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Climate Change and the New Age of Extinction


The first documented extinction of 2019 occurred on New Year’s Day, with the death of a Hawaiian tree snail named George. George, who was about an inch long, had a grayish body, grayish tentacles, and a conical shell striped in beige and brown. He was born in captivity, in Honolulu, and had spent his unassuming life oozing around his terrarium, consuming fungi. Researchers with Hawaii’s forestry department had tried to find a partner for him—George was a hermaphrodite, but he needed a mate in order to reproduce—and when they couldn’t they concluded that he was the last of his kind, Achatinella apexfulva. A few days after he went, presumably gently, into that good night, the department posted a eulogy under the heading “farewell to a beloved snail . . . and a species.” “Unfortunately, he is survived by none,” it observed.

George’s passing prompted a spate of headlines, and then, it seems safe to say, was forgotten. Americans have, by now, grown inured to “last of” stories, which appear with the unsurprising regularity of seasonal dessert recipes. (George the snail was named for Lonesome George, a Pinta Island tortoise from the Galápagos, also the last of his kind, who died in 2012.) In February, the Australian government declared a ratlike creature known as the Bramble Cay melomys to be extinct. The melomys, found on a single low-lying island between Australia and Papua New Guinea, appears to have been done in by climate change, which has shrunk its habitat and brought ever more damaging flooding. Then, in April, Chinese state media reported that the last known female Yangtze giant softshell turtle had died. “Her species might die with her,” the Washington Post noted.

Last week, an international group of scientists issued what the Times called “the most exhaustive look yet at the decline in biodiversity.” The findings were grim. On the order of a million species are now facing extinction, “many within decades.” “What’s at stake here is a liveable world,” Robert Watson, the chairman of the group, Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, told Science.

The U.N.-backed I.P.B.E.S. is to flora and fauna what the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is to the atmosphere. Based in Bonn, it is funded by a hundred and thirty-two member nations, including the United States. More than three hundred experts contributed to its latest assessment, which runs to more than fifteen hundred pages.

The authors trace two diverging trend lines: one upward-sloping, for people, and one sloping downward, for everything else. During the past fifty years, the planet’s human population has doubled. In that same period, the size of the global economy has quadrupled, and global trade has grown tenfold. If hundreds of millions of people around the world are still mired in poverty, there are many more people living in prosperity today than ever before.

To keep nearly eight billion people fed, not to mention housed, clothed, and hooked on YouTube, humans have transformed most of the earth’s surface. Seventy-five per cent of the land is “significantly altered,” the I.P.B.E.S. noted in a summary of its report, which was released last week in Paris. In addition, “66 per cent of the ocean area is experiencing increasing cumulative impacts, and over 85 per cent of wetlands (area) has been lost.” Approximately half the world’s coral cover is gone. In the past ten years alone, at least seventy-five million acres of “primary or recovering forest” have been destroyed.

Habitat destruction and overfishing are, for now, the main causes of biodiversity declines, according to the I.P.B.E.S., but climate change is emerging as a “direct driver” and is “increasingly exacerbating the impact of other drivers.” Its effects, the report notes, “are accelerating.” Watson wrote last week, in the Guardian, that “we cannot solve the threats of human-induced climate change and loss of biodiversity in isolation. We either solve both or we solve neither.”

How long can the two trend lines continue to head in opposite directions? This is the key question raised by the report, and it may turn out to be the key question of the century. Many documented species have already disappeared—to take the example of Hawaiian tree snails, Achatinella apexfulva is just one of hundreds of species that have been lost—and probably even more vanished before they could be identified. Many others, like the Yangtze giant softshell turtle, are functionally extinct.

So far, it could be argued, the casualties haven’t slowed us down. The I.P.B.E.S. report cautions, however, against assuming that this pattern will continue. Nature, it succinctly observes, “is essential for human existence.” The report points to pollinators as one group of organisms that humans can’t readily do without. Ninety per cent of flowering plants and seventy-five per cent of all types of food crops rely on pollination by animals—birds, bats, and (mostly) insects. Cash crops including coffee, cocoa, and almonds are pollinator-dependent. In many regions, important pollinators, like native bees, are in decline. It’s not clear exactly why, but probably one of the major factors is an increasing reliance on synthetic pesticides, which don’t distinguish between insects that are useful and those that are unwanted. These chemicals are supposed to prevent crop failures; the danger is that they may end up causing them.

