While our ancestors have been around for about six million years, the modern form of humans only evolved about 200,000 years ago. Civilization as we know it is only about 6,000 years old, and industrialization started in the earnest only in the 1800s. While we’ve accomplished much in that short time, it also shows our responsibility as caretakers for the only planet we live on right now.
The effects of humans on Earth cannot be understated. We’ve been able to survive in environments all over the world, even harsh ones such as Antarctica. Every year, we fell forests and destroy other natural areas, driving species into smaller areas or into endangerment, because of our need to build more housing to contain our growing population.
With seven billion people on Earth, pollution from industry and cars is a growing element in climate change — which affects our planet in ways we can’t predict. But we’re already seeing the effects in melting glaciers and rising global temperatures.
The first tangible link to humanity started around six million years ago with a primate group called Ardipithecus, according to the Smithsonian Institution. Based in Africa, this group began the path of walking upright. This is traditionally considered important because it allowed for more free use of the hands for toolmaking, weaponry and other survival needs.
The Australopithecus group, the museum added, took hold between about two million and four million years ago, with the abilities to walk upright and climb trees. Next came Paranthropus, which existed between about one million and three million years ago. The group is distinguished by its larger teeth, giving a wider diet.
The Homo group — including our own species, Homo sapiens — began arising more than two million years ago, the museum said. It’s distinguished by bigger brains, more tool-making and the ability to reach far beyond Africa. Our species was distinguished about 200,000 years ago and managed to survive and thrive despite climate change at the time. While we started in temperate climates, about 60,000 to 80,000 years ago the first humans began straying outside of the continent in which our species was born.
“This great migration brought our species to a position of world dominance that it has never relinquished,” reads a 2008 article in Smithsonian Magazine, pointing out that eventually we obviated the competition (most prominently including Neanderthals and Homo erectus). When the migration was complete,” the article continues, “Homo sapiens was the last—and only—man standing.”
Using genetic markers and an understanding of ancient geography, scientists have partially reconstructed how humans could have made the journey. It’s believed that the first explorers of Eurasia went there using the Bab-al-Mandab Strait that now divides Yemen and Djibouti, according to National Geographic. These people made it to India, then by 50,000 years ago, southeast Asia and Australia.
A little after this time, another group began an inland journey across the Middle East and south-central Asia, positioning them to later go to Europe and Asia, the magazine added. This proved important for North America, as about 20,000 years ago, some of these people crossed over to that continent using a land bridge created by glaciation. From there, colonies have been found in Asia dating as far back as 14,000 years ago.
Since this is a space website, it’s also worth noting when humans began leaving Earth. The first human mission to space took place April 12, 1961 when Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin made a single orbit of Earth in his spacecraft, Vostok 1. Humanity first set foot on another world on July 20, 1969, when Americans Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the Moon.
Since then, our colonization efforts in space have focused mostly on space stations. The first space station was the Soviet Salyut 1, which launched from Earth April 19, 1971 and was first occupied by Georgi Dobrovolski, Vladislav Vokov, and Viktor Patsayev on June 6. The men died during re-entry June 29 due to spacecraft decompression, meaning no further flights went to that station.
There have been other space stations since. A notable example is Mir, which hosted several long-duration missions of a year or more — including the longest single spaceflight duration of any human to date, 437 days, by Valeri Polyakov in 1994-95. The International Space Station launched its first piece Nov. 20, 1998 and has been continuously occupied by humans since Oct. 31, 2000. The first humans to start the continuous occupation included Expedition 1 members Bill Shepard (U.S.) and Russian cosmonauts Sergei Krikalev and Yuri Gidzenko.
“… the race between climate dynamics and climate policy will be a close one ….”
Hans Joachim Schellenhuber.
“Global warming: Stop worrying and start panicking?”
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 2008
“In their excellent Perspectives article in this issue (1), Ramanathan and Feng (R&F) sound a harsh wake-up call for those concerned about anthropogenic climate change: the authors maintain that the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions of the past have already loaded the Earth System sufficiently to bring about disastrous global warming. In other words, the ultimate goal of climate protection policy, as stipulated by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) (2), appears to be a delusion.”
