What We’ve Done

Ever since I can remember, conservation has always been one of my main interests, and lately, every time I look around me, it’s harder and harder to ignore the impact humanity has on Mother Nature. Not too long ago I read an article about the amazing Western Black Rhino becoming extinct, which made me think about the path we’re choosing as humanity…

We live on this planet like we have another one waiting for us to arrive, once we’ve drained the last resource from planet Earth. And when the last resource will disappear, we’ll finally realize that money won’t replace oxygen, plants, animals, our homes, or our loved ones. But it will be too late … Money can buy a lot of things, but not the most important ones.

Even if plants and animals were always in a competition for habitat, no other specie, in the entire history of evolution, has ever caused so much destruction as humanity did in the past century alone! We are responsible for pollution, destruction of habitat, species extinction, draining resources.

Human activities constantly change and destroy the habitats that plants, animals and even humans need to survive. Human population is growing so fast nowadays, that animals and plants are disappearing 1000 times faster than they have in the past 65 million years. It is estimated, that in the 21st century, around 100 species will become extinct every day.

Is this the life we want to live? Do we even realize the dramatic impact our actions have?

Endangered species – Unfair competition

Animals are endangered because of a combination of natural and man-made causes (mainly man-made causes). It’s true, that most animals have predators, which reduces their number constantly, but the one ‘predator’ all animals have in common, is humanity.

With the number of humans increasing rapidly, we desperately need more space for new houses, and we don’t really care how we get that space. We reshape the face of Earth and destroy forests, build homes, and then blame animals for coming in our yards, and/or attacking us. This happens frequently in Romania, when bears come back to reclaim their land, and end up shot dead…

We destroy their habitat, and later we destroy the animals themselves. And if we don’t do this because they attack us, we do it for ‘fun’. Trophy hunting (even if legal) has a huge impact on the continuity of the species, as the purpose of ‘the sport’ is to kill the biggest specimens. As natural selection dictates that only the strongest animals survive, we end up weakening entire species, as the less fit partners will mate, and bring into the world offspring which aren’t genetically strong, and can’t offer continuity.

Poaching (illegal hunting), brings down the number of animals because of a high demand on the black market, for certain animal products/body parts, for which normal trade is banned. Elephants (its tusks value 700$/kg, so poachers cut the elephant’s face off, and leave the animal on the ground, to rot), tigers (very rare and expensive fur), rhinoceros, bears, are the most common victims, and because of poverty, more people turn to poaching, for survival.

Dead bird after ingesting plastic waste

And there’s even more to it. Even if we don’t destroy species consciously, we do it indirectly, through climate change. Polar bears are probably the most affected animals of all, as because of global warming, they are left without both habitat and food. Seals won’t camp in areas where snow isn’t present(they use snow for shelter), which means less food for the bears, and also, because winter starts later and later every year, less ice forms, which means polar bears can’t hunt or mate, as they can’t reach other bears (they are good swimmers, but long distances might cause them to drown). The later winter starts, the more time bears spend without eating, which brings down their number annually.

The Arctic melts even now, when the planet is just 0.8 degree Celsius warmer than it was in pre-industrial times. If the Earth warms up by 4 degrees Celsius, as it’s believed it will happen in the next in 50 years, we’re looking at an irreversible damage.

Deformed turtle shell, after getting stuck in a plastic ring

Oil pollution and plastic waste are also very important factors, when it comes to endangering marine animals. Fish, turtles, and even birds, confuse plastic with their food, and once they ingest it, they die a slow and painful death. Even more, some get caught in fish lines, or plastic waste, and die of starvation. Also, tourism done in the wrong location, affects the local wildlife, bringing down their numbers. Check out my post on marine turtles, for information on human impact on marine wildlife.

If we keep this up, future generations will only see wild animals in pictures, or captivity (the ‘brighter’ option of the two).

Impact on the environment 

Compared to wild animals, humans shaped the environment to suit their needs. This means we’re constantly changing the way in which the planet looks like, which definitely affects every living creature and plant, including ourselves.

Building houses involves buildings cities and infrastructure and this means creating the space for cities to grow. Deforestation if one of the biggest crimes we commit on a daily basis, which will slowly takes us to a filthy environment and poor air quality, and in the end, extinction. We kill Mother Nature’s lungs, not thinking about the consequences of our actions. In the end, we kill our own lungs. Only in Romania, 9 million cubic meters of wood were chopped down illegally in 2014 alone. This is not including the legal wood cutting…

“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago.

The second best time is now.”Chinese Proverb

Soil erosion is probably the second huge problem generated by deforestation. Landslides happen more and more frequently, and entire cities are ‘eaten’ by the soil which used to host them, or destroyed partially, all over the world. Copping down a tree, means killing the roots which keep the soil in place. If the roots are gone, the right combination of rain can trigger such a disaster.

Besides killing trees, we also poison the ground, in the race for obtaining more food, for the fast increasing number of people. Irrigation, even if it has a lot of positive aspects, it can have a negative impact on the environment, as it changes the quality of soil and water, and reduces downstream river flow, with disastrous consequences. We genetically modify plants and animals, in order to become what suit better our feeding needs, playing with growing time and resistance to bacteria, which in the end, affect our own bodies, more than we like to admit. (Check out my post on meat industry for more information). Also, plants like corn, were modified to such an extent that the right bacteria don’t protect the plant anymore, which means more chemicals are needed, chemicals which end up being ingested by humans, weakening our immune system.