As much as six hundred billion dollars’ worth of annual agricultural production “is at risk as a result of pollinator loss,” the I.P.B.E.S. warned. In an earlier report, on pollinators and the food supply, the group predicted that “total pollinator loss” would decrease production of the most important dependent crops “by more than 90 per cent.”

We would, it seems, be well advised to shift course, if only for our own, species-centric reasons. And, according to the I.P.B.E.S., there is still time for “transformative changes” in the “production and consumption of energy, food, feed, fibre and water.” Regrettably, though, all signs point to more of the same. In 2018, carbon-dioxide emissions from the energy sector rose to a new high of thirty-six billion tons. Also in 2018, nearly thirty million acres of tropical forest were lost—an area the size of Pennsylvania. As the Web site InsideClimate News noted, this destruction occurred “even as more corporations and countries made commitments to preserve tropical forests.” As long as we continue to tear through the biosphere, expect the losses to continue to mount. ♦

New Yorker

32 Comments on "Climate Change and the New Age of Extinction"

  1. DerHundistLos on Sun, 12th May 2019 8:46 am 

    Do ANY of you give a fuck?

    What are YOU doing to at least mitigate the mass extinction emergency?

  2. DerHundistLos on Sun, 12th May 2019 8:54 am 

    How does the leader of the free world respond?

    Trump and his Republican enablers in congress are working overtime to preferably eliminate or at least weaken every hard fought environmental law and program possible from the Endangered Species Act to selling off of our parks.

    Where are the benevolent ETs to put a stop to the madness because we are rapidly approaching doomsday/

  3. DerHundistLos on Sun, 12th May 2019 8:55 am 

    The signs are EVERYWHERE

  4. asg70 on Sun, 12th May 2019 9:05 am 

    “What are YOU doing to at least mitigate the mass extinction emergency?”

    For Plant, it’s jumping on another jet and flying around the globe while criticizing others for the same.

  5. Duncan Idaho on Sun, 12th May 2019 9:27 am 

    “What are YOU doing to at least mitigate the mass extinction emergency?”

    Brokeahontas is working on it.
    (I like tRUMP’s new nick name– 6 times bankrupt).
    We have 7.7 billion humans– this game is going to the final innings.

  6. Sunspot on Sun, 12th May 2019 10:41 am 

    “What are YOU doing to at least mitigate the mass extinction emergency?”

    I made the greatest sacrifice a human can make – I didn’t procreate. So I get to use a tank of gas sometimes – I’ve done my part!

  7. sunspot on Sun, 12th May 2019 10:49 am 

    …and anyway – it no longer matters what the humans do. We started the Global Warming, but it now has a “life of its own” – the planet will continue to heat up because of a multitude of feedbacks and tipping points we have blown through. The runaway greenhouse has begun, and it doesn’t take long…

  8. Duncan Idaho on Sun, 12th May 2019 10:59 am 

    “I made the greatest sacrifice a human can make – I didn’t procreate.”
    In this collapsing, decadent culture, that is a noble act.

  9. Sissyfuss on Sun, 12th May 2019 11:21 am 

    C’mon, I’m a nonbreeding tree hugger and the freedom of making that choice allowed me to live all over this country and do what I wanted which was no sacrifice. And now I am free to leave this mass calamity at a time when staying is too painful. A few more years perhaps.

  10. Sissyfuss on Sun, 12th May 2019 11:59 am 

    Derhund, my brother. We who are aware of the natural worlds ruination must learn to accept its demise with a certain modicum of grace. And when you discover the path to that state, enlighten me, for I just keep bouncing from one tipping point to the next without respite.

  11. Famlin on Sun, 12th May 2019 12:12 pm 

    Some people do care about the extinction of animals, but most people don’t care as long as impact on humans are lesser.

    But slowly over a period of time, people are moving to veganism as a way to reduce the stress on planets resources.