Spraying chemicals into the atmosphere could slow global warming by reflecting sunlight back into space.
A new study finds that global engineering efforts could cost $3.5 billion over the course of the next 15 years to develop the technology.David Goldman / AP file
By Rafi Letzter, Live Science
Earth keeps getting hotter. Humanity isn’t doing enough to stop it. So, scientists are increasingly musing about conducting dramatic interventions in the atmosphere to cool the planet. And new research suggests that a project of atmospheric cooling would not only be doable, but also cheap enough that a single, determined country could pull it off. That cooling wouldn’t reverse climate change. The greenhouse gases would still be there. The planet would keep warming overall, but that warming would significantly, measurably slow down.
Those are the conclusions of a paper published Nov. 23 in the journal Environmental Research Letters by a pair of researchers from Harvard and Yale universities. It’s the deepest and most current study yet of “stratospheric aerosol injection” (also known as “solar dimming” or “solar engineering”). That’s the spraying of chemicals into the atmosphere to reflect the sun’s heat back into space, mimicking the global cooling effects of large volcanic eruptions.
The researchers found that humanity could, using this method, cut our species’ annual contributions to the greenhouse effect in half at a price that states and large cities spend all the time on highways, subways and other infrastructure projects: a total of about $3.5 billion over the course of the next 15 years to develop the technology. (Most of those funds would go into building planes able to carry big tanks of aerosol spray into the stratosphere, about double the cruising altitude of a Boeing 747.) Once the tech is ready, the researchers found, the project would then cost another $2.25 billion or so each following year (assuming the effort would run for the next 15 years).
For comparison, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation budget in 2017 was $1.8 billion. Texas will have spent nearly a billion dollars replacing a single bridge in Corpus Christi. New York City subway-repair budgets routinely run into the tens of billions of dollars. Belgium spends about $4 billion every year on its military. In other words, geoengineering the atmosphere to slow climate change is cheap enough that a small, determined state or country could probably afford to do it, not to mention a superpower like the U.S. or China. [8 Ways Global Warming Is Already Changing the World]
That might seem nuts, but outside researchers who read the paper said its methods were sound and its conclusions not all that surprising.
“[The paper] seemed reasonable and methodical to me,” said Kate Ricke, a professor at the University of California, San Diego, who studies climate change and policies for addressing it. “I think it’s definitely a helpful contribution, in that it confirms this idea that stratospheric engineering would be much cheaper than emissions reductions for the same global temperature effect.”
Ken Caldeira, a senior scientist at the Carnegie Institution for Science, agreed.
“One could expect any governmental operations to have cost overruns, but overall, I’ve got no reason to question these findings. They seem reasonable to me,” he told Live Science.
DOES THAT MEAN THIS IS A GOOD IDEA? SHOULD WE START BUILDING THE SPRAY PLANES?
The science here is in a certain respect straightforward: Dump sulfur dioxide (SO2) into the atmosphere, and it will reflect light back into space. SO2 is cheap, and there’s lots of it available. Most of the costs of the project would come from lofting the SO2 high enough that it would stick around, Wake Smith, a co-author of the paper and lecturer at Yale, said. [Cool the Planet? Geoengineering Is Easier Said Than Done]
“If you deploy material at 35,000 feet [10,700 meters], say, where your 737 flies, it rains back down in a few days, because it’s just being acted on by gravity,” he told Live Science. “If you get it up into the stratosphere, on the other hand, then it stays aloft for a year or 18 months.”
(This, incidentally, is one of the reasons that chemtrail conspiracy theories — which mistakenly link chemtrails to a secret government plan to modify the weather — are so implausible, he added. Anything sprayed at the heights at which jetliners fly would disappear within half a week.)
Still, getting the SO2 high enough isn’t an insurmountable challenge, this paper shows, and the approach really could cool down the planet.