Sometimes we go even further, and we introduce new animals and plants, to a location where they don’t belong, and we destroy the balance of nature. Removing the natural predators of a specie because of relocation, means overbreeding, and lowering the number of local species. Also, bringing new insects translates into birds avoiding them, causing an invasion and mass destruction of plants. Such a fragile balance, we should never influence without intensively research the consequences.

We also actively endanger a large number of valuable organisms. Home of millions of animals, enormous trees and plants, losing the rainforests can become a tragedy for humanity, as such an abundance and diversity, is not to be found anywhere else on Earth. Each year, over 140,000 sq km of rainforests are destroyed for wood or farming ground, also killing a large number of rare plants (medicinal plants included) and animals.

No, not foggy, but a normal day in a very polluted environment – China

Making room for ourselves sounds pretty good to some of us, but we’re not realizing that with every new tree chopped down, we change the climate, bringing up the level of CO2, worldwide. China is probably the best example of a location where the air so not breathable anymore. Selling canned air, is no longer a thing of the future, or anything extraordinary. We’ll soon pay for every breath we take, and it can become very expensive. Respiratory diseases become a larger and larger issue by day, and until the last tree will be gone and the sea level will increase dramatically because of global warming, up to the point of reshaping the continents, we won’t admit we’re doing something terribly wrong.

Natural resources – For how long?

We claim we love our planet, but we harm it with every chance we get. Need was replaced with greed, and taking as much as we need, was turned into a fierce competition for resources. Resources dictate how the world is shaped, and the great financial powers fight for obtaining the most, for the lowest price. With our needs for food, energy and fuel increasing every year, exploitation began, without thinking of the environmental impact of our actions.

Pollution level went up dramatically worldwide, in the past few decades. Toxic pollution from coal-fired power plants, combined with burning oil for electricity, reshapes the climate from one year to the other one. Four seasons countries (Romania included) went to violent switches from very cold and aggressive winters, to extremely warm and dry summers, while autumn and spring don’t exist anymore, or last a few days only. Also, storms became more and more aggressive and powerful, in the last decade, even in areas which were never affected by them before.

Surface mining of oil shale deposits caused huge environmental issues, and the waste material generated by processing oil, release harmful atmospheric emissions, disturbing the fragile balance of gases, in Earth’s atmosphere. Considering that we pollute more and more every year and in 2009 only, the total global CO2 emissions totaled 30.4 billion metric tones, we’re heading for a global disaster.

With only 1.3 trillion barrels of oil reserves left in the world, it is estimated that in 40 years from now we’ll run out of oil. Without green alternatives, the future looks dark, as electricity can become a thing of the past, and also slow, and there’s not transportation without oil. With living standards only going up, the rate at which we go into the reserves, can only go up.

If the slow killer isn’t bad enough, we bring into the equation nuclear power, with enormous negative effects on living organisms and environment, because of the carcinogen radiations which enter every living cell. Chernobyl and Fukushima nuclear disasters are just a preview of how bad the situation can get. And how can you fight an invisible killer, which spreads through soil, air and water, with effects which persist indefinitely?

Overfishing is another example of abusive exploitation of Earth’s resources. If sustained, it can lead to critical problems in the balance of the ecosystem, as the fish population is no longer able to sustain itself. The fisheries in the Irish Sea and English Channel, have become overfished to the point of virtual collapse. Also, the Peruvian economy was strongly affected by the low number of anchovy coming from fisheries, after they were strongly overfished for years. By not fishing responsibly, we end up harming the deep sea fish, as well as other species, which rely on the balance, for specie continuity. Japan went as far as killing dolphins, because they were considered pests, and a threat to the local fisheries. Greed always wins in the fight against need…

Is it too late?

The ones above are only a small part of what we’ve done. We treat our most precious resources, water, air and soil, like our personal garbage cans, and we don’t live in a way which will leave a functional planet for future generations and animals. Evolution for us, means disaster for other species and the environment, and will end up with bringing ourselves as well, to extinction.

Is the damage reversible? Very hard to tell. We just don’t have enough energy right now, to power a society like ours. Personally, I believe the high level of living we’re at, and the lack of conservation spirit in our culture, won’t ever allow us to give up on greed and rethink the luxury of having any type of food we want, available at any time of the day or night, or having permanent electricity and running water in our homes, or give up on fast and accessible transportation, regardless of the cost for other living organisms. We’re not concerned with getting access to any of the above, in a green and environmental friendly way, and in the end, we’ll all pay the price. Animals and plants don’t stand a chance, at the rate of destruction we set.

Sea of windmills in Netherlands - Green energy for a cleaner environment

Sea of windmills (and tulip fields) in Netherlands – Green energy for a cleaner environment

It seems like we’re in a competition to destroy ourselves and the environment. Worse thing is that we don’t get extra bonus points, if we make our home inhabitable, as fast as possible. Even worse, is that we do have alternatives, but we choose to not make that extra effort. How will we live with ourselves, when we’ll know we knew, and still we didn’t do anything?

Planet Earth doesn’t need us. We need it. The planet can survive very well, and regenerate on its own, much better, without humanity. In fact, if we would stop all industrial activities, it would take Mother Nature many decades, to restore the balance. Slowly, but surely, Earth would come back to life. We…we simply don’t have this luxury. We only have one home, one chance, and time is ticking. If it’s not already too late, changes should happen now, before they become meaningless.

The planet can support every man’s need but not every man’s greed. Unless we start drawing a line between the two, the future looks dark for most species and plants, and in the end, for the entire human race.

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