The movement toward another mass extinction

A requiem for our wildlife and ecosystem

 

Put down the fork and knife and listen. 

In 2015, Oscar-winning director Louie Psihoyos (THE COVE) released an insightful documentary entitled Racing Extinction. The overall message of the piece was to relay the disastrous effect we are having on a variety of species across the globe, evident in one of the films key points that we are losing species at a rate not seen since a comet hit 65 million years ago.

According to Psihoyos  - and a laundry list of wildlife biologists, activists and photojournalists - this mass extinction is the result of human activity through things like climate change, habitat loss, wildlife trade and poaching. 

Although this subject is not often talked about at length or with much substance I think it is important we further examine this paramount issue.

First, we need to state the controversial obvious: we are in the midst of a sixth mass extinction of our plants and animals. 

Although extinction as a whole is natural phenomenon, occurring at a “background” rate one to five species per year, wildlife activists, biologists and other scientists have estimated we’re now losing species at 1,000 to 10,000 times that normal rate. In fact, the Center for Biological Diversity says, “literally dozens (of species) are going extinct every day. And as many as 30 to 50 percent of all species are heading toward extinction by mid-century.”

In a report from the World Wildlife Fund last October, the organization came out with a ‘hugely’ important statement that global wildlife populations have fallen by 58 percent since 1970.

When the report came out, Dr. Mike Barrett, head of science and policy at WWF said, “It’s pretty clear under ‘business as usual’ we will see continued declines in these wildlife populations. But I think now we’ve reached a point where there isn’t really any excuse to let this carry on.”

So why is there very little being done to combat the issue? Because there is a general lack of awareness on its key causes:  

• Climate Change

Yes climate change plays a role.  

Most people don’t realize that one of the key factors in climate change - which affects the global wildlife population - comes with pigs, chickens and cows. Who knew it was so simple? 

Despite the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) stating that agriculture contributes to just 12 percent of the global greenhouse emissions that number is bogus and misleading. In reality - which I know is hard to come by these days - it is conservatively estimated to hover more around 51 percent.

To get the actual numbers you have to take into account the entire livestock industry including their byproducts. This includes massive deforestation efforts to accommodate the ballooning livestock population and feed crop cultivation - accounting for one third of the Earth’s ice-free land, the amount of methane produced by livestock (which is 25-100 times more destructive than CO2), the emissions and overall waste of resources it takes to process meat and finally, the transportation element. 

To elaborate on those last two points, keep in mind that in the United States, agriculture is responsible for 80 to 90 percent of water consumption. A single pound of beef, on average, takes 2,500 gallons of water to produce, a far cry from tens of gallons needed to produce a pound of fruits / vegetables like tomatoes, lettuce, cabbage, cucumber, potatoes, apples and bananas. 

For transportation, the average American meal travels about 1,500 miles from farm to plate. 

This combined with the fact that each day an estimated 80,000 acres of tropical rainforest - home to around 50 percent of the world’s species - are destroyed or degraded everyday makes it a pressing issue.

• Habitat loss

This pretty much goes hand-in-hand with what I mentioned above. Products like palm oil (the most widely consumed vegetable oil on the planet and used in a wide range of products from processed food to deodorant, mouthwash and laundry detergent. Livestock feed crops are causing substantial swaths of rainforest in Indonesia and the Amazon to be burned and cleared, ultimately causing an immense amount of carbon to be released into the air. All of this is of course, is done to serve the gluttonous all-about-meat and processed food behavior our society has come too.

Sumatran tigers, orangutans, Asian elephants and Sumatran rhinos. These four species live harmoniously in only one location on the planet: the rainforests in Borneo and Sumatra, Indonesia. As a result of the booming demand for the versatile palm oil, their habitat is being taken away daily in vast quantities and their numbers are dropping considerably.

• Sumatran Tiger: widely believed to have less than 500 left in the wild and 150 breeding pairs in captivity in zoos.

• Orangutan: Orangutan Conservancy estimates only 45,000 in Borneo and Sumatra. Numbers were around 66,000 a decade ago. At this rate they would be extinct in 25 years.

• Sumatran Rhino: Estimated to be fewer that 100 in the wild.

• Asian Elephant: in the past 25 years, nearly 70 percent of their habitat has been destroyed and their numbers have dropped to around 2,800. 

It is important to point out also that these are all keystone species, “meaning a species on which other species in an ecosystem largely depend on, such that it they we're remove the ecosystem would drastically change.” So taking out any of these animals will have dire consequences on the ecosystem. 

If we continue our current cavalier attitude toward what is going on in Indonesia, we will lose these animals. But more importantly, we can all make a difference by eating less and decreasing our dependability on meat. 

We are omnivores for a reason after all. 

Look for next week’s issue for part two of the story.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the publisher or NCW Media as a whole.

Zach Johnson can be reached at lcmeditor@gmail.com or (509) 682-2213.

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