Sunday, August 2, 2015

Dispatch From The Endocene - Number Eight

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Below is the transcript for the 8th Dispatch from the Endocene on Extinction Radio.  You can listen to the entire show where it is embedded at the end, or fast forward to my part at 1 hour 27 minutes in (but then you would miss some excellent poetry and interviews!)

Thank you Mike, I’m glad to have you still with us as host and to know that the unique and wonderful Extinction Radio show isn’t extinct, at least, not yet!  And thank you, listeners, for joining me for this 8th Dispatch from the Endocene.  This is your WooWoo-Free zone, a platform to explore the many ways humanity is hurtling ourselves, and just about every other living thing over the proverbial cliff.  Welcome to a haven for the nihilistic and the dystopia-afflicted refugees from hope.  Today we have a small portion of the burgeoning accounts of species death for your enduring pleasure.  As always you will find links to all the stories mentioned in this episode at the Extinction Radio website, and also  at my blog, Wit’s End.

While the cruel torture of Cecil the lion made headlines and inspired outrage around the world, the Telegraph reported that researchers in Tanzania were astonished to find they had lost two-thirds of a formerly robust population of elephants in a mere four years.  Armies of poachers deployed by crime syndicates have invaded nature preserves with rifles and chainsaws, decimating the elephant population in search of ivory for the China trade.  One scientist described his search for survivors.  “Flying over these huge areas and even driving through, you used to see dozens of huge bull elephants.  There was this incredible sense of life missing from that landscape that’s so defined by these creatures.  It’s just hollow.”  A safari tour guide described it as “carnage”.

The count in the Selous, a game reserve twice the size of Belgium, has gone down from 109,000 in 1976 to the latest inventory, which was a fraction of that, at 13,084 in 2013.  A more recent survey late last year indicates that the butchers have moved on to another park, the Ruaha, where in the year between 2013 and 2014, about 1,000 elephants were lost every month.

In other wildlife news, Bangladesh has revealed there are only about 100 tigers remaining in the world’s largest mangrove forest.  They, too, are being poached and additionally are losing habitat as there has been rapid development on the fringes of their forest.

And then there are the sharks, about 100 million of which are killed every year, mainly for their fins which are used in soup.  One of the report’s authors said "Biologically, sharks simply can't keep up with the current rate of exploitation and demand. Protective measures must be scaled up significantly in order to avoid further depletion and the possible extinction of many shark species in our lifetime."

Although so far, the loss of biodiversity is overwhelmingly attributable to simple expansion of the human population with its attendant paving, logging, farming, pollution, hunting and fishing, climate change is looming fast as a major culprit.  Examples are the dozens of sturgeon found dead in the Columbia River, and the many more thousands of salmon expiring in the rivers of the Northwest US during this unprecedented heat wave.

And although it hasn’t had a major impact yet, rising seas will ultimately finish off many species, among them turtles, whose eggs when buried in the sand become saturated with water and don’t hatch.

For those who are curious I’ve linked to an article that has photographs and drawings of animals that have gone extinct in the last 100 years.  It can’t be all of them of course, because some rare insects and frogs that inhabit tiny niches have disappeared before their existence has even been documented.  But it’s worth taking a look, as we mourn the slaughter of Cecil, and entire species that have disappeared already.

This week I want to return to my favorite subject, the dying trees because once again, a tree has inexplicably fallen in the absence of any obvious external force such as wind or heavy rain.  In this case eight children nearly lost their lives when the 70 foot pine came crashing down on a clear, calm, sunny day.  The number of incidents where trees fall on cars, houses, and people is astonishing unless you consider that they are all weakend, rotted, and their roots shriveled from absorbing pollution.  This is a purely modern phenomena, much like scientists feel confident they just proved that cancer is a purely modern malady in humans, an epidemic that is a direct result of environmental factors.

Where it is recognized that trees are in trouble, the influence of tropospheric ozone - which is to say, our fuel-burning lifestyle - is rarely factored in.  For instance, dying almond trees in California are being blamed on salty water and dying olive trees in Italy are being blamed on a fungus and dying everywhere is being blamed on drought.