Carbon emissions do a lot more than just form a chemical greenhouse around the planet. They also make the oceans more acidic and alter the global movement of air and water. Already, these emissions have baked heat into the system that wouldn’t just go away if humanity slapped a layer of SO2 into the stratosphere. [The Craziest Climate Change Fixes]
“It may be that we can reduce global surface temperatures overall, relative to where they would be in an un-engineered world,” Smith said, “but that doesn’t mean that the climate in every place will go back to the way it was. Some places will be warmer. Some will be cooler. Some will be drier. And some will be wetter, and even a perfectly engineered climate future, which is impossible, will change things all over the world, and that won’t be good for people either.”
“If all the ice in Greenland melted and slid into the sea,” Smith said, referring to a scenario that would drastically raise sea levels, flooding coastlines all over the world, “and then we refreeze the planet, or cool the planet by engineering, the ice won’t climb back up from the sea onto the land. The ice on Greenland is the result of millions of years of snowfall.”
So, even though he thinks this sort of geoengineering is worth studying, he said it’s important that people understand that it isn’t a solution.
“I do worry that some fossil fuel company will say exactly that, and the geoengineering community is going to have to figure out how to guard against that infiltration or any association in the public’s mind,” he said.
IS THIS OUR FUTURE ANYWAY, LIKE IT OR NOT?
The idea of pumping aerosols into the upper atmosphere to mitigate climate change taken seriously enough that the concept turned up in the recent 2018 IPCC report on climate change as a possible mitigation approach — though the IPCC stopped short of endorsing this sort of spraying. Right now, it looks cheaper than alternative geoengineering technologies, Ricke said, like proposals to suck carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. (The IPCC, or Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, is an international organization established by the United Nations to assess the science, risks and impacts of climate change.)
But that doesn’t mean that such approaches will, or should, happen, the researchers all agreed.
“I don’t think it’s a good idea at this point,” Ricke said. “I don’t think we know enough about how to do it. And we don’t have anything close to a system for reaching agreement about the amount we should do or how we should make that decision about the specifics of where we would put more aerosols, et cetera. I don’t think we’re anywhere close.”
But all of that could change, she said.
“There’s a lot of scary climate-change impacts, like melting glaciers in Greenland and Antarctica, that are staring us in the face,” she said. “Because [cutting emissions] and CO2 removal will take some time, even if we get serious about implementing them — which I’m not convinced about — I think that solar geoengineering has the potential to be one of the only options left.”
That’s worrying for a number of reasons, Smith said, one of which is that there would almost certainly be side effects that the sprayers couldn’;t anticipate. Though one benefit of the spraying, he added, is that as soon as it’s stopped its effects would go away within 18 months.
Caldeira agreed that the use of such engineering looks more and more likely, but said he doubted it would happen, due to the political dynamics involved. No politicians, he said, would want to take the blame for a bad weather event that occurred the year after they voted to spray SO2.
“Imagine if Hurricane Sandy happened on the year after we started putting this material up there,” he said, suggesting people could place blame on the atmospheric engineering.
Still, he said, a small country badly hit by climate change might decide to do this without global approval. However, the paper noted that such an effort would be impossible to keep secret, and other, larger nations might decide to stop the project. Doing this work properly would require flying all over the world’s middle latitudes, and this would have to go on indefinitely. (Masking the warming effect of greenhouse gases doesn’t make them go away, and they can last for a thousand years in the atmosphere, unlike sulfates. So, the solar engineering would have to continue, to counteract those effects.)
“I’m not going to say whether [I think we’ll get to the point of atmospheric spraying],” Smith said, “not because it’s too much of a hot potato, but because I really don’t know.”
Other techniques for geoengineering might become cheaper, or nations might just never get around to this sort of climate mitigation, he said.
For now, Ricke said, the big open questions involve stratospheric chemistry — how sulfur would interact with other chemicals in the atmosphere — and the local effects of this sort of program. How would a big new batch of SO2 in the atmosphere affect the ozone layer, for example? How would individual regions, agriculture or local water systems react to the sudden change in sunlight? How would the public react?
For now, she said, she wants to see a lot more research.
The show gets a lot right about climate change, but it misses something major about human nature.
