The Anthropocene – Nature’s Broken Links

But down deep, at the molecular heart of life, the trees and we are essentially identical.” — Carl Sagan

Learn how to see. Realize that everything connects to everything else” — Leonardo Da Vinci

Unless you live in the most remote and inhospitable reaches of this planet, I challenge you to find land or sea areas where there is no Icebergs-7sign of mankind. Much is written about mankind’s huge impact negative on this planet. The term “Anthropocene” is the name for this current of time in our Earth’s history that started when human activities resulted in a significant global impact on the Earth’s ecosystems. Ecologist Eugene Stoermer and atmospheric scientist Paul Crutzen have widely popularized the term as the influence of human behavior on the Earth in recent centuries as so significant as to constitute a new geological epoch. The impact of humanity is so huge that much of our planet is undergoing large changes in many ways. The momentum of unstoppable exponential human population growth, coupled with a political and social will that ignores Nature, has produced an uninformed and irresponsible worldview about Nature. With time and despite our technology, this worldview could result in the destruction of our race.

With this post, I start a series of blog posts on the subject of vital connections in Nature, how man is gradually destroying these vital connections that keep him alive, and possible ways to work with Nature to conserve these extremely important connections.

The material in this series is presented as follows:

  • Nature’s Broken Links – Man’s Massive Impact On This Planet.
  • Resilience and Recovery – Restoring Nature’s Ecosystems
  • Edges – Connections between ecosystems
  • Biosphere Reserves – Reconnecting Nature
  • Ecological Corridors – Restoring Nature’s wilderness highways.
  • Summary.

The credo for this blog site, noted in the home page, contains three premises that are critically important if we are to preserve the environment in which we humans must live and survive.

  • Nothing in Nature exists in isolation. Everything, including ourselves, is connected to everything else.
  • Conservation is the act of identifying and preserving Nature’s interconnections.
  • Hope for mankind’s future comes from instilling a deep connectivity consciousness in our youth.

Quanta_SOSI am hoping that the material in this series will be helpful to environmental educators as they plan lesson sets. Soon, I will be organizing this material into lesson plans that will be offered free of charge. I also hope that students will use the information to develop their own presentations and projects. And, of course, I hope the material will be useful to all of you who are stewards of Nature and who are looking for ways to conserve Her.

In this first blog post, I offer some background information that defines man’s massive negative impact on Nature’s connections. These facts, and other facts that you will find during your research, offer justification for being concerned about man’s negative impact on Earth.

The posts that follow will offer ideas from modern ecological thinkers and doers about how Nature’s broken links might be restored.

John Muir once said:

When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.

More recently, David Suzuki in his “Sacred Balance” said

In every worldview, there is an understanding that everything is connected to everything else, that nothing exists in isolation. People have always known that we are deeply embedded in and dependent upon the natural world. In such a world of interconnectedness, every action has consequences. Many of our rituals, songs, prayers and ceremonies were reaffirmations of our dependence on nature and our commitment to behave properly. That is how it has been for most of human existence all over the world.

If there is one unifying principle in all of Nature, it is that everything in Nature is connected in some way to everything else. The image_060501dconnections may be physical – such as our heart being joined within our body. Nature may also be functionally connected such as two birds communicating with each other through the pattern of their sounds. Nature is also interconnected through the ecosystems in the environment. A Right Whale and a Penguin are connected because they both eat krill within the Southern Ocean food chain. Nature’s connections are the vital conduits for her energy flow through these ecosystems.

It is a critically important scientific fact that the operating currency that flows throughout all of Nature’s inter-connected animate and inanimate forms is energy. The transportation and transformation of energy is a highly connected necessity of life. This energy drives Nature by traveling through those interconnected conduits that are within all of Nature.

