some have made calculations about what would happen to the world if all the ice caps were to melt and it is quite clear that, not only island nations, but also whole countries and some major cities would be swallowed up by the sea.  The map below shows what would happen to Europe in this circumstance.  Such a circumstance would remove much of the UK, especially the eastern areas and around the wash and the Thames, the whole of the Netherlands, Belgium, almost all of Denmark, part of northern Germany and Russia, much of Turkey and the Baltic regions. Venice would disappear into the Adriatic Sea and the Caspian and Black Seas would become much larger.  Worldwide, we would lose Bangladesh, Singapore, some of the Philippine Islands, much of Sumatra and Papua New Guinea, the whole of Florida, several Caribbean islands, Tuvalu and much of China.  Huge inland seas would develop in Australia, around the Amazon and Paraguay River basins and delta areas would also be inundated (Mekong, Nile, Ganges), leading to the submergence of Cairo and Alexandria.  Due to differences in ocean currents, the sea level increase would be higher in some areas than others (eg the eastern seaboard of the USA).  Africa’s coastline would not be as affected as that of some other continents but, due to temperature rises, some parts would become so hot that they would be uninhabitable.

In 2014, the University of Notre Dame produced a definitive ranking system that showed how countries around the world would fare if global warming increased at its current rate.

The rankings took into account the country’s location, its population density and how financially equipped it was to deal with the rising sea level and increase in temperature.

Fig 15 and 15a: Pictures showing new coastline of Europe if all the ice caps were to melt – the outer line shows coastlines as they are at present     Source: National Geographic Creative (with permission)

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All of the changes described above have not gone unnoticed and there have been numerous campaigns and demonstrations to prevent some of the human activities which are endangering our planet, some more successful than others. For example, in the Netherlands, one of the countries most at risk of rising sea levels, the Hague District Court recently ordered the Dutch government to reduce the country’s greenhouse gas emissions by at least 25% by 2020.  This arose following a complaint by an activist group.  The Netherlands is particularly vulnerable to the effects of global warming, with much of its land lying below sea level.  The island nations are also at risk of being swallowed up by the sea but this is as a result of greenhouse gas emissions of other countries, rather than their own. And the Philippines were recently devastated by Cyclone Yolande.  All of this is summarised in a short video clip on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/worldeconomicforum/videos/10154178419921479/).

The United Nations has been taking action, ever since the Rio Summit in 1992 (to be described in a later chapter) but it is not enough, as carbon emissions continue to rise.  As I started to write this book, the latest summit (CPO21 in Paris) had not yet taken place but, by the time it was finished, an agreement had been reached, which will be discussed in Chapter 8.

Some of the toxic chemicals released from human manufacturing activity, such as nitrous oxide and bromine and chlorine compounds (CFCs), have the effect of depleting the ozone layer, which exists in the earth’s atmosphere.  The purpose of the ozone layer is to absorb ultra-violet rays from the sun. Ozone levels in the stratosphere have reduced by 4% since 1970 and there is an ozone hole over the Antarctic circle – again more evidence that human activity is affecting the stability of the planet.

So many factors have been interacting to create the global situation in which we are at the moment and this book attempts to show how they interrelate. Each chapter in this book will look at a different factor, which has put the planet and its species at risk and will show, I hope, that each of these has an inter-connectedness.  We therefore need to tackle every factor, not just one in isolation.  Scientists have said that we have only three generations to do this before things have gone too far.  If the exponential graphs shown in Figures 7, 11 and 15 continue at this rate, then we probably have even less time than three generations to reverse the changes.

A short piece of film has recently been circulated on the internet, which summarizes all of these risk factors, and is especially targeted at those who, like me, love and cherish the natural world16.

Scientists have predicted that, in three generations time, there will be a mass extinction of many of the animal species inhabiting this planet.  It is not clear whether this extinction will include humans but many of the animal, insect and bird species that we have grown to love will have gone by then.  I think the risk is there for human populations as well, so I have used this “3 generations” factor as the title of this book and in most of the assessments and discussions which follow. Let’s hope that this never happens but using 3 generations as a rule of thumb will hopefully concentrate the minds of those who are in positions in which they can make the changes needed to ensure that this never becomes a reality.