A Planet in Crisis

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OUR OWN WORST ENEMY

Our era is called the Anthropocene, or ‘Age of Man,’ because humanity itself has single-handedly initiated the cataclysmic changes we are witnessing in the environment. Ironically, we are also the only ones capable of halting the domino effect now underway.

RECIPE FOR DISASTER

The future of environmental measures such as the controversial Clean Power Plan looks grim as President Trump revs up his strategy to reshape the Environmental Protection Agency and dismantle Obama’s climate policies. These measures were put into place to help reduce domestic greenhouse gas emissions by more than 25% by 2025, relative to their 2005 levels.

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CRIPPLING DEFORESTATION

Palm oil, a cheap substitute for butter in baked goods and an ingredient that gives shampoos and cosmetics a creamy texture, is one of the leading culprits in environmental destruction. According to the World Wildlife Fund, an area equivalent in size to 300 football fields of rainforest is cleared each hour to make way for palm oil production. Stop and think about that for a moment: 300 FOOTBALL FIELDS…PER HOUR. More sustainable means of running palm oil businesses—also called Better Management Practices (BMPs)—have been proposed and implemented in different parts of the world. These include building smaller mills, monitoring the use of dangerous fertilizers and eliminating catastrophic burning practices. Such strategies get us on the road to improvement, but they need to be employed on a significantly larger scale in order to better manage the environmental effects of palm oil development.

Every day, in many different ways, we humans impact the elements of our Earth. Greenhouse gases are released by the burning of fossil fuels, and the result is a rise in global temperatures. The ever-increasing carbon dioxide levels pollute both our air and our water at a critical, lethal rate. As we continue these practices, and disrupt the oceans’ balance by overfishing and changing their chemistry, we make them uninhabitable by the aquatic life that should flourish there. This includes microscopic plankton, which provides more than half the oxygen on the planet—the very air we breathe to live. Projections show that 40% of existing plankton will disappear over the next 50 years due to these actions. Even more alarming is the prospect of unleashing the deadly methane gas that is now trapped beneath the frozen tundra. Degree by degree, our actions are progressing toward a gradual melting of that protective layer, putting our Earth and life as we know it in grave danger.

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Dr. Clark’s statement is both literal—as in the plight of the Kauai O’o bird—and urgently figurative. The “song” is the message the world’s animals are trying to send to us: Harming them is essentially killing our planet.

Documentarian Louie Psihoyos (director of the Academy Award-winning “Racing Extinction”) states that, “Scientists predict humanity’s footprint on the planet may cause the loss of 50% of all species by the end of the century.” To counteract this outcome, he employs an artistic tactic in his film of showcasing the beauty of the world around us in order to frighten and emotionally move us enough to save it, and in turn, save ourselves.

WEB OF LIFE

So how does the eradication of animals lead to the eradication of human life on the planet? It all boils down to balance. The natural world exists in a web of life called an ecosystem, and that’s just what it is—a system…a machine. As with most machines, there are a lot of moving parts involved: This wheel affects the turning of that cog, and the rotation of that cog propels a bigger spoke.

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A powerful display of this interconnectedness is the result of the reintroduction of wolves into Yellowstone National Park in 1995 after their extinction seven decades earlier. Once wolves were released in the park over a period of about two years, dramatic changes were observed in the overall makeup of the area—in the other animals, vegetation and even lakes and rivers. Over time, the predatory creatures helped weed out the weaker members of the invasive deer population, keeping the herds stronger and healthier. They also altered the deer’s daily habitat, forcing them to stick to more protected areas of the park, which in turn allowed the grasses and other plant life to thrive in the open areas and along the banks of the water sources. This renewed abundance of vegetation attracted birds and other critters back into the environment. Among them were beavers, whose dam-building behavior modified the makeup of the bodies of water found there.

This extraordinary phenomenon in Yellowstone continues to be observed, studied and broadcast to this day. Scientists, environmentalists and naturalists had never seen anything like it. Wheels, cogs and spokes—all were in motion together, causing the revitalization and complete transformation of one of our country’s venerated natural treasures.

