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In just a few centuries we have gone from living off nature’s interest to depleting the natural capital that has accumulated over millions of years of evolution !

Written by: Brenda Lindley; © 11 December 1997

Land clearing, pollution, and other activities are undermining natural services that are the building blocks of our economy. These include the pollination of crops, pest control, water supply, soil maintenance, flood control, wildlife habitat, and nutrient cycling. Today’s system of economic calculations, however, grossly underestimates the current and future value of nature, and thus provides incentives for degradation.

The earth’s climate is predicted to change because human activities are altering the chemical composition of the atmosphere through the buildup of greenhouse gases --- primarily carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide. The heat-trapping property of these gases is undisputed. Last years global temperature was the warmest since record-keeping began some 130 years ago. In a world wide press release they say that the 10 warmest years in the last 130 have all occurred in the 80’s and 90’s, with the three warmest being the last 3 years (Vital Signs 1). Floods, droughts, fires, heat, freezing temperatures, hurricanes, earthquakes and tornadoes will all become more frequent as temperatures continue to rise around the world. Take the recent floods and mudslides in the Western United States for example; they illustrate the harsh but inevitable consequences of destroying nature’s services. International environmental organizations estimate that the fires in the world’s forest have resulted in a 5% increase in global greenhouse gases. The effects on the world atmosphere have to be seriously considered. Some predict changes in El Nino and other weather patterns may affect our North American as early as winter of 1997. Inter-related climatic effects prove that the world is on ecology, intertwined and linked together on all levels closer than we think.

Energy burned to run cars and trucks, heat homes and businesses, and power factories is responsible for about 80% of global carbon dioxide emissions. Increased agriculture, deforestation, landfills, industrial production, and mining also contribute a significant share of emissions. Atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide have increased nearly 30%, methane concentrations have more than doubled, and nitrous oxide concentrations have risen by 15%. Carbon dioxide, the leading greenhouse gas, rose by 113 million tons in 1996, exceeding 6 billion tons in 1995. China claims on earth’s resources states on 8/28/96 that carbon emissions in China are climbing rapidly, reaching 807 million tons in 1995 compared with 1.39 million tons in the United States (2). By the year 2100, in the absence of emissions control policies, carbon dioxide concentrations are projected to be 30 -150% higher than today’s figures.

The Killing and Degradation Continues:
The demise of the Amazon may be closer than any of us realize as a confluence of El Nino conditions, increased fires, and regional investments. This is clearly increasing the pressures on the Amazonian ecosystem. United States satellites have detected a 28% upswing in the number of burnings in the Amazon over the last year. Reuter says that the World Wildlife Fund report finds that three-quarters of North American’s forests are at risk of becoming “extinct or so degraded they could not maintain a rich variety of plant and animal species.” They also have said that America’s forests are among the most spectacular on earth but were “disappearing at an alarming rate” (2).

Indonesia has admitted to 96,000 hectare or 237,120 acres have been destroyed so far, however satellite figures put that amount at a much larger size. According to the satellites the amount is between 600,000 to 800,000 hectares or over 1.5 million acres that have been destroyed (Michael 1). Christie Michael tells us that when the stocks of this forest are depleted it is expected to put additional pressure on the last great forest expanses in the world including the critical ecosystems of the Amazon Rain Forest in Brazil, Africa Rain Forest, and northern forest of Russia and Canada. In Manaus, one of the two largest cities in the Amazon, we have recorded a large cloud of smoke hovering over the city. Health officials have said this has resulted in a 40% increase in respiratory diseases (2). The Asia Pacific region already has lost 88% of its original forest cover. Within the next 25 years, only 10% of the regions forest will be left (3).