“South Park” just ran a couple episodes about climate change. The show gets a lot right about the history of the problem, but it screws up a key factor of human nature in the process, one that could completely flip the future.
I won’t go into too much detail about the episodes, but the main characters — a few schoolboys — discover that past generations made a deal with a demon (a thinly-veiled symbol for climate change). Old people traded the environment for cars and ice cream.
“It’s here because of their greediness,” explained one of the boys.
“Everyone’s greedy!” shouted the boy’s grandfather.
In the end, the demon offers the citizens of South Park a deal: He’ll go away forever … If they give up soy sauce and their favorite video game.
“Just … plain rice?” murmurs one resident.
The citizens of South Park turn down the deal, opting instead to sacrifice future generations and lives of children in third world countries so they can keep playing video games and eating tasty rice.
“Yeah, I thought so,” jabbed the grandfather.
The message is as simple as it is hopeless: humans, or at least Americans, won’t give up their luxuries to save the planet.
Matt Stone and Trey Parker, the show’s creators, are beloved by libertarians, and this philosophy shows through in the episodes. The show regularly suggests humans are completely selfish and incapable of banding together to make a better world. Thus, when it comes to climate change, humanity is doomed.
I agree that humans, individually, may not make enough sacrifices to save the environment. But I take issue with the idea that we can’t band together to make these changes as a group. In fact, the scenario “South Park” ended with is the precise scenario that could save the world.
No one wants give up something they like on their own. But the game changes when a whole society agrees to make a sacrifice. Think about it: you may not often buy meals for hungry people. But Americans tax themselves so the hungry can have food stamps. It’s all about knowing everyone else is making the sacrifice too.
That’s the point of democracy: government lets us act collectively, rather than relying on everyone to behave individually. I may not stop buying soy sauce on my own. But if I knew my giving up soy sauce would save the world, I’d do it in a heartbeat. That’s the beauty of collective action — everyone pitches in knowing that, since everyone else is doing it, the problem will actually get fixed.
Humanity can handle collective decision-making, even when economic sacrifices are involved. During the Great Depression, the government shut down the banks for a few days to prevent bank runs. The government was terrified that, when the banks reopened, people wouldn’t trust them and hoard their money, collapsing the economy. So President Franklin D. Roosevelt went on the radio for a “Fireside Chat.”
“The success of our whole national program depends, of course, on the cooperation of the public — on its intelligent support and its use of a reliable system,” FDR said. “After all, there is an element in the readjustment of our financial system more important than currency, more important than gold, and that is the confidence of the people themselves. Confidence and courage are the essentials of success in carrying out our plan. You people must have faith; you must not be stampeded by rumors or guesses. Let us unite in banishing fear. We have provided the machinery to restore our financial system, and it is up to you to support and make it work.”
And that’s what happened. When the banks reopened, Americans returned “more than half of their hoarded cash to the banks within two weeks and by bidding up stock prices by the largest ever one-day percentage price increase,” explained William L. Silber, an economics professor at New York University. “Contemporary observers consider the Bank Holiday and the Fireside Chat a one-two punch that broke the back of the Great Depression.”
Trust convinced people to risk their savings, ending the Great Depression. It wouldn’t happen in a “South Park” world, but it happened in the real world. Humans also routinely band together to build roads, fund schools and pay firefighters.
“South Park” sees the world as zero-sum: my win is your loss. In a zero-sum world, no one would ever sacrifice soy sauce to save the planet, or money to build roads. But climate change isn’t a zero-sum problem. Instead, it might be what economists call a “collaboration problem.”
In collaboration problems, people can act selfishly, and all end up worse, or they can collaborate, and end up better. Neither choice is inevitable; it all depends on trust. If people trust each other, they’ll collaborate to make themselves and everyone else better off. Americans trusted FDR enough to return their money to banks. That took a greater leap of faith than making provisions to deal climate change. Losing your life saving is a much bigger risk than giving up beef, making planned obsolescence illegal or building bike lanes.
Humans can act together. We can inspire each other or, more simply, we can pass laws that make companies and individuals act in everyone’s best interest. Even if it means plain rice.