    Recently Impossible Burgers and Beyond Meat are 2 companies who are popularizing plant foods which tastes like meat.

  12. Duncan Idaho on Sun, 12th May 2019 1:41 pm 

    “for I just keep bouncing from one tipping point to the next without respite.”
    Welcome to the club—–

  13. makati1 on Sun, 12th May 2019 6:23 pm 

    sunspot, yes, we have passed the reset button and are on the way to the end. All I see and read points to that. The events pointing that out are seldom published and those that are are not put into perspective or widespread in the MSM.

    Americans especially are so dumbed down, it would take a few courses in biology, physics, and ecology for them to grasp the significance of what is happening. That is, after they have had courses in reading and math. Many 3rd world countries have an excuse for not being educated, but Americans do not and they are the worse offenders in pollution and waste, bar none.

    We are on the slide to the extinction cliff, and gaining speed. I will not likely see the end, but some born today probably will. Meanwhile, prep for the worse and hope for the best.

  14. Davy on Mon, 13th May 2019 6:27 am 

    “Making America Carbon Neutral Could Cost $1 Trillion a Year” Bloomberg

    “Democrats from Capitol Hill to the presidential campaign trail see climate change as a winning political issue, and they’re competing to outdo one another with ambitious plans to halt the rise in planet-warming greenhouse gases in the atmosphere over as small as a 10-year period. But is that even possible”

    “Nobody thinks the shift will be easy—many doubt it’s even possible—in large part because emissions are still on the rise, according to the Global Carbon Project, which collaborates with climate groups worldwide on research to quantify greenhouse gases. Global emissions were estimated to have risen 2.7% in 2018 from a year earlier, and 2.5% in the U.S., the group found.”

    “Any U.S. effort to cut net emissions to zero would “be a massive project over decades,” says Alex Trembath, deputy director of the Breakthrough Institute, an Oakland, California-based environmental research group. The goal of 2050 is “a reach, but it’s perfectly feasible in terms of technological innovation and scaling,” Trembath adds, but 2030 “is functionally impossible.”

    “The U.S. sector that’s the No. 1 source of greenhouse gas would need to be electrified and converted to clean energy—electric cars, trucks, and buses. Cities would need to be redesigned with denser development centered around mass transit to reduce the need for personal vehicles and encourage walking and bike riding.”

    “The energy sector, the second-largest source of U.S. emissions, needs to transition fully away from coal and natural gas—or couple it with costly carbon capture systems, which have been used at oil refineries and other facilities but never deployed widely in electricity manufacturing. The nation’s power grid will need to double in size to accommodate more power from far-flung renewables, which will also require new battery storage. New technologies, such as advanced nuclear power generation, will need to be commercialized.”

    “Agriculture accounts for about 9% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions—think farting cows and factory farms. Based on a U.K. plan to cut net emissions to zero by 2050, released earlier this month by the government’s Committee on Climate Change, drastic changes would be required. More people would need to eat veggie burgers and forgo beef, lamb, and dairy products. Farmers would have to undertake “transformational land use changes,” including tree planting and restoring soil and peatland.”

    “The steep slope of emission cuts needed would require carbon removal not only in the power sector, but also for industrial processes such as the manufacture of steel, cement, and other products that are heavy greenhouse gas producers.”

  15. Davy on Mon, 13th May 2019 6:35 am 

    “Need Bigger Boats. Much Bigger Boats” bloomberg wind turbine scale pic

    “Only about a dozen ships in the world can install a wind turbine. A shortage is looming—and shipowners don’t know how big the next generation of vessels has to be. How do you install a wind turbine almost the size of the Chrysler building in the open ocean? Just get a boat with deck space larger than a football field and a crane that can lift the weight of 1,100 Chevy Suburban SUVs.”

    “Nevertheless, a shortage of ships could come as early as 2022 since the European market is expanding at an “unprecedented pace,” according to Clarksons Platou AS, a broker that has arranged offshore wind charters for a decade. The squeeze will only get tighter as boats leave the region for growing markets in Asia and the U.S.”