Yet, if you read any of the hundreds of studies about ozone, the question should be, how could the trees NOT be dying?  One place to start is a USDA/Forest Service report, titled “Ozone Injury in West Coast Forests; 6 years of monitoring” which was completed in 2007, long before this 4-year drought began.  It states unequivocally that “ozone is present at phytotoxic levels” in many areas of both southern and northern California, noting that injury was first detected in the 1950’s.  It says that “…because of the long lifespan of trees, there is ample opportunity for a long-term, cumulative effect on tree growth.  Ozone has been implicated in the growth decline of pollution-sensitive tree species in the Eastern United States.”

It continues:  “Ozone also has a variety of ecological effects on forested landscapes, with the potential to alter species composition, soil moisture, and fire regimes and influence pest interactions.  Ozone predisposes trees to bark beetle attacks.”

It’s worth taking a look at that report and checking out the photographs there of injured leaves and needles.  Compare them to the trees around your neighborhood and see if any of it looks familiar.

This information really begs the question why we never hear about ozone when scientists talk about wildfires, bark beetles and drought, since ozone itself contributes to all of those problems in a reinforcing feedback that isn’t the least unknown.  Even a UN report recommends reducing ozone because “Far less ground-level ozone could also avoid important losses in global maize, rice, soybean and wheat production”.  It also warns that “A threefold increase in concentrations in the northern hemisphere over the last century has made it the third most important greenhouse gas.”

It’s no wonder that wildfires are longer, more frequent, and fiercer than ever before, and although of course dry hot places are worst, they are by no means the only locations experiencing an increase.  One study tracking the length of the burn season found that “…there are long-term steady increases in fire seasons in places that don’t normally see many fires, like the southeastern U.S., especially the coastal plains of Florida.  One of the researchers said ‘That area has seen some extremely large fires in the last decade, even though that doesn’t get a lot of press’.”

It also doesn’t get a lot of scientific scrutiny either, because when trees die and burn and fall in places that aren’t in drought or experiencing much higher temperatures, it doesn’t fit into the scientific obsession with global warming and CO2.

So it’s no secret that ozone is damaging forests and reducing the yield of major agricultural crops.  It is also true that the background level is increasing, because the major precursors for the formation of ozone - nitrous oxides and methane - are also increasing.  In fact a study from the University of Minnesota just revealed that nitrous oxide emissions from agricultural fertilization have been underestimated by up to 40 percent.  And, to reduce ozone, the UN report mentioned earlier recommends “…policies that curb organic waste, requires water treatment facilities to recover gas, reduce methane emissions from coal and oil industries, and promote anaerobic digestion of manure from cattle and pigs, both major sources of methane.”

I can only imagine what will happen to ozone levels as the methane release from permafrost and clathrates goes exponential.  By then, ozone will probably be the least of our worries.  Fun times!

In any event, humanity continues its interminable practice of deforestation, faster and faster.  Although my anti-capitalist friends like to blame our economic system for all the ills of a collapsing ecosystem, the numbers point towards the basic human urge to procreate.  Although in the past the planet has already lost 80 percent of its forest cover to lumber for construction of buildings and ships, paper, fuel, and even statues like Easter Island and totem poles, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change puts the blame for the bulk of today’s activities on agriculture.  And not industrial agriculture, either.  Their analysis says, “…subsistence farming accounts for 46 percent of the total deforestation in the world, commercial agriculture is responsible for 32 percent.  Other prominent causes of deforestation include logging at 14 percent, and fuel requirements at 5 percent.”

But that doesn’t let the industrialized world of the hook, by any means.  Consider ramen noodles, determined to be “…a main culprit of deforestation due to the high amount of unsustainable palm oil used to make them…” which not only destroys rainforests and threatened orangutans but is a trade that rests on forced and child labor, and leads to the displacement of communities.  It’s difficult to feel virtuous when in addition to being a processed food additive and used in cooking “…about 50 percent of household products contain palm oil, from shampoo and cosmetics to cleaning agents, washing detergents and even toothpaste and candles.”

I’m going to wind up this Dispatch with an elegant study whose lead author is John Schramski from the University of Georgia.  I say it is elegant because it doesn’t even bother with a lot of fussy biology or chemistry interacting with each other.  As the professor said, "I'm not an ardent environmentalist; my training and my scientific work are rooted in thermodynamics.”  The study is titled “Human domination of the biosphere: rapid discharge of the earth-space battery foretells the future of humankind”.

A summary of his paper from the University explains that “Earth was once a barren landscape devoid of life…and it was only after billions of years that simple organisms evolved the ability to transform the sun's light into energy. This eventually led to an explosion of plant and animal life that bathed the planet with lush forests and extraordinarily diverse ecosystems.”

