Humans may believe we live in enlightened times but future historians, (if there are any) will look back at our era as “dirty, crowded, superstitious, dangerous, and primitive” as the Dark Ages, ecologist Carl Safina, president of Blue Ocean Institute, says.
To avert imminent catastrophe, he calls for replacing “the no-accounting, throwaway, boomeranging, soot-powered economy with a clean, renewable, no-waste, recycling economy.”
“In accounting terms,” he points out in an article published in the May-June Utne Reader, “we’re running a deficit, eating into our principal, running down and liquidating our natural capital assets. Something’s getting ready to break.”Safina — a marine conservationist and recipient of Pew, MacArthur, and Guggenheim fellowships — says, “I hope humanity survives” yet warns that “Since 1970 populations of fishes, amphibians, mammals, reptiles, and birds have declined about 30 percent worldwide.” He notes, “Species are going extinct about a thousand times faster than the geologically ‘recent’ average; the last extinction wave this severe snuffed the dinosaurs.”
Humans are devouring 40 percent of the life that Earth’s land produces and “take a similar proportion of what the coastal seas produce. For one midsized creature that collectively weighs just half a percent of the animal mass on Earth, that is a staggering proportion. It redefines ‘dominion.’ We dominate.”
As the UN estimates Earth’s human population will exceed 9 billion people by mid-century, Safina sees trouble ahead sustaining a growth equivalent to “two more Chinas.”
He explains, “We’d still probably have to expand agriculture onto new land, and that means using more water” when water supplies are drying up. “Since all growth depends on what plants make using sunlight, continuous growth of the human enterprise for more than a few decades may not be possible.”
“By mid-century it would take about two planet Earths to provide enough to meet projected demand (add another half-Earth if everyone wants to live like Americans.”) While Americans comprise just five per cent of the world’s population, they use roughly 30 percent of the world’s nonrenewable energy and minerals.
Safina warns, “We’re pumping freshwater faster than rain falls, catching fish faster than they spawn. Roughly 40 percent of tropical coral reefs are rapidly deteriorating; none are considered safe. Forests are shrinking by about an acre per second.”
Compared to the era of America’s founding, ozone is thinner and carbon dioxide denser by a third; synthetic fertilizers have doubled the global nitrogen flow to living systems, washing down rivers and, since the 1970s, “creating hundreds of oxygen-starved seafloor ‘dead zones.’”“We’ve learned that we can eliminate the most abundant herds and birds, and the fishes of even the deepest haunts; take groundwater out faster than it goes in; change the composition of the atmosphere and the chemistry of the ocean,” Safina writes.
“As a new force of nature, humans are changing the world at rates and scales previously matched mainly by geological and cosmic forces like volcanoes, ice-age cycles, and comet strikes. That’s why everything from aardvarks to zooplankton are feeling their world shifting. As are many people, who don’t always know why.”
As humanity pushes the planet toward destruction, it is incredible that half of all the taxes collected from the American people — who are principal players in this rush — are used for warfare rather than to rebuild and rejuvenate the planet they are ravaging. The Blue Ocean Institute is located in Cold Spring Harbor, N.Y., and works to restore living abundance in the ocean.
Sherwood Ross is a publicist “for good causes” who formerly worked as a reporter for major dailies and as a columnist for wire services. To comment or contribute reach him at [email protected]