We humans have found ourselves in a very unique situation within our known universe. As far as scientists can tell, Earth is the only known planet which can support our life. And even if there are other planets out there that could support us, they are so far away that no technology we have today could get us there in a single lifetime. With that knowledge, it would make sense to cherish and take care of Earth, and keep it healthy for future generations of life, right? That is not the case. Earth is dying.
Pick your poison. Do you care about animals? They’re dying off at extinction rates. Clean air? Smog. Living on the coast? Get ready to move. Don’t like the heat? Get used to it. Enjoy your personal space? Move over. We have done something incredible in taking our home and trashing it almost beyond repair.
Scientists have concluded by studying fossil records and noting when species appear and disappear that throughout the history of our planet there have been 5 major mass extinctions in which 75% of the entire species on the planet has gone extinct. The 6th? We’re living in it.
Today, scientists estimate (because it would be impossible to get an exact figure) that we’re losing species at 1,000 to 10,000 times the rate at which species go extinct naturally. And that’s all thanks to humans. From loss of habitat, introduction of invasive species, overfishing/hunting, and global warming, the only species that have a chance are those that we choose and biogenetically engineer to survive. (Think cows, apples, bananas.) In the past 500 years there were approximately 1,000 species that have gone extinct, now we may be losing up to 140,000 species per year. And with 8.7 million species estimated to be on Earth (give or take a million), at that rate we have 62 years before there’s nothing left.
We’re losing species at 1,000 to 10,000 times the rate at which species go extinct naturally.
Obviously, every species won’t be extinct in 62 years, and as I said, the estimates for the extinction rates caused by human activity are all over the place for obvious reasons, but the expert consensus does not vary when they acknowledge that human activity is causing the 6th mass extinction period in the history of our planet. Not an asteroid. Not a natural weather change. Human activity.
I should just leave this link to NASA here and leave it at that. If clicking links isn’t your thing, here’s the breakdown: Earth’s climate has changed through history with glacial advances and retreating, cooling and heating. Climate-deniers love to tout this little fact. What they don’t realize is that they only know that fact because of the same exact scientists who are telling them that this isn’t the same. NASA then goes on to cite that there is a greater than 95% probability that this particular warming trend is the result of human activity and it is at a rate that is unprecedented. I find it staggering that people are more willing to trust NASA scientists to take us into space, but won’t trust them to tell them what is already obviously apparent.
NASA even so kindly broke down each of the indicating factors into short snippets so we wouldn’t get bored or confused with long paragraphs.
Sea Level Rise
“Global sea level rose about 8 inches in the last century. The rate in the last two decades, however, is nearly double that of the last century.”
Global Temperature Rise
“The planet’s average surface temperature has risen about 2.0 degrees Fahrenheit (1.1 degrees Celsius) since the late 19th century, a change driven largely by increased carbon dioxide and other human-made emissions into the atmosphere.5 Most of the warming occurred in the past 35 years, with 16 of the 17 warmest years on record occurring since 2001.
Not only was 2016 the warmest year on record, but eight of the 12 months that make up the year — from January through September, with the exception of June — were the warmest on record for those respective months.”
“The oceans have absorbed much of this increased heat, with the top 700 meters (about 2,300 feet) of ocean showing warming of 0.302 degrees Fahrenheit since 1969”
Shrinking Ice Sheets
“The Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets have decreased in mass. Data from NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment show Greenland lost 150 to 250 cubic kilometers (36 to 60 cubic miles) of ice per year between 2002 and 2006, while Antarctica lost about 152 cubic kilometers (36 cubic miles) of ice between 2002 and 2005.”
“The number of record high temperature events in the United States has been increasing, while the number of record low temperature events has been decreasing, since 1950. The U.S. has also witnessed increasing numbers of intense rainfall events.”
“Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, the acidity of surface ocean waters has increased by about 30 percent.11,12 This increase is the result of humans emitting more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and hence more being absorbed into the oceans. The amount of carbon dioxide absorbed by the upper layer of the oceans is increasing by about 2 billion tons per year.”
At this point NASA just writes, “seriously? Do you need more?” Okay, that was me. Let’s just agree that the folks at NASA are real smart. Smarter than me. Smarter than you. If they are telling us that man-made activity is causing global warming using publicly accessible data, then it’s safe to say they are right.
Oceans – the Worlds’ Toilet
70% of Earth’s surface is water, and 97% of Earth’s water is found in oceans. However, it’s the land that we live on, and the effects of climate change on land that we witness (unless you happen to live on an island.) It’s part of this kind of thinking that makes “green” and even the title of this blog hypocritical. If we’re really fighting for a “green” future, then we better be sure to keep our oceans blue, but that may be a harder battle than the land one.