It is safe to say that Earth’s connection to the sun’s energy is the most essential, critical, and basic of all connections in Nature. This energy flows through chains of other connecting patterns, all of which are necessary for life to exist on Earth. The sun’s photons that arrive on Earth produce major biochemical changes through photosynthesis in plants. Plants then become the food and fertilizer that connects many of Earth’s creatures into food chains where the herbivores are prey to the carnivores – the “meat eaters”. Everything is interrelated — nothing exists in isolation.

Everything In Nature Is Connected” – is not just some spiritual worldview. It describes real collective behavior. It is scientific fact!! Connections in Nature are vital because these connections are Nature’s transporters of energy between components in a natural system. The alteration or destruction of links in Nature is a common happening in the Anthropocene. Since connections in Nature are the very basis for our existence as living creatures on Earth, these connections need our attention and preservation. This is the job of the steward of Nature.

BlogImage-4012The lifeblood of Nature’s connections that transport energy can be destroyed by man resulting in his extinction and the eradication of all life as we know it. Our gaseous emissions from fossil fuels, the use of fluorides, and other chemicals can cause both the blockage of the sun’s energy flow or excessive energy flow. Humanity is affecting this vital connection in Nature upon which all life depends. We have it within our power to avoid this destruction. Those who warn about our emissions moving into the atmosphere are not simply crazy environmentalists or doomsday fanatics. The destruction could become real. What all of this means is that any human activity within Nature needs to be done with a consciousness of how things are connected and how relationships are affected. Destroying a link within the hierarchy of an ecosystem results in the destruction of energy flow between entities within that system. Part of any consideration of a human activity within Nature should include a careful definition of all the interconnections within the subject ecosystem and an impact assessment study of those connections.

This blog series focuses on Nature’s connections and how mankind is breaking the very links that provide vital energy for all life on Earth. To provide a basis for our discussions about the Anthropocene and man’s breaking of Nature’s vital energy links, I offer a few observations and examples provided by experts. We start with a great four part video by David Suzuki that describes the impact of the Anthropocene on Earth :

Part 1 An elder looks at the Anthropocene.

Part 2 Our highest priority.

Part 3  Unintended consequences of our technology.

Part 4 The challenge of our time.

Here is a partial list of man’s negative impact on our planet that was extracted from the book Ten Billion, by Stephen Emmott :

  • In the last 100 years, the human population has increased from 1 billion people to 7 billion people. We are now the most numerous mammal species on Earth. As the population grows, we are taking more and more land to live and using more of the world’s natural resources. Many human activities also produce pollution, which is damaging the Earth’s environment.
  • Human cleverness and inventiveness have modified almost every part of our planet. Our cleverness, our inventiveness and our activities are now the drivers of every global problem we face. And every one of these problems is accelerating as we continue to grow towards a global population of 10 billion.
  • We currently have no known means of being able to feed a 10 billion human population at our current rate of consumption and with our current agricultural system. Simply to feed ourselves in the next 40 years, we will need to produce more food than the entire agricultural output of the past 10,000 years combined. Yet food productivity is set to decline, possibly very sharply, over the coming decades due to climate change, soil degradation, and desertification – all of which are increasing rapidly in many parts of the world. By the end of this century, large parts of the planet will not have any usable water.
  • Demand for land for food is going to double by 2050, and triple by the end of this century. This means that pressure to clear many of the world’s remaining tropical rainforests for human use is going to intensify every decade, because this is predominantly the only available land that is left for expanding agriculture at scale. But, trees are necessary for our survival. Through photosynthesis trees produce the gas that we cannot live without: oxygen. As we breathe in, our bodies take in oxygen and when we breathe out, we release carbon dioxide. Trees do the opposite. They take in carbon dioxide and release oxygen. This cleans the air by removing harmful carbon dioxide so that people and animals can breathe.
  • 29% of our Earth is land mass. Of that 29%, humans physically occupy less than 1% of that area in mostly cities and towns. Of the remaining 28% about 40% is pure wilderness. 14% is true desert and 15% has desert like characteristics. 9% is Antarctica. Most of the remaining 22% are agricultural areas used by mankind and are subject to environmental degradation noted in the next item.
  • Raising animals for human consumption accounts for approximately 40% of the total amount of agricultural output in industrialized countries. Grazing occupies 26% of the earth’s ice-free terrestrial surface, and feed crop production uses about one third of all arable land. Free-range animal production requires land for grazing. Deforestation, caused by ranching, is one of the main reason for the loss of some unique plant and animal species in the Earth’s forests as well as carbon release into the atmosphere. Land quality decline, including desertification, is caused by overgrazing. It is now known that farm animals are a major source of both land and air pollution.
  • In the 1700s, the dawn of the industrial age revolutionized methods of manufacturing and made them more efficient. Since then, factories have been built all over the world. Factories consume huge amounts of natural resources and energy, and many give off chemical waste, which creates problems such as air and water pollution, and global warming.
  • We are going to have to triple energy production by the end of this century to meet expected energy needs of humanity. To meet that demand, we will need to build 1,800 of the world’s largest dams, or 23,000 nuclear power stations, 14 million wind turbines, 36 billion solar panels, or just keep going with predominantly oil, coal and gas and build 36,000 new power stations.
  • Global warming will melt some of the polar ice caps, bringing greater risk of floods to low-lying and coastal regions worldwide. Heat waves, droughts, hurricanes, and torrential rain will become more common.