SUMMIT FOR SURVIVAL

There’s no question that the list of problems we face is daunting. It’s almost overwhelming enough to cause us to throw up our hands in defeat and say “well…we’re already on the path to destruction…I guess there’s nothing that can be done about it now.” But if that were true, countries around the globe wouldn’t be banding together to forge startlingly optimistic agreements in an attempt to turn things around, even if only incrementally and oh-so-slowly. Efforts are being made to not necessarily reverse the damage that has been done—that would be unrealistic—but rather to inhibit its momentum.

The 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference involved the participation of the European Union and 195 nations. The objective was to achieve a binding and universal agreement on climate. Since that time, a number of important strides have been made. Again… these may be baby steps in the global scheme of things, but they spell progress nonetheless. We have to start somewhere, and the news that heavy hitters like China, India and even the U.S. are part of the conversation is heartening at the very least.

Participants in the summit’s resultant Paris Agreement are legally bound to continue to attend future summit meetings, make public pledges to tackle the global warming issue and then follow up by publishing their plans on a U.N.-sponsored website. The goal was to have on board at least 55 parties to the convention, accounting for at least an estimated 55% of the total global greenhouse gas emissions. On October 5, 2016, that requirement was achieved.

So far, plans put forth by both China and the U.S., the world’s two largest polluters, are very aggressive (and, arguably overly optimistic). Likewise, a group of 47 countries including Ethiopia and Bangladesh—many of whom are the most vulnerable to the devastating impact of climate change—have released a muchpublicized pledge to get all their energy from renewable sources before the year 2050.

Now that the conversation has begun…it’s time to turn words into action. By 2020, participants will have to submit their new climate plans. Thereafter, at incremental stages, progress and success will be carefully tracked and reported.

KNOWLEDGE IS POWER

Awareness and its partner, education, can move us toward improvement. Another Psihoyos film, “The Cove,” is a documentary that exposed and scrutinized the effects of dolphin fishing in Japan. In 2010 it was awarded an Oscar for Best Documentary Feature, accolades which helped catapult the issue into the spotlight and keep it there. Reportedly, at the time of the filming, about 23,000 dolphins were being hunted down and killed annually in Japan. That number has decreased to about 6,000 in recent years. This improvement is due in large part to those who witnessed and then actively responded to the horrors documented in “The Cove.”planetchallenge

The ladies of GRAVITAS challenge you— and we are doing the same on our own—to accomplish one or more of the following suggestions on Earth Day…this Saturday, April 22. Hopefully, after experiencing firsthand how achievable some of these goals really are, our efforts will extend beyond the 22nd and change our thinking in a positive way.

01 SAY BYE BYE TO BURGERS

“Animal agriculture alone is responsible for 14.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions (carbon dioxide and methane).” Statistics vary regarding the exact amount of methane expelled by just dairy cows alone. Some say between 26 gallons and 53 gallons per cow per day…other experts claim it’s closer to 132 gallons. If going vegan, or even vegetarian, isn’t for you, cut out dairy and beef at least periodically—maybe just once a week, or even one day a month! You might be surprised how good skipping that big, juicy steak can make you feel. It’s “hearthealthy” in more ways than one.

02 UNPLUG THOSE ENERGY SUCKERS

“Oil collected to generate electricity and power in our homes and buildings has dire consequences for some of our most threatened animals.” It’s hard to believe that 75% of the electricity that powers home electronics is actually consumed while these devices are turned off. Chargers, like the one you use for your cell phone, are nicknamed “energy vampires” for a reason. They continue to draw power from the outlet even when they are not hooked up to a device. Make your home more sustainable by unplugging appliances while not in use.

03 CHOOSE SMARTER SEAFOOD

“Overfishing, habitat destruction, and unsustainable catch practices are depleting marine life faster than it can be replaced.” Sustainable seafood has been caught or farmed using methods that take into consideration certain factors that endanger our planet. Regulated aquaculture strategies limit habitat damage, disease and the escape of farmed fish, promoting the vitality of the harvested species as well as the overall health of the oceans. Visit SeafoodWatch.org to educate yourself so you can make better selections when planning your menu and deciding what to put on your plate.

04 PUT IT IN PARK

“Transportation accounts for 27% of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S.” In addition to the obvious environmental impact of these greenhouse gas emissions, they affect human health (causing respiratory and cardiovascular problems) and the economy (changing weather patterns alter agriculture, forestry and tourism) as well. For most, it’s just not feasible to avoid using your vehicle even one workday a week, but on a weekend, try biking, walking or taking public transportation to handle your errands.

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