Indonesian peat bogs set alight by the country’s raging forest fires could release more carbon dioxide greenhouse gases into the atmosphere over the next six months than all the power stations and cars in western Europe emit in a year ( Europe emits 900 million tons a year ) (Frances-Presse 1). That’s a billion of tons of carbon dioxide into the air that we breathe. These fires will have a significant impact on the earth’s global warming. The New York Times has described these fires as “One of the most widespread man-made disasters the region has ever known.” The World Wide Fund for Nature describes them as “a planetary disaster.” Huge Mitchell states that it is not only the Forest that are burning but the land itself, which are the very lungs of Asia (Mitchell 1). This is a ecological holocaust.

Tennessee, July 23, 1997. Southern forests are undergoing an alarming rate of clear cutting by chip mill operators. The number of chip mill operators from Alabama to Kentucky has grown from 10 to 140 in the past 10 years. This is deforestation on a massive scale, clearly unsustainable and needs to be stopped. Glynn Wilson states, a program of cutting native hardwoods is underway with a determination not seen since sawyers cut the south’s forests from North Carolina to Texas between 1890 and 1940 (1). With re-cutting every 30-40 years there won’t be the benefits of a regenerated forest. It takes 50-100 years for a hardwood forest to truly regenerate. We are cutting about 2.5 million acres a year in our country (2). One of the major concerns prompted by clear cutting is the health of rivers and streams running through the affected areas; clear cutting leads to soil erosion and salutation, which clogs water ways and kills fish. North American forests are at risk of becoming extinct or so degraded they can not maintain a rich variety of plant and animal life. It amounts to what environmentalists are calling “a quiet rape” of the Southeastern environment (2).

CNN told us that ten percent of the Amazon is already gone. The current El Nino system has cut humidity levels over South America to around 43%, the lowest since 1939. Normal humidity in the Amazon should be around 95%. Two-thirds of the world’s forests have been lost forever. The 20 billion acres of forest existing in the world 8,000 years ago is now reduced to only 7.5 billion acres. More than half of the remaining original forests are concentrated in four countries: the United States, Russia, Indonesia and Brazil (2).

There are very few areas of the United States waters that are unaffected by HABs. Fish kill in the middle Atlantic states have recently been linked to a newly discovered organism called Pfiesteria. Coast states are subject to fish kills and NSP from Gymnodinium breve red tides. A growing body of evidence suggests that HABs are increasing around the globe (HAB in USA 1). We have more toxic algal species, more algal toxins, more areas affected, more fisheries resources affected, and higher economic losses. One of the most distressing environmental trends is the accelerated loss of freshwater fish species. An estimated 37% of the fish species native to the lakes and streams of North America are either in jeopardy or extinct. Two thirds of the 94 fish species in South Africa need special protection to avoid extinction (Vital Signs 2). To top this all off, island nations very existence are threatened by rising sea levels. The rapid warming of the Antarctica has led to the disintegration of five major ice shelves.

The organisms responsible for HABs have been on earth for a long time. Likewise, a massive 1972 red tide was responsible for introducing dormant cysts of the PSP-producing species Alexandrium tamarense to southern New England waters (HAB in USA 2). Coastal waters have seen an increase in pollution over the years, but the actual introduction and colonization of the species is the result of natural currents and environmental forcing. Some believe that man may have contributed to the spreading problem by transporting toxic species in ship ballast waters. None the less, harmful or toxic species will thus be more abundant and more noticeable. The ambush predator dinoflagellate Pfiesteria organism, and many closely related fish-killing species, seems to thrive in polluted waters.

Janet Abramoritz has some interesting facts for us, she says; Once viewed as wastelands, wetlands are now recognized for their services of cleansing water, recycling nutrients, recharging aquifers, controlling floods and storms, as well as for supporting fish and wildlife. Yet despite all this, the United States and Europe have lost more than half of their wetlands, and Asia has lost 27% (2). Water tables are falling in the major food-producing regions, including the Southern Great Plains of the United States, the Punjab of India, and much of the central and northern China regions. Aquifer depletion is already leading to irrigation cutbacks in the United State’s Great Plains. Reports that the water table in an area of North China that contains 100 million people has fallen some 30-35meters over the last two or three decades.

