What’s important

by Michael Thomas

Those of us who pay attention to the news are assaulted daily by a barrage of information: international conflicts, sport tournaments, religion, gun rights, marriage rights, terrorism, and a plethora of other topics. What topics are truly important? Are not the most relevant topics those which most directly relate to humanity’s continued survival on this planet? If so, what could possibly endanger our survival: are we not the dominant species? Yes, but we, like all other organisms, depend on our environment for our survival: we must eat, drink, breathe, and reproduce. Increased environmental instability leads to an increased rate of permanent mutations, which in turn leads to a genetic instability in the species and either death/extinction or successful mutation.

The most commonly mentioned environmental theme is global warming, which is overly polarized and, due to the complex interactions within the environment, is hard to speak of in concrete terms: it will thus not be further included in this text.

An important, but rarely mentioned, theme is ocean acidification. Our oceans have seen an increase in acidity of over 30% since industrialization and, unless current trends are altered, an increase of 150% acidity by the end of the century is expected, which according to NOAA (National Oceananic and Atmospheric Administration) will result “in a pH that the oceans haven’t experienced for more than 20 million years.” The acidification is due to many factors, but the leading factor is anthropogenic (human produced) atmospheric CO2, which forms carbonic acid with the ocean water. The lower pH prevents shellfish from forming shells and hinders the growth of coral, as well as having negative effects on other marine species. Numerous other problems also affect the oceans, such as pollution from plastics, which poison marine animals that confuse the pieces of plastic for food. The problem is so severe that “in some parts of the North Pacific gyre, plastic bits outweigh plankton by more than six to one in the surface waters.” This, or pH changes, may be related to the 40% decline in phytoplankton in the ocean since 1950 — phytoplankton representing yet another key ecological species, such as bees, that play an important role in ecological balance. The aforementioned endocrine disruptors are often leeched from plastics such as BPA, and play a role in destabilizing marine ecosystems.

Unfortunately, the aforementioned endocrine inhibitors do not have a historical precedent in the same way as abiotic factors do. Endocrine derives from latin: “endo” meaning within and “crine” relating to hormonal regulation. Endocrine disruptors alter the hormonal balance of an organism by binding to certain receptors and either preventing or encouraging the activity of glands (e.g., thyroid) and other internal processes as well as the expression of genes, and often have effects beyond the generation exposed. This can cause reduced fertility as well as structural tissue changes, an increased risk of cancer, motor dysfunction, and immune problems in future generations. The effects of endocrine disruptors are different than the effects of toxic chemicals in that negative effects are not proportional to the dose, meaning that serious damage can be the result of limited contact with an endocrine disruptor. To put this in perspective, Saido and Hideto Sato showed in their American Chemical Society 2009 study that “significant” amounts of BPA, a well known endocrine disruptor used as a hard plastic and epoxy glue, were found at EVERY one of the more than 200 sites in 20 countries surveyed in doses ranging from 0.1 ppm to 50 ppm.

The most commonly mentioned change in the atmosphere is, in line with the global warming theme (the only environmental theme really handled by mass media), atmospheric CO2 levels. Between 100,000 BC and 0 BC, CO2 levels fluctuated between 180 to 300 ppm, with current atmospheric data giving us approx 400 ppm, rising from 280 ppm in 1700. The atmospheric concentration of CO2 is significantly higher than it was prior to industrialization, but its relative concentration in the atmosphere has not increase as drastically as methane (20x stronger than CO2 as a greenhouse gas), which has increased from a global average of 400-800 ppb between 600,000 BC to 1900, and risen to approximately 1800 ppb (more than 100% increase) between 1900 and 2000. In the Arctic Sea, we are seeing even greater changes in methane concentration in a very short period of time. Methane levels diverged from their seemingly constant increase in 2010 and spiked from 1850 ppb to over 2000 (approximately 2100) ppb. Because methane is such a potent greenhouse gas, this could imply that increased methane levels from methane hydrates are having a local warming effect which in turn leads to a further increase in atmospheric methane. If we were to apply this as a linear tendency, it would argue for a concentration of atmospheric methane equivalent to that of the Permian extinction in 2050. Consider as well that over 150,000 “methane seeps” have been found in Alaska and Greenland alone, and that the number of methane sources currently covered by ice almost certainly exceeds this number. This may be connected to the extreme melting we are seeing this year in Greenland. This is particularly alarming because a methane burp may be caused by methane output increasing temperature thereby increasing methane output, and may have been the cause of prior extinction events.

Environmental factors are thus changing at an unprecedented rate. Oftentimes, many of these factors combine. A research article published in Nature and titled “Catastrophic Shifts in Ecosystems” is summed up by author Derrick Jensen in his book Endgame (2006) with the following words: “Conventional scientific thought, it seems, has generally held that ecosystems — natural communities like lakes, oceans, coral reefs, forests, deserts, and so on — respond slowly and steadily to climate change, nutrient pollution, habitat degradation, and the many other environmental impacts of industrial civilization. A new study suggests that instead, stressors like these can cause natural communities to shift almost overnight from apparently stable conditions to very different, diminished conditions. The lead author of the study, Marten Scheffer, an ecologist at the University of Wageningen in the Netherlands, said, “Models have predicted this, but only in recent years has enough evidence accumulated to tell us that resilience of many important ecosystems has become undermined to the point that even the slightest disturbance can make them collapse” and quotes a co-author of the study as saying: “We work on the premise that an ounce of pollution equals an ounce of damage. It turns out that assumption is entirely incorrect. Ecosystems may go on for years exposed to pollution or climate changes without showing any change at all and then suddenly they may flip into an entirely different condition, with little warning or none at all.” This information should be worrying, seeing as in many instances we have quite a lot of warning, for instance the loss of one-third of bees in the last several years and the bee per hectare ratio having fallen by 90%. This is serious because bees are necessary for the pollination of most plants –- and therefore their sexual reproduction — and the production of fruit and nuts.

When we ask ourselves what is important, I would hope we list human survival near the top of the list. If we allow global ecological collapse to continue, then we, as high level consumers, will most likely not survive. If this happens then EVERYTHING your parents and your ancestors worked for, everything you have worked for, will mean NOTHING. If there are aliens, then they will laugh at us: we have the knowledge to prevent our own extinction, but still move forward like lemmings towards the cliff. We read information like this, and many still choose to do nothing, or to remain willfully in denial or ignorant. Time is running out and the only question is, are you willing to get your priorities in order?

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If you care about humanity, please share this document and this knowledge. Fact-checking is encouraged, and is the reason the sources are provided next to the statements. The majority of people do not know, many of those who do know do not care. Help expand the numbers of both groups: help humanity survive.

The author of this text is Michael Thomas (e-mail: MikeT1935@gmail.com), an American from Boston, Massachusetts currently living in Germany. He can be reached on facebook at https://www.facebook.com/Spike47.