The world must thrash out a new deal for nature in the next two years or humanity could be the first species to document our own extinction, warns the United Nation’s biodiversity chief.
Ahead of a key international conference to discuss the collapse of ecosystems, Cristiana Pașca Palmer said people in all countries need to put pressure on their governments to draw up ambitious global targets by 2020 to protect the insects, birds, plants and mammals that are vital for global food production, clean water and carbon sequestration.
“The loss of biodiversity is a silent killer,” she told the Guardian. “It’s different from climate change, where people feel the impact in everyday life. With biodiversity, it is not so clear but by the time you feel what is happening, it may be too late.”
Pașca Palmer is executive director of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity – the world body responsible for maintaining the natural life support systems on which humanity depends.
Its 196 member states will meet in Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt, this month to start discussions on a new framework for managing the world’s ecosystems and wildlife. This will kick off two years of frenetic negotiations, which Pașca Palmer hopes will culminate in an ambitious new global deal at the next conference in Beijing in 2020.
Eight years ago, under the Aichi Protocol, nations promised to at least halve the loss of natural habitats, ensure sustainable fishing in all waters, and expand nature reserves from 10% to 17% of the world’s land by 2020. But many nations have fallen behind, and those that have created more protected areas have done little to police them. “Paper reserves” can now be found from Brazil to China.
The issue is also low on the political agenda. Compared to climate summits, few heads of state attend biodiversity talks. Even before Donald Trump, the US refused to ratify the treaty and only sends an observer. Along with the Vatican, it is the only UN state not to participate.
Pașca Palmer says there are glimmers of hope. Several species in Africa and Asia have recovered (though most are in decline) and forest cover in Asia has increased by 2.5% (though it has decreased elsewhere at a faster rate). Marine protected areas have also widened.
But overall, she says, the picture is worrying. The already high rates of biodiversity loss from habitat destruction, chemical pollution and invasive species will accelerate in the coming 30 years as a result of climate change and growing human populations. By 2050, Africa is expected to lose 50% of its birds and mammals, and Asian fisheries to completely collapse. The loss of plants and sea life will reduce the Earth’s ability to absorb carbon, creating a vicious cycle.
“The numbers are staggering,” says the former Romanian environment minister. “I hope we aren’t the first species to document our own extinction.”
Despite the weak government response to such an existential threat, she said her optimism about what she called “the infrastructure of life” was undimmed.
One cause for hope was a convergence of scientific concerns and growing interest from the business community. Last month, the UN’s top climate and biodiversity institutions and scientists held their first joint meeting. They found that nature-based solutions – such as forest protection, tree planting, land restoration and soil management – could provide up to a third of the carbon absorption needed to keep global warming within the Paris agreement parameters. In future the two UN arms of climate and biodiversity should issue joint assessments. She also noted that although politics in some countries were moving in the wrong direction, there were also positive developments such as French president, Emmanuel Macron, recently being the first world leader to note that the climate issue cannot be solved without a halt in biodiversity loss. This will be on the agenda of the next G7 summit in France.
“Things are moving. There is a lot of goodwill,” she said. “We should be aware of the dangers but not paralysed by inaction. It’s still in our hands but the window for action is narrowing. We need higher levels of political and citizen will to support nature.”
Almost every species of lemur is at risk of extinction, making it the world’s most endangered primate, scientists have warned.
The destruction of their tropical forest habitat in Madagascar, caused by illegal tree logging, charcoal production and mining, is the chief cause.
But the round-eyed primates are also being increasingly hunted by humans for restaurant food.
And some are captured for the pet trade.
More than 100 types of lemur – 95 per cent of all known the species and subspecies – are likely to be critically endangered, endangered, or vulnerable to extinction in the wild, the conservationists believe.
Dozens of experts in primate conservation from around the world have reviewed the conservation status of the 111 species and subspecies of lemurs, all native to Madagascar, and provide updated assessments for the IUCN Red List of extinctions.
Russ Mittermeier, from the charity Global Wildlife Conservation, said the group’s findings highlighted “the very high extinction risk to Madagascar’s unique lemurs” and was “indicative of the grave threats to Madagascar biodiversity as a whole”.