Human security can no longer be defended by military might, but rather will depend on efforts to stabilize the world’s population, reduce social inequities, conserve soil and water, and protect the climate. Unless we can achieve an environmentally sustainable economy, the conflict and violence of recent years can expect to accelerate. It seems to me that a lot of people have known for along time what has been happening to our earth. Let’s look at some key dates.

The Killing Facts:
Key dates in the global warming story:

1898 --Swedish scientist Svante Ahrrenius warns that industrial Revolution’s carbon dioxide emissions, from coal and oil, could accumulate in atmosphere and lead to global warming.

1961--New observatory atop Hawaii’s Mauna Loa volcano detects rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide. 1980’s--Computer models of world climate project temperature rises.

1988--NASA scientist James Hansen testifies to Congress that global warming “is already happening now.”

U.N.--Establishes authoritative network of climate scientists, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. 1990--IPCC certifies scientific basis for “greenhouse effects” and global warming predictions.

1992--Climate change treaty signed, setting voluntary goals for industrial nations to lower greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2000. Almost 170 nations eventually ratify.

What can be done to stop the Destruction ?
Anne Platt thinks that stabilizing the climate will require overhauling our energy and transportation systems. New technologies can improve energy efficiency and allow energy needs to be met by harnessing sunlight and wind. (2). Adoption of stronger emission targets, (industrial countries have the moral responsibility) financial resources, and technologies to slow climate change and biodiversity should lead the way in the fight for Mother Earth. (3). The task at slowing the pace of the global climate change will require a huge change in all basic human activities, which are already shaping the climate trends. A new balance in security investments, one that de-emphasizes military armament, and meets urgent environmental and social investments needs to be roughly $200 billion per year (New Threats 3).

It is easy to show that maintaining the health of nature’s services makes good economic sense. Restoration of just half of the upper Mississippi Basin’s lost wetlands could control a flood of the magnitude of the 1993 disaster that cost $12-16 billion (Abramoritz 2). There are some tough new environmental legislation’s moving laboriously through Congress, but will they have them done in time. Congress unveiled a bill to spend up to $200 million over five years on improving the health of the National Forrest. U.S. forest Service is to conduct recovery projects in the highest-risk areas, including Northwest, Columbia River basin, southern Appalachians and the Northern Forest in the Northeast (Reuter 1). A House Agriculture Committee chairman said that about 40 million acres of forestland was at extreme risk of loss to wildfires, and that only 1 million acres was treated under current programs. Of that 1 million acres only 5% are protected from logging and mining and three-quarters of the regions forest are threatened with extinction. Conservation group urged the U.S. and Canadian governments to at least double the amount of forest protected by national parks and wilderness laws by the year 2000 ( 1 ).

I’ve searched far and wide to find out what the governments of our world and its people are going to do about this devastating problem. I am not happy with the results that I have found. It seems that “talks” are on-going, and no one really plans to do anything concrete to solve this destruction of our earth.

Representatives of 150 nations are converging on negotiations to insure a policy for the planet. If successful, the 10 days of negotiations could lead in a decade or so to a shift toward new-technology automobiles and towards new farming and forestry practices. Such controls over carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases could begin to forestall the damaging rise in temperatures. However, powerful opposition has already developed against early action taking place. Industry lobbyists are among the thousands of diplomats assembling in Japan’s old capital. The Clinton administration says its plan would mean reductions of more than 25% in what U.S. emissions otherwise would be. This protocol won’t dictate how countries should cut back on emissions, but will recommend solutions. The U.S. insists it will sign no agreements unless ALL countries take part in a meaningful way.