  16. Davy on Mon, 13th May 2019 7:10 am 

    “Elonroad EV Charging System To Get First Trial In Sweden” clean technical

    “The rail system itself is easy to install. Since it rests on top of the pavement, no asphalt or concrete needs to be dug up. Zethraeus points out that it is not necessary to electrify the entire length of a road. “If [a car] drives one kilometer on our electric road, it can drive another two kilometers on the energy it charged from our road. So it makes a total of three kilometers of driving. But you only pay for one kilometer of [installation].” All that is needed is adding a contacter device to the underside of any electric vehicle to charge while driving. The advantages of the system are many. Assuming the Elonroad system is widely available, EVs could charge as they drive, which means they wouldn’t need such large batteries as they do today. Researchers at Lund University estimate the Elonroad systems could permit electric cars to use 80% smaller batteries. Smaller batteries = less expensive cars = more EVs on the road = less carbon pollution going into the atmosphere. It’s a win-win-win-win situation. Then there is the argument that smaller batteries mean less mining of scarce materials like lithium and cobalt and/or using the materials that are available to electrify more vehicles than would be possible if each one has a large enough battery to go 200 – 300 miles without recharging.”

  17. Davy on Mon, 13th May 2019 7:33 am 

    “Claps of thunder: call for papers” the ecologist

    “Advocates of ‘green capitalism’ have failed to offer a plausible solution to a catastrophe that is more imminent than ever. Strategy and vision Any attempt to avert climate change requires a mobilisation of resources and a profound change in production and consumption forms that are incompatible with capitalist social relations of production. But even if such an attempt is launched tomorrow, we are likely to face a long-lasting legacy of damages to the earth system. How does communism fare in a world thus despoiled? What alternatives to the various miserable endgames mapped out for us by capital can Marxists envision? What new configurations of agency, strategy and vision are necessary for human emancipation and survival?”

    “Suggested themes Relationships between climate change, mass extinction and capitalism. Potential for new modalities of racial capitalism, or a new form of ‘climate sovereign’ or ‘climate Leviathan’, to emerge around the militarisation of climate policy under the rubric of ‘natural security’. Commodification of climate change, as for example with the pursuit of carbon markets, ‘green capitalist’ technologies, and the opening of the Transpolar Sea Route and the military struggles for control over it. Popular militancy, denial, apathy, anger and ‘melancholia’ in the face of climate crisis, and the ideological or psychoanalytic bases thereof. Emerging forms of climate reaction, from libertarian strategies of denial/affirmation, to eco-fascist Arcadias based on racist genocide. Ecological and political viability of strategies of mitigation — from Green New Deals to geoengineering to ‘half-earth’ strategies — and the meaning of any plausible scenario of communist plenty in a de-carbonised future. The recent ecological reformulations of historical materialism, the relevance of Marxist categories for analysing the geological scales of ‘Deep Time’ on which the climate crisis is predicated, and the relationship between Marxism and the ‘hard sciences’. – Marxist-Feminism – Race and Capital – Workers’ Inquiry – Sexuality and Political Economy – Rethinking SovereigntyA luta continua: Contemporary Radical Politics confronts Disaster Capitalism in the Middle East and North Africa Utopia & Post-Capitalism Marxism and World Literatures”

  18. Davy on Mon, 13th May 2019 7:34 am 

    I post this as a reminder of new political forces that are shaping up as the crisis of confidence in the status quo intensifies. I am not interested in political movements. I am doing Real Green Deep Adaptation which is local and personal but I will keep an eye on these movements for what George Mobus recommends:
    “The best advice I can give is that one should be vigilant, observe what is happening in the world and, particularly pay attention to the rates of change, and maintain an ability to proactively adapt to the consequences.”
    The young who are dumb and full of cum will be jumping into anything that sounds good so prepare for some serious conflict once times turn extreme. I am not saying this is eco Marxism is the wrong approach what I am saying per Real Green Deep Adaptation is any direction is going to get us to the same place just some quicker than others. Honesty and wisdom are the key ingredients to any movement and few I have seen acknowledge this.

