Peak oil, climate change, species extinction, overpopulation, agricultural land degredation and almost any other environmental issue are so intertwined that one shys from picking favourites. But of them all, perhaps the least appreciated and most important is the fact that we are currently living through the greatest mass extinction of species of life on earth since the extinction of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago — the Sixth Great Extinction.

David Ulansey, Professor of Philosophy and Religion at the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco compiles the Mass Extinction website. Follow his advice: “For an overview of the magnitude of the crisis, scroll slowly down this page and read just the titles of all of the links. When you finish, go back and begin to click on the links to read the full articles.”

If we and the planet’s flora and fauna are to survive humankind’s brief fossil fuel epoch, we may need to address peak oil as an opportunity to not only reverse industrial expansion, but move to a new economic model of ‘earth stewarship’. As our livelyhoods become once again tied to the productivity of natural systems, advocating learning to work with and improve them is not idealism, it’s pure selfish pragmatism.

Click on the headline (link) for the full text.

Many more articles are available through the Energy Bulletin homepage

Flying blind to the brink of extinction

George McGavin, People and Planet
‘Ultimately it is human population growth and increasing consumption that drives every aspect of environmental degradation’ says Dr George McGavin of Oxford’s Natural History Museum, in a beautifully illustrated new book Endangered: Wildlife on the Brink of Extinction now in the shops. In the final chapter, reproduced here by arrangement with the publishers, the author asks the question ‘What next?’

The need for more and more agricultural and urban land leads to the loss of biodiversity and the overexploitation of natural resources. The idea that growth can be sustainable is nonsense. When resources are finite, any growth, however small, will ultimately become unsustainable.

Environmental problems such as salination through excessive irrigation, desertification and overconsumption has caused the collapse of numerous civilizations in the past. In some cases, emigration from the despoiled area to a new land flowing with ‘milk and honey’ was possible; in others, humans degenerated into internecine war and perished.
(11 Dec 2006)

Audio: David Ulansey — The Impending Mass Extinction and How to Stop It

David Ulansey
Audio: mp3 download | streaming

David Ulansey’s pre-talk description:
My talk at the Be-In will be about the fact that the world’s biologists and ecologists have reached a consensus that UNLESS humanity immediately halts its dismantling of the natural world– through habitat destruction, pollution, invasive species, and climate change– half of all species of life on earth will be extinct in less than 100 years. In fact, as scientists are learning more about climate change, the expected time frame of the mass extinction is rapidly shrinking, and estimates are now coming in that half of all species will be extinct in 35 to 50 years.

This means that WE DON’T HAVE 35 YEARS to solve the problem, since by then it will be FAR past the point of no return. The reality is that to prevent the looming mass extinction, a critical mass of humanity must undergo a radical transformation in its behavior within the next 5 TO 10 YEARS. Of course this sounds impossible– but so in their time did the fall of the Soviet Union, or the birth of new religions like Christianity or Buddhism!

Think about it this way: to someone who had never witnessed or heard about the phenomenon of “boiling,” the idea that at a certain precise temperature water should suddenly begin to bubble and turn into a gas would also sound impossible! Or this way: to someone who had never seen or heard about “flowers,” the idea that at a certain particular moment a simple green stem would suddenly start to bulge and then explode with dazzling colors would also sound impossible! But boiling and blooming are not impossible supernatural interventions! They– and countless processes like them– happen all the time in the natural world, and are nothing more than examples of the universal phenomenon of “emergence” in complex systems (i.e., “tipping points,” “phase changes,” “critical masses,” etc.).

Our task is NOT impossible– the world’s best scientists say we still have a brief window to halt the mass extinction. It will require sacrifice and hard work. But it is also the most exciting, adventurous, and ecstatic opportunity that human beings have ever been offered! If we succeed, all future generations of life will thank and bless us eternally. This is an absolutely unprecedented moment. It is a moment to boil and bloom. The time is right, so let’s unite!!!

David Ulansey is Professor of Philosophy and Religion at the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco. He received his Ph.D. from Princeton University, and has taught at the University of California at Berkeley, Boston University, Barnard College (Columbia University), the University of Vermont, and Princeton University. He is the author of a book published by Oxford University Press (and is now completing a second book which will also be published by Oxford), and has published articles in Scientific American and numerous other scholarly journals.
(April 2006)

Complex marine systems evolved after mass extinction of earth species

Sunil Vyas, Earth Times
A massive extinction of land and marine species that occurred some 250 million years ago had wiped out nearly 95 per cent of marine life and 70 per cent land species, but more importantly the phenomenon brought about a basic change in the ecology of the oceans, according to a new study on the subject.

Scientists studying how life forms in the oceans changed over the last 540 million years stumbled on data which showed that there had been sudden relative abundance in marine life shortly after the “great dying”. They say ecologically simple marine communities were found to be displaced by complex communities and there had been a new pattern that continued ever since — the dominance of higher-metabolism, mobile organisms like snails, clams and crabs that go out and find their own food over the older groups of low-metabolism, stationery organisms like lamp shells and sea lilies that filter nutrients from the water.