“This is, without a doubt, the highest percentage of threat for any large group of mammals and for any large group of vertebrates,” he said.
Professor Christoph Schwitzer from Bristol Zoological Society and deputy chairman of the Primate Specialist Group, told the BBC: “More and more, we are seeing unsustainable levels of lemur poaching.
“We see commercial hunting as well – probably for local restaurants. And this is a new phenomenon for Madagascar – we didn’t see it at this scale 15 years ago.”
The findings will go through a peer review process before the Red List is officially updated to reflect them.
The IUCN already has a “lemur action plan” to save the animals, which includes protecting habitats where the most threatened species live and tackling poverty through ecotourism schemes to help local people to avoid hunting the animals.
Oversized inflatable plastic eels dangle from the ceiling of a supermarket in Tokyo as late afternoon shoppers inspect the real thing – beautifully packaged and prominently displayed – on the shelves below.
In specialist restaurants run by generations of the same families, diners eat sweetened broiled eel, which is thought to take the edge off the heat and humidity of a Japanese summer.
These annual rites are performed in honour of a dish that has been part of the culinary landscape for centuries. But Japan’s appetite for Anguilla japonica – Japanese freshwater eel – has come at a price.
Eel stocks are a fraction of what they were in the 1960s, and conservationists say continued overconsumption could condemn the animal to the same fate as the Pacific bluefin tuna.
The plight of the eel has come into sharper focus as Japan prepares to mark the Day of the Ox in the lunar calendar – two days that this year fall on 20 July and 1 August – traditionally considered the hottest days of the year.
Overfishing of juvenile glass eels, which are transferred to farm ponds where they are fed until they reach maturity, has led to record price rises, forcing restaurants to post notices apologising to customers for charging them significantly more each year for a simple kabayaki.
The market price for adult eels rose to a record ¥5,300 (£36) a kg in March, about one and a half times higher than last year, according to the Union of Eel Farmers Cooperatives of Japan.
Japan, which consumes an estimated 70% of the world’s freshwater eel catch, transferred just 14 tons of larvae into farming ponds this season – almost a third less than last year – owing to poor catches.
The decline in stocks has been accelerated by illegal fishing, according to Kenzo Kaifu, a professor at Chuo University in Tokyo and an expert on eel conservation.
In a commentary for the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper, Kaifu noted that up to 63% of the eel catch in Japanese domestic waters in 2015 was traded illegally, either by unlicensed fishermen or those who had exceeded their quota.
The Day of the Ox, Kaifu said, “might be the perfect opportunity to think a little more deeply about the eel problem we’re facing, and make it a topic of conversation”.
On those and other sweltering days throughout the midsummer, people are drawn to skewered fillets of eel that are dipped in a soy-based sweet sauce, cooked slowly over charcoal and served on rice.
The dish, which is rich in vitamins, is eaten to provide a much-needed energy boost at the height of summer; some believe the smoke from an eel cooking on the grill gives an immediate pick-me-up.
Last month, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan agreed to leave the upper limit on catches of juvenile eels unchanged, to the dismay of conservation groups. China, which has the biggest single annual quota of 36 tons, much of which it exports to Japan, routinely shuns multinational efforts to restrict catches.
Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora are expected to discuss the increasingly precarious future of the freshwater eel at a meeting next May.
Some retailers are already taking action. The supermarket chain Aeon said it would stop procuring Japanese eels whose origin and journey through the supply chain was not properly documented. Instead it will switch to short-fin eels, a cheaper variety commonly found in Indonesia, according to the Asahi Shimbun newspaper.
Some eel farmers are fattening their stocks so a single fish produces enough meat for two dishes, despite concerns that the bigger bones, which are usually barely perceptible, will put off some diners.
Despite advances in farming methods, it is still not possible to raise eels from birth to maturity. Fisheries have to catch juvenile eels in the wild before transferring them to farm ponds.
Campaigners are calling on consumers to resist the urge to eat Japanese eels this summer and throughout the year.