  19. InsanityisSanity on Mon, 13th May 2019 8:17 am 

    Sorry, but we have already crossed into global COOLING, aka Grand Solar Minimum. We are currently during the 3rd weakest sunspot cycle in history of observation. That, connnected with weakening Earth magnetic field (which results in jet streams wandering)brings the volatile weather of today.
    Don’t anyone see that global warming scam was always a cover for peak oil? The scam has always been exclusively about CO2 from fossil fuels, not about planting more trees or so.
    So it has been always about peak oil.

  20. Cloggie on Mon, 13th May 2019 8:50 am 

    “Only about a dozen ships in the world can install a wind turbine. A shortage is looming—and shipowners don’t know how big the next generation of vessels has to be. How do you install a wind turbine almost the size of the Chrysler building in the open ocean? Just get a boat with deck space larger than a football field and a crane that can lift the weight of 1,100 Chevy Suburban SUVs.”

    All dozen operating in European waters:

    …owned by Dutch, Danish and German operators.

  21. Davy on Mon, 13th May 2019 9:09 am 

    A point Cloggo has made numerous times because Cloggo is proud. Lol.

  22. Davy on Mon, 13th May 2019 9:13 am 

    Oops, sorry everyone. What I meant to say was:

    A point Cloggie has made numerous times because Cloggie is right. Lol.

    I’m such a whining dumbass pussy. WAAH!

  23. JuanP on Mon, 13th May 2019 9:33 am 

    Mods IP ban the lunatic and ICE deport the Miami Beach South American playboy scum.

  24. Mods on Mon, 13th May 2019 9:43 am 

    JuanP stopped posting here months ago Davy, and with your family’s fortune you too could be a Miami Beach Playboy. There’s no reason for you to get so mad and jealous all the time.

  25. Dredd on Mon, 13th May 2019 10:13 am 

    Global warming awareness is moving at a snail’s pace (Seaports With Sea Level Change – 2).

  26. Mods on Mon, 13th May 2019 12:30 pm 

    JuanP started stealing identities and puppeteering his many personalities months ago instead of posting like a normal contributor. He did this without concern for others. He has polluted the place with nonsense because he is a selfish prick. IP ban the bitch.

  27. Mods on Mon, 13th May 2019 2:03 pm 

    Your mommy isn’t going to hold your hand Davy. Go whine somewhere else pussy.

  28. Mods on Mon, 13th May 2019 2:14 pm 

    Davy is not the triggered lunatic who is crashing the forum. You are the guilty one, JuanP.

  29. DerHundistLos on Mon, 13th May 2019 3:08 pm 

    Brother Siss,

    I am incapable of accepting our devastation of the living earth with a modicum of grace. I feel compelled to do everything within my power to make a substantive difference, thus my work in creation of protected reserves in the country with the highest biodiversity of any country on earth. Colombia is a paradise of biodiversity. As of 2016, Colombia was home to 56,343 species (and many more have been discovered since then), of which over 9,000 were endemic (unique) to the country, and it is classed as one of earth’s 17 megadiverse countries. There are more species of birds and orchids in Colombia than anywhere else on earth, and Colombia is second in the number of species of plants, amphibians, butterflies and freshwater fish, third in the number of species of palm trees and reptiles and fourth in its diversity of mammals.

    As observed by E. O. Wilson, “If earth’s biodiversity were a country, it could be called Colombia.”

    So I continue my work to create islands of sanctuary. I’m pleased to report that a judge from Bogota visited and approved title for 1,075 hectares (2.688 acres) of heavenly cloud rainforest in the area bordering the departments of Antioquia and El Choco. Now we begin the work to expand the reserve boundaries. Amazingly, Colombia is one of the last countries to have large areas of frontier or unclaimed land.

    Come down sometime as an honored guest, Siss. You are always welcome. You will always have one of the reserves to call home where you will live comfortably and relaxed.

  30. Sissyfuss on Tue, 14th May 2019 7:29 am 

    I’m honored Derhund. I have nothing but respect for your accomplishments. Columbia sounds heavenly and worth the struggle to protect it. Let me know where I can contribute to your cause for it is exactly of the kind to be supported in the Anthropocene. Best wishes, my friend.

  31. Kenz on Tue, 14th May 2019 7:13 pm 

    It is time to divest from FOSSIL fools.

    Coal companies keep filing for bankruptcy.

    Oil and gas will loose value next.

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