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Saving Earth
© Kohlhase

      Humans are trashing the biosphere, with species extinction rates 1,000x greater now than in 1850, with wild fish biomass down dramatically, and with half of Earth´s humans without fresh water by 2025. Tropical forests are being cleared at the rate of 1-2 football fields each second, while Earth loses 25 billion tons of vital topsoil annually. Human population levels at nearly seven billion are much larger than sustainable from natural replacement rates, thereby stealing from future generations. Biodiversity is dying from excessive take, habitat loss, and air, water, and even noise pollution. Ocean acidification by CO2 absorption poses a lethal threat, with too many other problems posed by global warming to list here. Social scientists have recently detected physical strain, despair, and sadness among many people who fear for Earth´s future.

      The great naturalist Edward O. Wilson, professor emeritus at Harvard and twice Pulitzer Prize winner, in 2002 authored The Future of Life, a must read for all people, particularly the leaders of their countries. He notes how humanity during the 20th century “accelerated the erasure of entire ecosystems and the extinction of thousands of million-year-old species.” Wilson observes that 80% of China´s 30,000 miles of rivers are too polluted to support fish. With myriad examples, he shows that “the trail of Homo sapiens, serial killer of the biosphere, reaches to the farthest corners of the world.” Even though still hopeful, Wilson offers to future generations, “Accept our apologies and this audiovisual library that illustrates the wondrous world that used to be.” I also share his fears, having watched over the past 50 years a 90% decline in the wildlife I love.

      Politicians claim success when long-range carbon goals are set for 2050, but their short-term actions are generally ineffective. The prognosis is grim for controlling global warming, when it will have taken the U.S. thirty years to simply raise the automobile mileage standard from 25 to 35 mpg by 2016. Detroit and their lobbyists have earned their fate, as well as our planet, while taxpayers shoulder some of the consequences. The 1300-page Waxman-Markey “cap-and-trade bill” is needlessly ponderous and gives away initial pollution permits to several of the worst industries. The G-8 summit in July 2009 produced little except to restate the climate problem. Pres. Obama´s first state of the union address did mention the need for clean energy, but never voiced the word environment. In short, protecting Earth´s biosphere is mostly talk and no serious action.

      The term “ecological footprint” has been around since 1992, yet few political or business leaders acknowledge its critical importance. It is indeed fortunate that most of the planet´s humans do not live like North Americans, or we would need five Earths to supply natural resources in a sustainable manner. The volume needed to hold all natural resources for the 75-year lifetime of one North American is nearly 45 million cubic feet, or roughly twice the size of Yankee Stadium. Further, if we wished to absorb the 20 metric tons of CO2 produced annually by each North American, we would need 1,000 mature trees to handle the job (ignoring some helpful absorption by the increasingly beleaguered world´s oceans). As great regions of Earth are being deforested to make room for more people, it does not take a rocket scientist to predict the unfolding tragedy.

      Elders in the Amazon region of Ecuador are lauded for trying to save our planet through the Pachamama Alliance, a non-profit movement to prevent further destruction of the rain forests and their irreplaceable life. Tragically, even with the 2010 oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, Pres. Obama passed on the perfect opportunity to lead a global green movement. Had he tried to do so, however, the deeply flawed (indeed, broken) U.S. two-party political system would grind these great aspirations to a halt. Eight years were lost under Bush, as his administration censored scientific findings about serious environmental problems. More years will likely be lost under the present Congress, which does not have the stomach for protecting Earth rather than yielding to excessive compromise, needless complexity, special lobbying interests, give-away programs, consumerism, exaggerated terrorist threats, and passing the buck to future administrations.

      One Save-the-Earth plan might have the world´s environmental organizations each choose two representatives to join forces and form the Biosphere Protection Council. Its first task would be to carefully craft a set of Ten Green Commandments (TGC) to be honored by the world´s political leaders. Countries such as the United States and China, with their greater resources, would spearhead the use of diplomatic, economic, and even armed force, if necessary, to enforce the TGC. Many industries would need to convert their operations to the new green economy, but in the long run the planet and the global economy would be the beneficiaries. We simply must stop over-consumption of goods we do not need. We must understand how consumerism is destroying our planet and we must learn to live with less.

      Non-governmental organizations are doing their best to protect biodiversity, but their resources are simply not adequate. E. O. Wilson notes that roughly $50B could variously maintain or fully protect global “hotspot” areas of greatest biodiversity. The annual U.S. defense budget at nearly $650B exceeds that for the rest of the entire world. Why not use 8% of it (for one year) to protect biodiversity? Further, as an example for the rest of the world, we should convert a portion of our military industrial complex to a green industrial complex, using the skills of its engineers and scientists to lead a serious conservation movement. We must begin now, for Earth deserves at least a tiny hope by humans who should become its stewards, not its destroyers. Without immediate and serious positive steps, we will be at the mercy of great social and ecological upheavals as the future unfolds.

Charles Kohlhase
scientist & environmentalist
June 22, 2010