“Even though there is a severe shortage, Japan, Taiwan, Korea have together decided not to reduce the catch quota next season,” said Kazue Komatsubara, oceans campaigner at Greenpeace Japan.
“The fishery agency said there was no scientific evidence to support a reduction in catches. But Japan could reduce its catch quota by itself to help the eel population recover. It has to take responsibility as the biggest market for the Japanese eel.
“The only way to avoid supporting illegal fishing and to be a responsible consumer who supports sustainable fishing is to stop buying eels.”
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Throughout history humans have wiped out animal populations. Have we learned from our mistakes? It seems not, with creatures from a songbird to pangolins and bluefin tuna now facing extinction by way of the dinner table
A 225kg, two-metre flightless Australian bird, the Genyornis newtoni, was eaten to extinction 50,000 years ago. “We consider this the first and only secure evidence that humans were directly preying on now-extinct Australian megafauna,” says Gifford Miller, the associate director of CU-Boulder’s Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research. “We have documented these characteristically burned Genyornis eggshells at more than 200 sites across the continent.”
The majority of Australia’s megafauna, including a two-tonne wombat and 500kg kangaroo, also disappeared soon after the arrival of humans.
We all know about the dodo, the flightless bird with no natural predators that was discovered on the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius in 1507 and was extinct by 1681. Sailors hunted them for meat or indiscriminately killed them, and rats ate their eggs.
Steller’s sea cow was discovered in the Bering Sea in 1741 and gone by 1768. They were enormous, docile, manatee-like marine creatures that couldn’t submerge, and they fell victim to seal hunters.
Passenger pigeons were once numbered in the billions in North America, and their migrating flocks would darken the sky for days. Enter the European settlers, and the birds were totally gone by the early 1900s.
Have we learned from our mistakes? Has hindsight helped prevent humans from eating endangered species?
According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of endangered species, 1,414 species of fish, or 5 per cent of the world’s known species, are at risk of extinction. A study on bushmeat has shown that 301 mammals are at risk from hunting. This includes 168 primates, 73 hoofed animals, 27 bats and 12 carnivores. There are also 21 rodents and 26 marsupials on the list.
China is moving from being the world’s biggest producer to being the world’s biggest consumer, and its appetite for exotic foods is unmatched. The yellow-breasted bunting is being driven to extinction because diners in southern China refuse to stop eating the songbird, despite the threat of large fines. Locals believe eating it can boost sexual vitality and detoxify their bodies. It was put on the endangered list, but this has done nothing to stop its numbers falling drastically.
Here are four other species that are facing extinction by way of the dinner table.
Pangolins are nocturnal mammals that eat ants and termites. They are the only mammals with keratin scales and they can emit a harmful chemical similar to a skunk. All eight species of pangolin are threatened with extinction. Four are vulnerable, two are endangered and two are critically endangered.
In Africa they are hunted for food and traditional medicine. Unfortunately, they are also a delicacy in southern China and Vietnam. There’s an unfounded belief in East Asia that ground-up pangolin scales can stimulate lactation, cure cancer and asthma.
It is believed that more than one million pangolins have been illegally trafficked in the past year, making it the world’s most trafficked animal.
All pangolin species are protected and there is an international ban on trade. This rarity, sadly, only pushes the price up, and the continued illegal trade is annihilating their numbers.
Perfectly evolved as a predator, the bluefin is one of the fastest fish in the ocean and can hit speeds of more than 60 kilometres per hour when hunting. The Atlantic bluefin grows up to 4.6 metres long and weighs up to 680kg. Bluefin species range from vulnerable to critically endangered. The increase in demand for sushi and sashimi has resulted in rampant overfishing, and despite international agreements and convention, its numbers are dropping.
The fish is being farmed to alleviate the pressure, but bluefin tuna grow very slowly, so large fish fetch very high prizes, especially in Japan. Because tuna migrate over long distances and hunt in the mid ocean, they aren’t protected by countries’ exclusive economic zones and fishing quotas.