…Wagner is also critical of the role of humans. He says, “Studies by modern marine ecologists suggest that humans are reducing certain marine ecosystems to something reminiscent of 550 million years ago, prior to the explosion of animal diversity. The asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs couldn’t manage that.
(28 Nov 2006)
(Emphasis added.) Well some hope in this story if not in our lifetimes. Humans have caused mass extinction, but we’ve also increased biodiversity of many regions through transporting plants and animals around the globe. While this is generally considered harmful, in a post-human, or low human impact world, new rogue ecosystems would bloom (and are already), sometimes forming similar patterns to pre-human ones, only composed a mixture of old and new species, or sometimes completely new configurations. These species become nature’s new palette, new raw resource from which to experiment. Some of the formerly domesticated plants and animals would rewild, opportunistic and flexible species would most likely dominate at first. In the chaos, nature will thow up many unique new species and strategies, before the biosphere reaches a new kind of dynamic equalibrium. Can we use energy descent as our chance to become part of this exciting natural project, to reintegrate ourselves into new ecologies, or will we go down fighting it? -AF

Harvard biologist extends olive branch to evangelicals

Jeff Barnard, AP via Ventura Country Star
Harvard biologist Edward O. Wilson might normally arouse suspicion among evangelicals, given his faith in science over Scripture.

But in his latest book, “The Creation, An Appeal to Save Life on Earth,” the two-time Pulitzer Prize winner extends an olive branch to Christian believers in hopes of saving the Earth from the biggest mass extinction since the dinosaurs.

…Indeed, many evangelical leaders have rejected environmental efforts, arguing that it’s important to stay focused on core social issues such as stopping abortion and opposing gay marriage.

But among the evangelical wing that has become more concerned about environmental issues in recent years, the reception has been enthusiastic.

…Wilson’s fears of an impending ecological disaster are no isolated view. For example, a 1998 survey of 400 scientists commissioned by New York’s American Museum of Natural History found most were convinced that the sixth great extinction of plants and animals on Earth was under way.

The root cause is human overpopulation, which leads to habitat loss, climate change, invasive species, pollution and over-harvesting, Wilson writes.
(2 Dec 2006)

Nine billion or bust!

Andrew Leonard, Salon
The best current guess is that the world’s population will peak at 9.2 billion around the year 2075. The bulk of that growth is expected to occur before 2050. To put that into a little perspective, my 12-year-old daughter’s life is likely to encompass the most critical stretch in humanity’s history on this planet — that period in which we find out whether the earth can sustainably support our maximum population.

Here’s a related datum. 30 years ago, only 4 percent of the population of the world’s developing countries consumed an average of 2700 kilocalories worth of food per day. Today that number is up to 51 percent, and by 2050, it may hit 90 percent. In terms of addressing the problem of world hunger, this will be an extraordinary, unprecedented triumph. The prospects are less rosy when viewed in the context of the pressures exerted on the world’s ecosystems. Because even as population stabilizes, per capita consumption will continue to rise.

These figures are drawn from the first chapter of “World agriculture: towards 2030/2050: Interim Report” from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. (Thanks to Biopact for the link.) The seven-page overview is useful reading for anyone trying to get a sense of the Big Picture. The challenges faced by humanity in the 21st century are mighty indeed: climate change, peak oil, war and terrorism and who knows what devil’s concoction of bird flu and species extinction and environmental degradation. But we shouldn’t lose sight of the backdrop against which our efforts to meet these challenges are taking place. The proportion of the world’s population that is malnourished or starving is dropping, and the overall population is set to stabilize in a matter of decades, which means that if current trends continue, the absolute number of malnourished people in the world will also start to decline.
(12 Dec 2006)

[Audio] Population: Apocalypse now

Robyn Williams, Ockham’s Razor
Melbourne neuroscientist Dr John Reid is somewhat sceptical about the ability of science to rescue humanity from its own folly. He suggests that our planet will be unable to support an ever increasing population and talks about ways to limit population grow
(10 Dec 2006)
Remember: population reduction begins at home. -AF

China’s water shortage a population problem

Shanghai Daily
THE water shortage in China’s capital is set to reach the crisis point in 2010, when the population is expected to top 17 million – at least three million more than its resources can supply.

An optimistic estimation of Beijing’s annual water supply is around 3.73 billion cubic meters in 2010, taking into account the Yangtze River water supplied by the country’s ambitious south-to-north water diversion project.

Yet the disposable volume will be no more than 3.26 billion cubic meters, excluding at least 470 million cubic meters needed to maintain the city’s ecological system, says a report in China Economic Weekly.

Beijing’s per capita GDP averaged US$5,548 last year, with 50.1 cubic meters of water consumed for each 10,000 yuan (US$1,250) of GDP.

Based on this formula, Beijing’s water resources were able to feed a maximum of 14.36 million people in 2005, the report said.
(14 Dec 2006)