Our earth seems vast on an individual level, but there is a finite amount of livable space on our globe with a thin surrounding breathable atmospheric layer. We now have over 7 billion human beings on planet earth, nearly tripled from 2.5 billion in 1950, which had doubled from 1.25 billion in 1850. Currently one billion humans are at the starvation or near starvation level. We have 70 billion farm animals. Together with our animals, we are 98 percent of the animal biomass on earth, creating pollution for the air, sea and land with our waste products.
What follows is an overview of the current state of the health of the Earth and our current treatment of the Earth. It is not a pretty picture, but do not give up hope. In my next article, I will discuss positive changes that are already on the way and things that can be done in the near future to reverse the current trends and make our lives sustainable Greenhouse gases
The air is polluted with CO2 from 7 billion humans. The biggest contributors are burning fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas and wood for energy use, as well as livestock food production. Methane production is also a major pollutant of the atmosphere, particularly from live-stock (heavily from cattle). Also methane release from the thawing of the arctic tundra is an accelerating air pollutant.
CO2 and methane, 30 times stronger than CO2, are what are called Greenhouse gases, because they reflect and trap heat radiating from the earth, thereby causing increased captured heat in the atmosphere. Increased CO2 in the atmosphere causes an increase in CO2 dissolved in the oceans, which increases the acidity levels of the oceans, which in turn leads to less sea life. To put it in perspective, we are now trapping as much extra heat energy in the atmosphere as would be released by 400,000 Hiroshima-class atomic bombs exploding on the Earth’s surface every day.
Hotter atmosphere and hotter oceans
2016 was the hottest global year in recorded history, with 2015 the second hottest and 2014 the third hottest. In fact, 16 of the 17 hottest years ever measured with instruments dating back to the 1880s have occurred in the past 17 years. And it looks like 2017 is going to beat them all.
The warming planet leads to more extreme weather. More than 90 percent of all the heat energy trapped by man-made global warming pollution goes into the ocean, causing a global temperature increase in sea water. High ocean temperatures have caused unprecedented severe weather events, including Superstorm Sandy on the US East Coast and Super Typhoon Haiyan, which devastated the Philippines after crossing areas of the Pacific Ocean, 5.4 degrees warmer than normal. Increased ocean temperatures lead to more evaporation and increased air temperatures can hold much more water vapor. This leads to extreme intense storms releasing record-breaking downpours. The comprehensive 2016 NOAA (U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) report found a 13 percent higher than normal number of tropical cyclones and hurricanes in 2016. Water vapor is also a greenhouse gas. So higher concentration of water in the air adds to higher temperatures.
High coastal ocean temperatures, 90 degrees and above, kill coral, a process called bleaching, because the small animals, which form and live in coral, die and only leave their white skeleton. In 2016 and 2017, extreme hot ocean temperatures caused The Great Barrier Reef, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Australia, to lose nearly 50 percent of its coral to bleaching. The combined impact of these back-to-back years of bleaching stretches for 1,500 km (900 miles). The northern third of The Great Barrier Reef has over a 90 percent die off, with many areas having less than 1 percent live coral.
The same increased heat that is evaporating water off the oceans is also sucking moisture out of the soil, causing more droughts and deeper droughts and longer droughts. The recent NOAA report found that nearly one-eighth of the world’s land mass is in severe drought, which is far higher than normal. This is causing massive starvation, political upheaval and refugee migration.
A multi-year drought in Syria played a major part in its civil war and paved the way for ISIS to gain traction in that country. From 2006 to 2010, Syria had a record breaking drought; the worst in 900 years, causing the destruction of 60 percent of their farms and 80 percent of all their livestock. This drove 1.5 million people into Syria’s already crowded cities. We can expect more refugee migration problems as people are unable to live on their historic lands due to severe weather.
Increased heat is also causing unprecedented fires. When vegetation dries out, fires increase. Fires are becoming much larger and occurring much more frequently throughout the world. This adds to the Greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. The burning of the Amazon Rain Forest in Brazil, largely for cattle grazing or cattle feed production is a significant global warming problem. An acre a second is being burned with the loss of 100 animal and insect species a day.
Earth’s ice is melting away and raising sea levels. The world’s glaciers receded for the 37th year in row at an accelerating rate - by an average of 3 feet a year. The Arctic is warming faster than any other place on Earth. Last year, Greenland’s ice sheet lost 341 billion tons of ice and has lost 4,400 billion tons of ice since 2002. On February 10, 2017, a polar winter night, which is normally extremely cold with no sunlight, the north pole was 50 degrees above normal and began thawing.
Antarctica is warming too. Last month an iceberg the size of Delaware broke free from the Larsen C ice shelf, losing 10 percent of the peninsula’s area. Cracks are spreading in the huge iceberg and it has begun to drift away from the mainland. More cracks are growing on the Larsen C ice shelf and if all of the ice shelf should collapse, it would add another four inches to world sea levels.
Sea level rise and flooding
Sea level rise has already begun to cause coastal flooding worldwide in low lying areas. The Global Mean Sea Level has risen by 8 inches over the past century and has been accelerating due to global ice melting and thermal expansion. When water heats up, it expands, so warmer oceans simply occupy more space. When sea levels rise rapidly, as they have been doing, even a small increase can have devastating effects on coastal habitats. As seawater reaches farther inland, it can cause destructive erosion, wetland flooding, aquifer and agricultural soil contamination and lost habitat for fish, birds and plants. Loss of fresh water to salt intrusion is a major problem for low lying areas.
When large storms hit land, higher sea levels mean bigger, more powerful storm surges that can strip away everything in their path. Hundreds of millions of people live in areas that will become increasingly vulnerable to flooding. Higher sea levels would force them to abandon their homes and relocate. Low-lying islands could be submerged completely. Island atolls with little elevated land are particularly at risk. The Pacific Ocean nation of Kiribati has begun to purchase land in Fiji to move its populace. Miami is averaging eight floods a year due to sea level rise during high tides even without any storm surge. Miami expects flooding to increase to 45 times a year by 2030 and 260 times by 2045 if sea level continues to increase at the same rate. It is possible that sea levels could rise 23 feet by 2100 if global ice melting continues to accelerate, that would be enough to submerge most the cities along the U.S. East Coast and even London, England.
According to the United Nations, 33 percent of Earth’s arable land—land capable of growing crops—is used to grow feed for livestock and 26 percent of the ice-free terrestrial surface of Earth is used for grazing livestock. In all, almost a third of the land on Earth is used to produce meat and animal products. The 2006 report Livestock’s Long Shadow, released by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, states that “the livestock sector is a major stressor on many ecosystems and on the planet as a whole. Globally it is one of the largest sources of greenhouse gases and one of the leading causal factors in the loss of biodiversity, while in developed and emerging countries it is perhaps the leading source of water pollution.”
It takes much more land, water and energy, with much more waste, to produce meat than to produce grain or vegetables. Meat produced on the current massive scale is not sustainable.
Also, globally our fisheries are dwindling from massive net fishing factories. Over 75 percent of world fisheries are being over fished.
Bummer…… This information can be overwhelming and hard to take. It puts us face to face with the reality of a rapidly changing planet and catastrophic consequences for human beings - consequences that emerge as a result of our shortsighted actions.
But do not give up hope. Many positive responses are emerging and will be discussed in the next article. There is still a small window of time to slow and change this human destructive phase of planet Earth.
Enjoy Life and Keep Smiling!
George Malkemus has a Family and Cosmetic Dental Practice in Rohnert Park at 2 Padre Parkway, Suite 200. #585-8595 firstname.lastname@example.org