Anthropocene: Climate Instability, Plastics, Extinction

09/02/2016 07:31 pm ET Updated Sep 05, 2016

This week scientists gathered at the International Geological Congress in Cape Town, South Africa to officially recognize the Earth has entered the Anthropocene Epoch.

The new epoch began in the 1950s with nuclear bomb testing, industrial agriculture, human-caused climate disruption and the mass manufacturing of petroleum-based plastics.

The 11,700 Holocene Epoch, a stable climate, is over.

Other fingerprints of the Anthropocene include accelerating rates of erosion and sedimentation, deforestation and disturbances in the carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus cycles.

Burning fossil fuels has increased the rate of heat-trapping atmospheric carbon dioxide faster than the previous 66 million years. The energy released from those fossil fuels has infused 300 zeta joules of heat into the oceans.

This has begun a period of climate instability, which will threaten global food security. It has also triggered both rising sea levels from melting land glaciers and ecosystems collapsing on land and under the sea from extreme heat, droughts and insect epidemics.

Other staggering examples of this new epoch:

  • 98 percent of all smelted aluminum has occurred since the 1950s. That smelting process released potent carcinogenic chemicals into the oceans known as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.

  • Over 59 billion animals are killed each year to feed humans. In America alone, 9 billion chickens are slaughtered. Chicken bones will leave a huge fossil footprint

  • In order to grow enough feed for the domesticated animals that humans eat, mega tons of petroleum-based fertilizers run off the land into the oceans. Those nutrient-rich runoffs create over 530 (and growing) enormous dead zones void of oxygen in the oceans. 

  • Each year, America throws away enough trash to cover one football field 100 miles deep.

  • From 2011 to 2013, China poured 6 gigatons of cement; that is more cement than the United States used during the entire 20th century or 4.5 gigatons. The manufacturing of that cement had a colossal climate-altering footprint.

The Anthropocene is already noted for its stunning loss of life ― The Sixth Great Extinction. Since the 1970s, at least 50 percent of all land wildlife has vanished. In North America alone, one billion birds are missing. The oceans are in even worse condition. Seventy percent of all seabirds, or 230 million creatures, have disappeared. As much as 90 percent of many shark species have been poached. Over 40 percent of all coral reefs are dead from rising ocean temperatures. The global coral mortality rate, which has yet to be tallied, will be higher from a record hot 2016 El Nino.

Earth is losing species between 1,000 and 10,000 times faster than normal – a rate not experienced since the Fifth Great Extinction, 65 million years ago. At this current rate, as much as 50 percent of all known life, or 800,000 species, could be extinct by mid century, or, 33 years from now.

The oceans are brimming with chemicals collectively known as persistent organic pollutants. North Atlantic cetaceans are filled with poisonous PCBs. The Gulf of Mexico Sperm whales and the St Lawrence Belugas are amongst the most polluted mammals on the globe.

As much as 26 billion pounds of trash, mostly plastic, enters the ocean each year. My colleagues from Australia calculated 20 shopping bags worth of debris enters the ocean for every three feet of coastline globally. The oceans contain as many as 51 trillion pieces of plastics.

There’s only one way the human race can survive to mid century. We must save nature – our life support system – now.

In order to achieve this historic goal we must source 80 percent of all energy from renewables i.e. solar, wind, tidal power by 2030 and 100 percent by 2050. That will entail a World War III effort: Mobilizing industry, employing millions of people and deploying that technology rapidly.

It is the race to save our planet!

Earth Doctor Reese Halter is the author of “Shepherding the Sea: The Race to Save our Oceans.”

This post was published on the now-closed HuffPost Contributor platform. Contributors control their own work and posted freely to our site. If you need to flag this entry as abusive, send us an email.
CONVERSATIONS