The evidence is everywhere. We are faced with an ecological crisis. This crisis is not just a matter of statistics, esthetics or semantics; it is a matter of our very survival. Humanity is facing extinction. It is not some far off scenario. It will happen in this century, unless we do something about it now, something radically different than we are presently doing.
The purpose of this short essay is to provide you with a concise overview of the situation and some ideas about what can be done to work towards a solution. The single most important thing you can do is change the way you think. Your current thinking levels are not working. As the Buddha and countless other philosophers have reminded us, “Your thinking creates your reality. The world you have is a result of your thoughts.” As Einstein reminded us, “The significant problems we have cannot be solved at the same level of thinking with which we created them.”
We means you and I, not somebody else. You cannot rely upon government or industry to provide the solution. In most cases, they are either the major perpetrators of the problem or the impediments to the solution. You must be the solution. The first step you must take is to become informed. Then you must take action. Action does not mean sitting at home watching the Discovery channel. It means getting involved. It means changing the way you live your life. It means that you have the opportunity right now to choose survival or extinction. Inaction equates to choosing extinction. Think about that.
Some readers might think that I am being alarmist. The function of an alarm clock is to wake you up. My ‘alarmist’ approach will hopefully do the same. Once you are awake and aware, you can begin to go about doing what is necessary for survival.
Some readers might think that, if the situation really is as bad as I describe, then it is impossible for individuals to actually make any difference. Let me remind you that it is individuals, acting collectively, that have created the problems; and it will be individuals, acting collectively, that will either create the solutions or perpetuate the problems.
It truly is a choice to be a part of the solution or to remain a part of the problem. (It might interest you to know that there are people and organizations that have already decided that you are a part of the problem and the best solution is to get rid of the source of the problem-you, so that they can survive.)
At the most basic level, we need water, food and air to survive. We are busy destroying all three.
- We are running out of water. UNESCO reports that by 2020, you will have 1/3 less water than you do today and that by 2050, 7 billion people will not have adequate water for survival. “Of all the social and natural crises we humans face, the water crisis is the one that lies at the heart of our survival and that of our planet Earth,” reports Koichiro Matsuura, director-general of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. Read the World Water Development Report.
Humans put 2 million tons of poisonous waste into our fresh water supplies every day; toxic industrial effluents, sewage, fertilizers and pesticides. What is your share?
- We are running out of food. We are in the midst of the largest mass extinction of life to ever occur on planet Earth. 50 million species are disappearing per year. 1 in 4 mammals now alive will be extinct within the next 20 years. 90% of the big fish in the oceans have been destroyed in the last 20 years. The U.N.’s Food and Agricultural Organization reports that 70 percent of the world’s fish stocks are suffering from depletion. Some ocean regions are devastated: the Northwest Pacific around 96 percent depleted, the East Central Atlantic 85 percent, Southwest Atlantic over 80 percent, Northwest Atlantic 68 percent, and most other Atlantic and Pacific waters nearly 50 percent.185 million acres of arable land disappeared between 1975 and 2000. 35,000 square miles of usable agricultural land will disappear this year. By 2050, 1 billion more acres will have been made unusable for agriculture. That is a 10% reduction is usable agricultural land. Increased usage of fertilizers and irrigation may have increased per farmer, per acre production levels 25% in the last quarter century, but now those levels are decreasing because the land has been overstressed by the very chemicals we used to boost production. Production capacity has peaked and is now declining while demand is increasing.
Combine the predicted 50% rise in human population, and the concurrent increase in demand for food, with 35% extinction of other mammals by 2050, the 90% extinction of fish by 2050, the 30% predicted decrease in agricultural production and you have the equation for mass starvation.
- We are running out of breathable air. Through our burning of fuels, we are transferring carbon from where it has been safely stored in coals, oils, trees, et cetera to our atmosphere in unprecedented amounts. This is not only producing global warming, it is also affecting the ratio of gases that make up our atmosphere. Our ability to breathe is dependent upon this ratio. We are poisoning the very air we breathe and, at the same time decreasing the high atmospheric ozone levels that protect us from excessive ultraviolet light and increasing low atmosphere ozone levels, thereby causing respiratory problems, not just for individuals but for the whole ecosystem.
