Have you ever stopped mid-bite and wondered if what you are eating affects Earth?
I'm sure we have all thought about how a particular food or meal might affect ourselves, but when we think of Earth, we think of a planet that sustains life, our life, animal life, and plant life, and will always do so, because it has always done so.
Yet, scientists know that there have been mass global extinctions. Five. There have been five times in Earth's history where there have been mass die-offs of species.
Scientists now believe we have entered the sixth mass extinction.
The difference this time is that this extinction is instigated by humans. In the past 150-200 years, humans have changed the evolution and ecosystems of our planet through development, industrialization, economic and population growth, and greed.
This sixth extinction has been coined: "The anthropocene-era extinction."
According to this paper by Harvard's Center for Health and the Global Environment, in a natural state of homeostasis, Earth loses approximately 1 species per million species per year. Currently, however, Earth is losing somewhere between 100 and 1,000 times this level each year, possibly more, as this is only an estimate based on "known" extinctions.
Our world and its species depend on a web. Animals and their ecosystems have evolved co-dependently to feed off each other and from each other.
So, losing one species will directly, and indirectly, impact the lives and survivability of other species. INCLUDING OUR OWN. After all, we are just another species.
The loss of species occurs for a myriad of reasons:
1) Loss of Habitat:
Humans rapidly cut down thick and luscious forests, natural reservoirs of life, home to hundreds of thousands of species, many likely still unknown, to create monoculture farmlands to grow crops such as soy, corn, wheat, or alfalfa for agricultural animals such as chickens, cows, and even fish.
Unfortunately, cutting down forests destroys animals' food and habitat, displacing them, perhaps starving them or outright killing them. Even in our oceans, habitats in the form of coral reefs are rapidly disappearing, dying, or destroyed as a result of climate change (more below) and other man-made degradation.
Similarly, dams negatively affect the ability of fish (example: Chinook Salmon) to reach their spawning grounds. This reduces their population, viability, and longevity. This also negatively affects some of their major predators, such as orca, killer whales. Near Washington State, the Southern Resident Killer Whale population is critically endangered, with around 85 individuals left due to the loss of this primary food-source.
Whether it is overfishing, by-catch, trawling, or simply overhunting (on land), humans consume far too many animals, at far too fast a rate, and their numbers are being irreparably depleted.
Blue-fin Tuna, for example, are a highly endangered species of fish (according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature-IUCN), which have been overfished to satisfy our gluttonous appetite. In some areas, only 4 percent of the Blue-fin tuna population remains, as outlined in this Guardian article.
Similarly, elephants have been hunted on land for their ivory tusks to the point where they may go extinct in the wild within the next ten years. It is estimated that 30,000 elephants are killed each year for their tusks, and only 300,000 remain. You can find more information on this BBC website here.
3) Trade of endangered species and blackmarkets:
Similar to elephant tusks, rhinoceros populations are on the brink of extinction due to the blackmarket sale of horns. In fact, in some parts of Africa, rhinoceros's are tranquilized so their horns can be cut off by conservationists to protect their lives.
In other countries, manta-rays, sharks, and even dolphins are brutally murdered or left to die at sea for their fins or gill rakes. These "commodities" are used in shark-fin soup, as meat, or in Eastern medicinals; again, placing these animals at risk for extinction.
For a much more in-depth expose on the trade of endangered species, please see the movie "Racing Extinction" movie or website.
4) Global Climate Change
According the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), humans have caused more damage to the climate in the past 150 years than has been seen since the last extinction, of the dinosaurs, some 65 million years ago.
We have nearly doubled the amount of carbon in our atmosphere in this time period, with the vast majority of this increase occurring in the last 50 years. In fact, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the 10 hottest years on record have all happened since 1998, with 2015 being even warmer than 2014.
There are a myriad of reasons for this. The primary reasons however include fossil fuel use and animal agriculture/animal husbandry. However, that will be a post on its own.
But to sum it up:
Humans are the number one cause of these extinctions. Humans are the number one cause of most (but not all) ecological and environmental problems seen in this world.
While we may have evolved to be able to consume "everything," planet Earth and its environment have not evolved for more than 7-Billion humans to consume "everything."
I highlight the word consume, because humans do not only eat. We consume. We consume resources faster than they can reproduce or regenerate. We consume lives, animal lives, plant-lives (trees), irreparably. We consume carbon and create twice as much through agriculture. We take, and take, and take.
It is time, starting TODAY to take the first step in giving back. It is time starting TODAY to consume less, to use less, to kill less.
The Earth is not here just for the taking. Earth is not just a resource. It is our home, our one and only home.
We are supposed to be Earth's stewards, we are supposed to take care of the land and the seas, so that this generation of animals (and humans) is not the last, so that we do not look back 50 years from now and say to our grandchildren, "There was a time when elephants roamed the Earth."
We must prevent species collapse through conservation, policy reformation, tighter controls on blackmarket trades, and better climate policies, which MUST INCLUDE sustainable food systems, and the time to start, is NOW.