The Earth Organization is an international, independent, non-profit group which seeks to reverse the dwindling spiral of the plant and animal kingdoms and our environment through education and action.

Sunday, 7 July 2013

The War on Life

"The War on Life"
Published in the Namib Times,
By Marcia Stanton

You’re on a flight, off to somewhere fun.  You look out at the wings of the airplane and you are amazed at how strong it is.  Suddenly you look and you see a nut and bolt come apart.  At first, you think it will all be fine... until another comes off, and then another.  The wing starts coming apart. You panic.  The plane will not be able to keep flying with a broken wing.  If only that mechanic had paid attention and made sure the plane didn’t lose all those nuts and bolts.  Perhaps one or two lost would have been fine, but losing so many made it so weak it eventually fell apart. 

The same holds true with removing species from our planet.  As species die off and don’t get replaced, the weaker the Earth gets and the more likely we are to crash.  Currently it is estimated that we are losing approximately 10,000 species per year. These species are permanently gone- they are extinct.  Some might say that extinction is natural and it’s always occurred, but the problem is that the current rate of extinction is between 1,000 to 10,000 times higher than normal. 

We humans are almost wholly responsible for this drastic increase in species loss. We demand too many resources. We pollute, mine, create industrial areas, construct roads, power lines and power plants, build unnecessary structures, and hunt, fish, and collect too many species.  Simply put, worldwide we take way more than we need.  We effectively convert areas where animals live into places they cannot survive, all to meet the demands of excessive human wants. 

One by one, we drive species to extinction, never to return.  Yet each species has a unique role to play.  If you remove one species, it affects all the other species in a negative way.  A healthy ecosystem is a balance of a variety of species which depend on each other.  None survive alone.  A larger variety of species makes the environment stronger, just as more nuts and bolts in an airplane make it stronger. This is what we call biodiversity.

Biodiversity provides food security, jobs, medicine, disease and disaster control, and social, cultural and spiritual needs. Only 5 percent of known plant species have been screened for their medicinal values, although we continue to lose at least 100 plant species daily. According to the World Resources Institute, “surprisingly, scientists have a better understanding of how many stars there are in the galaxy than how many species there are on Earth.”

Although we don’t yet know all the species on the planet, we do know that at least 80 percent of our needs come directly from species including those we don’t know by name.  In our greedy drive to be ‘civilized’ – to have more than what we need - every year we destroy 10,000 of the very species which are essential to our own survival.

The question remains “can any civilization wage relentless war on life without destroying itself and without losing the right to be called civilized?” Rachel Carson

The Unsung Heroes

"The Unsung Heroes"
Published in the Namib Times,
By Marcia Stanton

That little yellow and black critter buzzing around your yard is one of the greatest heroes our planet has ever seen.  You may say she’s annoying and perhaps even scary, but the fact is that you need her for your survival. Albert Einstein said that if she “disappeared off the surface of the globe, man would have only four years to live."

She is the bee: the most effective plant pollinator on earth.

Bees - along with beetles, butterflies, birds and bats - are responsible for pollinating the earth’s plants.  Without them, over 30% of crops and 90% of wild plants would die.  Humans and animals rely on plants for survival and if we destroy plant pollinators, we destroy plants and ultimately most of our food and oxygen.

These natural crop pollinators provide us with free agricultural labour that would otherwise cost US$250 billion.  Bees ask no salary to do their work and they put in plenty of overtime hours. How do we repay them? We eradicate these incredible little volunteer labourers with pesticides and we effectively retrench them permanently. 

We’ve been throwing caution to the wind for too long using pesticides without comprehending the long term affect.  Now bees face a major crisis called Colony Collapse Disorder and one of the main causes is long term pesticide use.  Scientists have detected over 121 different pesticides in samples of bees, wax and pollen.

As a result, it has been estimated that 50% of the bee population has already been wiped out and specialists are concerned that bees are heading for extinction. Losing this many bees greatly increases the chance of a major world food supply crisis.  According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, bees alone pollinate 71 of the 100 crop species responsible for food security. 

Bees are irreplaceable and the fact remains that there are simply not enough humans in the world to pollinate all the world’s crops by hand.  One bee colony pollinates up to 300 million flowers per day.  A human could never keep up as the only way for a person to pollinate is to use a feather brush to place pollen on each individual flower.  This is a labour intensive process that drastically increases the cost and decreases the yield of food production, ultimately causing much higher food prices and food scarcity. Globally, it costs US$5.7 billion per year for the lower crop yields and increased production costs caused by bee decline.

Although scientists do not know precisely how to avert the disaster, they have suggested a precautionary approach until more is known.  As a result, this year on April 29th, the European Union voted to place a two-year moratorium on three pesticides that could pose an acute risk to bees.

Now more than ever we need to remember the unsung heroes of our planet and proceed with caution on how we treat them.  Let their plight remind us to stop tinkering with things we don’t fully understand.