As it states so nicely above, the plans for revising our habits are already disputed. It looks as if the riches nations have no intention on cutting back their production of any kind. The Earth Summit of 1992 wanted to reduce the gases to 1990 standards by the year 2000. Now, if the opposition has their way, these goals will not be reached until 12 years later, if at all. The Treaty of 1992, signed by most of the world’s nations has not been met. For that matter, it looks like no one nation has even tried to match the stipulations in the Treaty. The new “negotiations” isn’t even going to put into writing how the cut backs in emissions will take place. I personally believe that the richer nations, who have polluted our planet since the early 1800’s, should be an example to the rest of the world. They should cut back on emissions, logging and the other harmful practices mentioned thus far. I’m not sure why our nation is concerned with what is going to happen in the Third Worlds 20-30 years from now. At the present rate most of us will not be around to see the next 30 years take place. The time for change is TODAY, NOW, and in the PRESENT.

One group of people believing the modern world is spinning dangerously out of balance is taking action; the Native American leaders from around the Western Hemisphere are preparing to break 500 years of virtual silence in a bid to rescue Mother Earth. Karl Penhaul quotes one of his interviewers’: “Life is out of balance because man became disconnected from the basic essence of the cosmos.” Said event organizer. The main objective of their meeting is for peace, but there can not be real peace until there’s peace between man and Mother Earth. Through the Sendama Foundation there has been raised $300,000 to bring together scores of groups from every corner of the hemisphere, including U.S.-based Hopi and Apache Indians, Canadian Inuits, Brazilian Kayapos and Colombian Kogis (1). The planet has been devastated. The Elders consider the time of passive resistance has passed. Now is the time to take action to save Mother Earth. The prophecies say that the time for a new dawn has come. The Elders have not spoken out like this for the last 500 years, but if through his arrogance the white man does not understand he will have to suffer the consequences. The people of the center must unite the eagle of the north with the condor of the south. Once the Elders work is done the fate of the world will hinge on whether their “errant brother” sets aside pride and arrogance------ the attitudes that led him to invade the Americas more than 500 years ago (2). Man has cancer of the mind ----- the call is for man to get back in balance with the heart of the sky and the heart of Mother Earth and begin to dance the cosmic dance again (2).

Works Cited

Worldwide Forest/Biodiversity Campaign News. June 12, 1997. Forest Networking a Project of Ecological Enterprises. World Wide Web. 11/15/97.

1) Karl Penhaul. Americas Meet to Save the Earth. C - World Wide Web. 11/15/97 2) Agence France - Presse. Forest Fires Could Release More Greenhouse Gas Than All of Europe. October 16, 1997. World Wide Web. 11/15/97.

3) Hugh Mitchell. e-mail: Devastating Forest Fires Called “Planetary Disaster" October 1, 1997. World Wide Web. 11/15/97.

4) Michael Christie. Amazon Rain Forest May Face Greatest Threat Ever. October 28,1997. World Wide Web. 11/15/97.

5) CNN. Amazon Burning Worst in Memory: Another Causality. October 9, 1997. World Wide Web. 11/15/97 6) Reuters. Congress Unveils Bill to Improve National Forests Health. September 19, 1997. World Wide Web. 11/15/97.

7) Glynn R. Wilson. Chipping Away at American’s Southern Forests. July 23, 1997. World Wide Web. 11/15/97.

8) Reuters. North American Forests in Peril. June 6,1997. World Wide Web 11/15/97

World Watch Press Release.
May 18, 1996. Vital Signs 1996: World Growing Hotter and Hungrier. World Wide Web. 11/15/97.World Watch Press Release. May 18, 1996. Vital Signs 1996: World Growing Hotter and Hungrier. World Wide Web. 11/15/97.

2) Infectious Diseases Surge: Environmental Destruction. April 20, 1996. World Wide Web. 11/15/97. 3) Anne Platt. Pressure on Climate Negotiators Heats Up. June 22, 1996. World Wide Web. 11/15/97. 4) China’s Claims on Earth’s Resources. August 28,1996. World Wide Web. 11/15/97.

5) New Threats to Human Security. October 26,1996. World Wide Web. 11/15/97.

6) Janet Abramoritz. Damage to Nature Now Causing Widespread Natural Disasters. February 11, 1997. World Wide Web. 11/15/97.

HABs and Related Matters. Major HAB-Related Events in the Coastal U.S.A.



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