“Scientists estimate that the Earth contained approximately 1,000 billion tons of carbon in living biomass 2,000 years ago. Since that time, humans have reduced that amount by almost half. It is estimated that just over 10 percent of that biomass was destroyed in just the last century.”

The implications appear to be simple and stark, devoid of any issues about human concerns with spirituality or conscious evolution.  And it doesn’t even calculate the influence of pollution, which is surely accelerating the timeframe of imploding biomass.

Schramski was quoted, “If we don’t reverse this trend, we’ll eventually reach a point where the biomass battery discharges to a level at which Earth can no longer sustain us.”

Another suspect “if” appears in the release:  “If human beings do not go extinct, and biomass drops below sustainable thresholds, the population will decline drastically, and people will be forced to return to life as hunter-gatherers or simple horticulturalists, according to the paper.”

Although the obligatory hope that renewable energy will “slow” the ultimate fate, Schramski surely must be too intelligent to put much credence in so-called “renewable” energy if he really accepts thermodynamics about which he says, that "These laws are absolute and incontrovertible; we have a limited amount of biomass energy available on the planet, and once it's exhausted, there is absolutely nothing to replace it."

He adds the disclaimer:

"I call myself a realistic optimist…I’ve gone through these numbers countless times looking for some kind of mitigating factor that suggests we're wrong, but I haven't found it."

However, in an interview with IBTimes he went a little further down the extinction rabbit hole:

"We speak of energy in ways that are sometimes misleading – that a lot of energy is interchangeable. That may be true for manmade devices but when we're talking about running the biosphere, there's only one energy that matters and that's biomass. And biomass is the cornerstone energy to all other energies. It's not interchangeable. There is no replacement for biomass and there never will be."

I have included a link to the full paper, which concludes about as ominously as is imaginable:

"The Earth is in serious energetic imbalance due to human energy use. This imbalance defines our most dominant conflict with nature. It really is a conflict in the sense that the current energy imbalance, a crisis unprecedented in Earth history, is a direct consequence of technological innovation.

"For the first time in history, humanity is facing a global chemical energy limit. The earth-space battery paradigm provides a simple framework for understanding the historical effects of humans on the energy dynamics of the biosphere, including the unalterable thermodynamic boundaries that now pose severe challenges to the future of humankind.

"Living biomass is the energy capital that runs the biosphere and supports the human population and economy. There is simply no reserve tank of biomass for planet Earth. The laws of thermodynamics have no mercy. Equilibrium is inhospitable, sterile, and final."

I’ll be that makes for spirited conversation around the dinner table chéz Schramski!

That’s it for the 8th Dispatch, hang in there everyone.  If all this horror puts you in need of relentless gallows humor with barely a hint of sentimentality, please consider joining The Panic Room, a secret group on Facebook.  Send me a friend request and I’ll admit you.  Namaste.  Namasté?  Namastee?

Links referenced in the above text:

Elephants:
Tigers:
Sharks:
Salmon:
Sturgeon:
Turtles:
Pictures of extinct animals:
Falling tree on children:

Almond trees:
Olive trees:
Cancer environmental:
USDA/Forest Service Ozone Monitoring:
UN report:
Length of wildfire season:
Nitrous Oxide levels:
Deforestation:
Ramen noodles/palm oil:
Study:  Human Domination of the Biosphere:
University press release:
IBTimes Interview:
Full paper:


4 comments:

  1. hi Gail,
    There is a physical pain in my heart that is never letting go anymore. My eldest son is visiting from Vancouver and it is taking all my energy and more to keep a facade.

    Like Digixplor says on NBL: I don’t really want to live anymore in this cesspool…and I don’t know how to die.

    love always

    ReplyDelete
  2. great point about Cecil. The death of one is a tragedy... hang in there!
    -josh

    ReplyDelete
  3. Another excellent post, Gail. You are doing good work as a documentarian (documentalist?) and a journalist, bearing witness (as we must) to what is going on.

    It's not happy work, but it's necessary work. As the saying goes, "It's a dirty job, but someone's gotta do it".

    And kudos on keeping the barstool philosophy out of the discussion.

    ReplyDelete
  4. August 8 in PNW on WA side of Columbia slightly east of Portland--the big leaf maples along the highway at river level have started to have yellow leaves. 6 weeks to fall, and it has been hot and dry in this area.

    ReplyDelete

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