Our ocean is home to so much biodiversity and marine life. Unfortunately, thanks to us, it is also now home to circling vortexes of trash (called gyres) that can be the size of Turkey or Texas. When a cargo ship loses its cargo at sea, when a tsunami or hurricane blows debris and trash into the ocean, or even when you drop a bottle or a flip-flop into the ocean, where does it end up?
In one of these gyres. Ocean currents swirl the trash around and around until finally, after what could be either a few months or up to 6 years after landing in the ocean, it reaches these swirling masses of trash circling and encompassing our oceans. Research reveals that parts of the Pacific Ocean have six times more plastic particles than plankton, the source of life.
Birds and marine life eat the plastic and die with bellies full of our trash. The trash piles up on islands, inhabited and not, and it falls to the ocean floor, destroying even more marine life. It’s hard for people to know about these things, let alone care, but just try to wrap your mind around a whirling, plastic trash pile the size of Texas, floating around, killing everything, getting larger, and never breaking down. Could that please motivate you to not use that plastic water bottle?
Research reveals that parts of the Pacific Ocean have six times more plastic particles than plankton, the source of life.
You may have seen this provocative NYTimes headline article, “Large Sections of Australia’s Great Reef are Dead.” Then you might have gasped, and then kept scrolling. Well, here’s the fact: “literally two-thirds of the reef are dead or dying.” Again, it’s hard to know about or care about the changes that are happening in places across the world, under the surface, and out of sight. But this is real. This doesn’t just affect the Great Barrier Reef – it affects all of us. Overfishing, destructive fishing methods, unsustainable tourism, coastal development, pollution, and yes, even you having an aquarium in your house with fish that were likely caught from the wild are causes for this unprecedented level of coral bleaching.
Even though 13% of Earth’s land is a part of some refuge, only 2% of the Earth’s ocean is. Because countries don’t own or take responsibility for so much of our oceans, there is so much damage and destruction going on where governments who can and should be taking action are effectively saying, “not my job. Not my problem.” It is your job. It’s my job. It’s our job. This is our planet. If we have decided that we are going to govern, rule, and change the planet for ourselves, then let’s act like caretakers and take care of it.
7.5 billion people. That’s where we’re at right now. This leads itself to some questions.
- Can we feed that many people? Our current 1.4 billion hectares of arable land can support about 10 billion people… if they were all vegetarians and we didn’t use that land to feed livestock. And since that’s not anywhere near likely, the number is much smaller.
- At our vast rate of biodiversity extinction, pollution, and global warming, can we handle that growth? Household consumers are responsible for more than 60% of the globe’s greenhouse gas emissions, and up to 80% of the world’s land, material and water use. That means the more of us there are, the faster we kill the planet unless we collectively change how we consume.
Our rapid population growth is going to have many detrimental effects on Earth, and even if we don’t starve ourselves out, the damage that each of us has on the ecosystem will push us past sustainable levels
If nothing else kills this planet, our dependence on plastic most certainly will. Let’s take a look at some of the depressing facts.
- Plastic isn’t biodegradable. It can only break down if it’s exposed to light, and even then it will take thousands of years.
- Plastic is created using oil and natural gas – Environmentally dirty, nonrenewable resources
- The chemicals used in the creation of plastics can lead to cancer
- 85% of the 33 millions tons of plastic that is thrown away in the US ends up in landfills – possibly leaking and contaminating soil and water, oh and never breaking down.
- Remember the shockingly high number of plastics ending up in oceans and killing marine life
Plastic is such a huge threat to our environment, and while there are many companies out there now looking to replace our use of plastic in all its uses, until businesses make the choice for consumers and switch to more environmentally friendly materials, it’s up to us, the consumers, to stop using plastic. Bring a reusable bag to the grocery store. Bring a reusable drink cup. Bring reusable utensils with you instead of throwaway plastic ones. Make a change – make a difference.
Earth is Dying, So What Can We Do?
I’m not sure if I got around to mentioning that Earth is dying, but it is. Is this where we give up hope and just start doing whatever we want because it’s hopeless anyway? NO! Although we have harmed our planet beyond imagination and we are at a critical tipping point for our future, now more than ever do we need to make the right decisions in our lives.
- Get informed. You read this blog, good job. Keep reading. Stay informed on what’s going on in the world.
- Pay attention to all the little things in your life that add up and are harmful to the planet.
- Make small changes. I wouldn’t expect someone to make huge changes overnight, but by becoming more conscious of the decisions you make, we can all have an impact.
- Use reusable bags, bottles, and utensils instead of plastic
- Carpool and use public transportation when you can
- Reuse what you can
- Don’t buy disposable things
- Pass this along
- Talk to your friends
At our current rate, Earth is dying, but we can still save it. There’s still hope only if we all decide to do our part. So do your part. Your planet will thank you.