Pulse Check on Earth

In a past blog post on this site, I asked the question whether humanity will live forever. Since then I’ve been reading more articles and books about this topic. I won’t cite all the references here, basically this is all publicly available info.

Latest since this summer, climate change is omnipresent, and clearly accelerating as a threat. Record temperatures and droughts in Europe, flooding in Pakistan, heatwaves in China, extreme storms in the USA… scientists across the globe see the worst scenarios materializing. These changes will no doubt affect all of us: the production of food will be impacted, more people will start migrating. As a reaction, vineyards in France are developing heat resistant vines, in the Netherlands and Germany, projects are underway to safeguard against flooding and dry periods. China is apparently purchasing land in Siberia, in line with the expectation that only countries in the very north and south of the planet will be safe havens.

On top of that, an additional and very significant crisis is afoot. Globally, the number of species is rapidly being reduced. Currently, species die out at a rate hundred-fold higher than in the last ten million years. As one example, of the 60000 species of trees, 50% are at risk of disappearing, and in the last one hundred years, 100 species have vanished.

Nature is suffering. IPBES (the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, who provide many of the estimates mentioned here), states that since 1972, the number of vertebrates was reduced by 60%.

It is expected that about a million different species may disappear forever in the next decennia.

Why is the worrying? Humans, like all other species, are part of an ecosystem. An ecosystem rich in species, is capable to react to changes in the environment. Once more and more species are removed from an ecosystem, the risk of a collapse increases. Think about a soccer team: a team with a functioning offense and defence has the best change of winning. But what happens if the captain is replaced by a defender? And then the goalie too? What if the number of players stays the same but they are all defenders? Such a homogeneous, un-diverse, team may still work if the opposing team is weak… but the team won’t make it too the final. I won’t be betting on them.

The scientific arguments for dramatic consequences due to these ecosystem changes and species extinction are strong. One such consequence is staring us in the face: the Corona epidemic. This pandemic could be halted as a vaccine became available early on. As the global ecosystems loose their flexibility / elasticity, expect more viruses and pathogens to appear. What if no vaccine (HIV comes to mind) can be developed?

This is depressing news, so is their way out? There’s always a way out, and both big and small steps can be taken. First of all, climate change is directly linked to the disappearance of species and the damage to our ecosystem. On an individual level, we need to look at our housing (heating, electricity), our mobility and consumption. The questions that we must ask ourselves are: do we need a vacation destination that can only be reached by plane? Do we need to eat meat, fish and dairy products? Do we need to buy new clothing, or products from far away countries? Do we need to build a new house, do we need all the space we have? Where can we save on heating an electricity? The good news is that there are many screws each one of us can turn.

The biggest challenge is that humankind grows by about 100,000,000 humans each year. Humankind must urgently find ways to slow down this growth, for instance by helping people not to become involuntary pregnant. This needs a considerable rethink.

If we don’t stop the extinction of species, our own success as a species may well kill us.

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