4. We are running out of oil. Petroleum reserves are declining in all oil producing countries. Demand and usage continues to grow. Unless we immediately use our petroleum based energy economy to create alternative energy sources, our entire civilization will collapse by 2050. Human civilization will expire along with the oil reserves.
- We are losing the coral reefs. Within 35 years, 75% of all the coral reefs on earth will be dead. Within 50 years, they will all be dead. So what? No coral reefs means no fish nurseries and the entire ocean ecosystem breaks down. The food chain collapses.
- We are destroying the rainforests. We have already destroyed one half of the world’s rainforests. If deforestation continues at current rates (78 million acres, 31 million hectares, per year), scientists estimate nearly all tropical rainforest ecosystems will be destroyed by the year 2030 and that by 2050, there will be no rainforest remaining on Earth. How important is the rainforest? Just a few facts…Rainforests cover less than 2% of the earth’s surface but contain almost half the life forms on earth, some 30 million species of plants, insects and animals, which are being made extinct at the rate of 50,000 species per year. This extinction rate is accelerating.
Rainforests provide our present and future medicines; 37% of all medicines prescribed in the US have active ingredients derived from rainforest plants;70% of the plant species identified by the US National Cancer Institute as holding anti-cancer properties come from rainforests; 90% of the rainforest plants used by Amazonian Indians as medicines have not been examined by modern science.
Rainforests are the planets lungs. 1 hectare absorbs 1 ton of carbon dioxide per year. However, the current slash and burn destruction of the rainforest is the second largest cause of CO2 emissions into the atmosphere, a major contribution to the greenhouse effect and global warming.
7. There is much, much more. The very real and growing dangers of using human created weapons of mass destruction in resource wars (oil now, water tomorrow); looming viral and prion pandemics ravaging chemically weakened immune systems all help to define the precipice we stand on, the crisis point we face. Ignoring the reality of it or avoiding the difficult choices that must be made will only serve to accelerate the end of human society as we know it and probably, even human existence.
It is plain to see, for those who look, that radical change is necessary. We have what we have. We have it because of what we have done and the way we have been. In order to change what we have, we must change what we do and how we are in the world. Or, it will be forced upon us. Rather, it is now being forced upon us and the choices we make will determine our future or lack of it.
There are no bystanders. You cannot opt out. You certainly cannot rely upon anyone else to solve things for you. It is up to you, to me, to all of us. We humans are all interconnected; in fact, all of life on planet Earth is interconnected. Every lifestyle choice you make has an impact on the whole web of life and thus, your own very survival.
Every time you choose to eat a burger at a fast food joint, you make the choice to slash and burn the rainforest, which is a choice to pollute the air you breathe and the water you drink (as well as your body) and you make the choice to extinct (murder) a few of your fellow creatures inhabiting this planet. That may seem a little blunt, but it is unavoidably true.
Every time you assist a business to profit through the wanton destruction of the environment by your purchase or use of their products, you make the choice to fund the collapse of your ecosystem rather than the regeneration of it. Every single thing you purchase and consume has ramifications. Wanton and negligent consumption or usage of products that directly or indirectly destroy your environment will soon also destroy you and/or your children. It is a choice you cannot escape through denial.
Every time you empower your government to act in ways injurious to the rest of life, you are first committing murder by proxy and then suicide. Your lack of active participation in politics does not exempt you from the responsibility for the results.
You are at the ultimate choice point: you must either become an activist or become de-activated. All other choices have been used up, invalidated, have become obsolete. Now, your only choice is…will you, too, become obsolete as nature responds to what you have previously chosen.
Will the single largest extinction of life in the entire history of planet Earth include you?
The answer is yes, unless you first transform the way you think and then the things you do.