What will be left?
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
At the rate we are ravaging our land, air, and oceans, will any of the marvelous abundance and diversity and of our planet that gives it both its beauty and its capability of supporting human existence be left for our children and their children? That is a question we should all be asking ourselves.
What is happening to the Gulf of Mexico and its marine life as a consequence of our insatiable demand for petroleum is only one aspect of what we are doing to our oceans, and is rivaled by modern fishing industry practices. The over-fishing of one fishing ground after another by huge factory ships employing enormous haul nets is causing a decline in the population of fish of reproducing size, and is threatening extinction of non-target species trapped in the nets, known in the industry as “by-catch”. Bottom-trawling fishing operations strip the seafloor bare, leaving it unable to recover from the damage. In the 19th Century, whales were saved from extermination by the massive whaling industry only by the advent of cheaper petroleum which replaced the need for whale oil, and whale numbers have still not recovered. The cruel and wasteful Japanese practice of cutting the fins off live sharks for shark-fin soup, and throwing the sharks back into the sea to die is taking a toll on shark populations. And to add insult to injury we are dumping millions of tons of solid wastes, largely non-degrading plastics, into the oceans where they form enormous floating masses and entangle ocean creatures.
Industrial chemicals and waste products in huge quantities are either intentionally or unintentionally ending up in the oceans, in the air we breath, and in the water we drink. By far the largest of these discharges is the millions of tons of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere from the burning of fossil fuels. A significant amount of that carbon dioxide is absorbed into, and is acidifying, the oceans – threatening the survival of coral reefs and shellfish, and disrupting the entire food chain on which marine life depends.
Climate change, and loss and fragmentation of habitat by human encroachment, as a growing population seeks more land to feed itself and degrades the land in extracting minerals, threatens the survival of multitudes of species, most notably large animals such as elephants, polar bears, cheetahs, lions, tigers, leopards, and all varieties of primates – gorillas, orangutans, chimpanzees, lemurs, tarsiers, and monkeys. This human impact is aggravated by rampant poaching: elephants for their tusks; rhinoceros for their horns; rare and exotic birds and other species for private collectors; big cats for their pelts; bear and tiger organs for “folk medications” in China and Japan (often as aphrodisiacs); and in much of Africa, just about anything that moves, including endangered species, for what is called “bush-meat”, much of which is being smuggled into Europe. Unless we stop or severely curtail these practices, any effort to conserve wildlife will be nothing more than a holding action, merely delaying the inevitable. Sadly, there doesn’t seem to be much question that if environmental issues and wildlife are in the way of human demands for resources and more cropland, wildlife and the environment will be the losers.
Our agricultural and industrial practices are threatening the future of both our land and underground water resources. Most of the land we depend on for our food has lost half of its productive topsoil in just 150 years, and over-pumping of our aquifers is depleting ground water at an alarming rate. In addition, the reservoirs on which the western states rely for water for their cities and for irrigation of croplands are steadily losing water storage capacity as they fill up with silt, threatening the future of our food supply.
There is a common thread in nearly all of these threats to the Earth’s ability to meet the needs of the world’s and our country’s ever-growing population, and that is over-population. World population has exceeded the supporting capacity of the planet for decades, and is continuing to do so at a steadily increasing rate. If we don’t reduce population to a sustainable level, events too grim to contemplate will do it for us. It won’t be the first time in human history, but it will be the first time that it will impact the entire world.
– Glenwood Springs resident Hal Sundin’s column runs every other Thursday in the Post Independent.
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