In addition to this partial list, you might be interested in this video – Human Impact On This Earth .

CowsOne factor that is ignored in most discussions about the Anthropocene is the destructive political will of mankind at various levels of human organization. No matter what science may reveal about care of the Planet and our fate as humans, there are huge and powerful groups of people who will resist any change because the changes might affect their near term comfort or economic stability. One of the most powerful examples of political will versus the good of the environment is the agricultural community. Many agricultural practices, such as overgrazing or the eradication of key predators, are harmful to the environment. Yet, both overgrazing and predator culling are permitted by government bureaucracies like the US Department of Agriculture. In addition, these practices generate government subsidies to the farmer or rancher at the expense of the taxpayer. With economic growth and well-being as an important political priority, achieving ecological stability is pushed to the side as a secondary goal. Within the idea of the Anthropocene, scientific fact cannot be the only issue to consider. One must include mankind’s political and economic motives. In the end, sadly, these latter motives may be the deciding factors in defining the future of mankind on this planet.

The credo for this blog implies suggestions for, at least, delaying the inevitable. By focusing on the conservation of connections in Nature (I call it a “connectivity consciousness”) and  disciplined population control, there is some hope for the continued existence of the human race in a healthy environment. The upcoming posts in this blog series talk about some relatively new ideas about preserving connections in Nature.

Worth Your Extra Attention :

Thanks for reading this blog post.

There is a very popular section within my blog site entitled “Musings”. You can reach it by clicking on the menu tab near the top of my blog site. This area contains my growing list of posts that list web material that I have found interesting. You are invited to stop by and take a look.

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My name is Bill Graham. As a Marine Biologist who has worked in the US and Mexico for 30 years, I am a student of Nature, a teacher, a researcher, and a nature photographer. Through my work, I have acquired an ever growing passion for how everything in Nature is connected. Today, I travel extensively contemplating about, writing about, and photographing Nature’s connections. I also work with conservation projects in the USA and Mexico and mentor talented youth.

9 Responses to “The Anthropocene – Nature’s Broken Links”

  1. Great post, Bill – succinct and sobering.

    • Thanks Chris:

      I felt a bit helpless as I wrote the blog post. Especially after witnessing the political will of ranchers in Arizona and the reluctance of BLM to do anything to prevent overgrazing or blatantly illegal riparian destruction by cattle on public lands. And then there is the wolf story.

      Good to hear from you again Chris.

  2. Sylvia says:

    A timely piece. Thanks.

    • Hi Sylvia:

      Thanks for your comment. I wish I could be more optimistic. I travel in Nature a LOT in my camper. I see little evidence of humanity being good stewards of Nature — even our government agencies who hold public lands in trust.

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