Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Hide Your Firstborns

Cause this is some End of Days shit, right here.

I'm freaked out by this sudden plethora of species undergoing a catastrophic population decline. I mean, we've had "endangered species" for decades, and there are plenty of animals and ecosystems we're driving into steady decline. Loss of habitat (generally and due to global warming), pollution, over-hunting/fishing...these have been in the works for a while. Yeah, its starting to catch up with us in a big way, but its still something we've been able to see coming.

But for the last couple years there has been an increasing trickle of news stories with headlines like "Mystery Deaths Spark Fears of _____ Extinction". The sudden, devastating spread of colony collapse disorder among honey bees is the most famous, but there also dramatic die-offs among amphibians, North American bats, oak trees and probably a bunch more that I haven't heard of. And probably even more that no one has heard of. This is scary to me. After all, the accelerating decline of, say, polar bears is sad and totally our fault, but it doesn't give you Ten Biblical Plagues images like this one:

With the trees its not a rush of plague death, but its equally spooky. It seems that oaks in many areas of America produced ZERO acorns this year. None. People talk about walking in the forests near their home and just feeling like something was wrong. They couldn't figure out what it was until they realized they didn't hear the familiar crunch of acorns underfoot or the the thwock of one hitting the ground. I have a feeling we're in for a lot more of these unsettling absences when we go out into the natural world.

And I don't get how cavalier some of the scientists in that article are. Its always "cyclical" or a "bad season"...until suddenly you're looking at population collapse. Here's a quote: "What's there to worry about? If you're a squirrel, its a big worry. But its no problem for the oak tree. They live a long time. They'll produce acorns when they're ready to." Setting aside the potential for thousands of starving squirrels mobbing family pets and small children, I would think that something as unusual as zero production would generate a little more concern from that guy, especially given the equally unheard-of problems occuring in the populations of other species. And especially especially given that there is starting to be a pretty strong consensus that we're in the midst of a sixth mass extinction event, with extinction rates thought to be higher than any previous extinction event, and estimates that as much as 50% of species will be gone by the end of the 21st century. Come on, dude, why you think oak trees are immune?

I also like how "EUREKA!" everyone gets when some research team can stick a name on whatever disease is cutting down a species. "Oh its Chytridiomycosis that's killing all the frogs. Phew, glad we figured that one out." Well, I don't know about you guys but I would be more concerned with why all these diseases and disorders are crawling out of the woodwork to decimate perfectly well-adapted animal populations. And I'd want to do more to predict which one of these diseases is going to develop a taste for h. sapiens, y'know?


  1. C'mon know as well as I do that humans are happy in ignorance until something MAJOR (e.g. extinction of oaks) slaps them in the face. So, yeah, who cares about a dearth of acorns? People were (and, sadly, are) reluctant to accept global warming but as more and more stories arise about strange weather, increased frequency/intensity of storms, etc. more people have started to accept the fact that we -- as a species -- have mucked with our environment. Just wait until the acorns start getting press, and THEN, people will start to act. Ah, the US, it's a society of treting the symptoms, when we should have learned our lesson after all these years: prophylactic treatment is the answer. I mean, seriously, as heart disease has become the prominent source of death here, you don't hear doctors saying "people should get more exercise"; instead, they are prescribing medicine. Ugh. I'm sure we, as a society, will take that same viewpoint with regards to the oaks -- let's just wait until it gets so bad we can't fix it and THEN WE'LL TRY ANYWAY! Fuck people, that's why I'm working for the environment for the rest of my life...

  2. People are capabale of great achievements and great sacrifices - when motivated. We can solve the climate crisis, if we can collectively agree on what it is.

    The critical problem we face is not that we don't, as scientists, know what is going on. No, the problem is that the media, especially the US media, has taken a mission to confuse the climate issue. On might think that the oil companies are behind this, and partly they are. But oil companies are a small slice of the economy and have very little pull in the media. The media is run, alledgedly, for profit, and that means advertising. Even in today's world, where big oil is trying to set public opinion up so that the US government will fund alternative energy development through the oil companies, the oil ad $'s are very small. So why is the media so dead-set on confusing the climate change issue?

    If you can solve the media issue, you'll go a long way towards solving the climate issue. Or you can wait for the Chinese and the rest of the world to take the lead and "green up".

    After all, China is now the leading producer of electric vehicles, at about 25 million to about 25,000, and leads (or soon will lead) in most other aspects of alternative energy development as well: PV, solar thermal, Wind, Hydro. So perhaps at some point the media will report accurately who's doing what.

    So get your story into the main media!