What have you done today to lower your impact?

We are washing away the foundations of our existence on every front. It is high time we move from crashing about on the planet like a bull in china shop and find a way to go forward with intent. We must find systems of living based on sustainability. The systems and tools exist, it is up to each of us to adopt them.

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Thursday, 25 February 2010

Human Impact!

I'm constantly amazed when otherwise rational people seem to find it difficult to believe that human's are having a significant impact on the planet. Usually this takes the form of doubting that we could possibly be causing climate change. But no matter how amazing I find that, what follows is more amazing, the observed facts of that impact.

And here is the most amazing figure,
75% of all the ice free land mass on the planet has been modified by us!
As Dr. Iain Stewart,Professor of Geoscience Communication at the University of Plymouth, stated on his recent TV special How Earth Made Us, "We are now a geological force to rival the earth's natural forces".

In this clip he explores an amazing cave full of giant crystals which was, ironically, discovered by miners who drained the chamber of it's hot water.

Much of the following, including the inspiration and almost all of the bold text, is drawn from the series by Dr. Stewart.

We are capable, as a species of unleashing vast destructive power, and not just with weapons of war. We have turned our weapons upon the earth. Explosives are used to strip away whole mountain tops and destroy thousands of miles of streams in the Appalachians, open pit mines are now big enough to swallow whole cities.
As a species we move more earth and rock than all the forces of erosion combined.

In the 1930's 500,000 people were made homeless and 1,000,000 acres of farmland were devastated by the unsustainable farming practices that brought on the dustbowl.
25% of the world's farmland is now degraded.

But this beavering away at the earth pales in comparison to the forces we can mindlessly unleash from the earth itself, in Indonesia, exploration for natural gas has uncorked a boiling mud volcano that has displaced 30,000 people and destroyed 10,000 homes, enough mud flows from this engineering mistake to fill 50 olympic size swimming pools every single day, while the corporation responsible ducks and weaves with the assistance of the government.

"A new study has concluded that a volcanic eruption of mud in Indonesia's east Java was caused by human error.
An international team of scientists says there is no doubt that drilling at a nearby gas well weakened rock formations, triggering the crisis.
The company responsible for the drilling, Lapindo Brantas, claims the problem was caused by an earthquake."

In the eastern Pacific ocean a giant swirling mass of plastic debris, called the Garbage Patch, is now twice the size of Texas. This toxic waste is being found in every level of the food chain and no one is being held responsible because everyone is responsible, with our plastic water bottles, toothbrushes, razors, lighters, pens, and everything else made of plastic that we chuck away.

Not only are we using the oceans as a dumping ground but we have increased oceanic acidity by 30% since measurements have been taken.

We have so interfered with the natural water cycle of the planet that very few rivers reach the sea without major alteration, some, like the Colorado, never reach the sea at all most years.
There is now 5 times more fresh water stored behind dams than what flows freely in all the world's rivers.
Far from beneficial, it is evident that our interference with the water cycle is making life worse for billions of people worldwide, and degrading vital wetland and riverine habitat.

In the final episode of his series Dr. Stewart detailed how in spite of being made by the earth over the last 50,000 years or so we have now turned the tables and are remaking the earth. He explains that we should have been deep in an ice age by now, which according to the geologic record should have started 7000 years ago. But around 11,000 years ago we invented agriculture, more specifically slash and burn agriculture. The added carbon dioxide overcame the forces of the relationship between the sun and earth which would have brought back the ice. And now the industrial revolution is vastly accelerating that process. CO2 and CO2 equivalent levels are higher now than at any time in the last 15 million years.

Our appetite for one resource outstrips all others both in consumption and in damage caused. We burn 1000 barrels of oil per second and the amount of oil we burn in a year took the planet 3 million years to make. When it comes to oil, our thirst for cheap abundant energy is leading us to "scrape the bottom of the barrel" - Dr. Iain Stewart. The Alberta Tar sands; the most expensive, most polluting source of energy on earth, producing 30% more greenhouse emissions than traditionally pumped oil, for every 5 barrels of oil produced it costs 1 barrel as opposed to traditional wells which deliver 25 barrels of oil for every barrel invested, the strip mining of which currently covers 50,000 sq kilometers. Most of the area mined was covered in carbon sequestering boreal forest. Most of this disastrous oil is burned in the vehicles of the United States.

And now to the most fragile of Earth's systems, the atmosphere. 55 million years ago there was a quick intense burst of global warming that remade the biosphere. To survive, plants and animals had to move toward the poles, those that could lived, those that couldn't died.

The overabundance of methane in the atmosphere brought about a warm period that lasted millions of years. The planet eventually compensated but only because the movement of the plates created the Himalayan range which altered the atmospheric and water cycles to such an extent that a long period of carbon sequestration took place bringing the greenhouse effect back into balance.

This period provides vital lessons for us today, read more about it at:

Global warming 55 million years ago caused migration to North America

Perhaps the most important lesson is this; the kind of changes that we ourselves are bringing about will take millions of years for the planet to sort out. Our civilization depends very much on the state of the planet we found ourselves in during the last 10,000 years. We have been assiduously destroying the balance the planet took millions of years to create and we will have to wait millions of years for the planet to repair our mistakes.

We are washing away the foundations of our existence on every front. It is high time we move from crashing about on the planet like a bull in china shop and find a way to go forward with intent. We must find systems of living based on sustainability. The systems and tools exist, it is up to each of us to adopt them.

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