3. Chinese giant salamander
It grows to nearly two metres and weighs up to 50kg, and is the largest amphibian on the planet. It is (yes, you guessed it) considered a delicacy in China and is being used (yes, again) in traditional Chinese medicine. Its family can be seen in fossil records going back more than 170 million years, but today it is critically endangered.
The population has declined by 80 per cent over three generations.
It is heavily farmed in China – in 2011 there were reportedly 2.6 million salamanders in farms in Shaanxi province alone, compared with the wild population for the whole country of 50,000. Farming brings its own problems, including the spreading of viruses to the wild population and the pollution of rivers.
Their fossil record dates back 200 million years to the Triassic era. During their time on earth, they have survived two, possibly three major events that wiped out a lot of the planet’s life.
Most species of sturgeon are at risk of extinction today. The Beluga sturgeon has been overfished for its eggs (caviar), which are considered a delicacy and command ridiculously high prices.
The emergence of China as a wealthy consumer could be the beginning of the end of the sturgeon. It has been projected by the China Sturgeon Association that China will consume 100 tonnes of caviar every year by 2020, accounting for one-third of the world’s total. China also produces one third of all the world’s caviar.
The United States Fish and Wildlife Service banned the importation of Beluga caviar from the Caspian Sea in 2005. A year later the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species suspended all trade. The following year, the trade ban was partially lifted. The fish is listed as critically endangered. It takes 20 years to reach maturity, and harvesting the eggs necessitates killing the fish.
Hawaii bans sunscreen ingredient oxybenzone after a group of researchers from the United State and Israel discovers coral bleaching.
A new piece of legislation signed into law by Dave Ige will ban sunscreen from use in Hawaii if it contains oxybenzone. Just one drop of sunscreen containing the material may cause coral to fade – driving home how dangerous the substance is for organisms that are already being threatened.
After the passing of the Hawaii bill, the European Union is already taking steps to ban oxybenzone from sunscreen themselves – and the recent signing may help the legislation gain traction.
Oxybenzone, also known as BP-3, is used in more than 3500 personal care products that are being sold worldwide in order to protect from damage from UV light. While it may be good for the health of our skin, it may have damaging effects on coral – making the use of the substance a net loss for our environment.
Researchers clearly feel that the benefits the oxybenzone in sunscreen gives to humanity don’t outweigh the damage to coral, and there are other ways in order to protect our skin that don’t have the same environmental repercussions.
The Israeli-U.S. survey results were actually first published back in October 2015, but weren’t used to motivate legislation in Hawaii until recently. The research was published in the “Environmental Pollution and Toxicology Archive” and shows that oxybenzone from swimmer skin, municipal sewage discharge and coastal septic tank systems can contaminate coral reefs.
While oxybenzone may continue to be an issue from sewage discharge and septic tanks, the reduction of use on swimmer’s skins may help the coral reefs around Hawaii and around the rest of the world if areas like the European Union are to follow suit with their own version of the legislation.
“We have found that oxybenzone causes severe morphological abnormalities, DNA damage and endocrine disruptions that lead to coral closure and death,” said researchers Ariel Kushmaro and Stella Goldstein-Goren at the Environmental Biotechnology Laboratory at the Ben Grevien University in Avgaff. Department of Bioengineering.
Kushmaro added: “We are pleased to see that our study will have a measurable impact on the reduction of coral reef communities caused by chemicals, waste runoff and climate change,” reports Israel21C.
Around 14000 tons of sunscreen lotion is discharged into coral reefs every year – the majority of which contains between 1-10% oxybenzone. This is a major problem for bleaching, and hopefully the passage of this bill will help address the issue and help delay the destruction of these vibrant ecosystems. With the authors estimating that at least 10% of global coral reefs are at high risk this year, it’s clear that action is needed.
The study found that the concentration of oxybenzone observed in seawater surrounding the coral reefs were as low as 62 parts per million, which is equivalent to a single drop of water in six semi-Olympic swimming pools. It’s clear that the compound in sunscreen is terribly damaging for the coral reefs around Hawaii – even in very small amounts.
Because of the extreme damage, the legislation to ban oxybenzone from sunscreen in the area completely was likely necessary. While we may not see a ban around the world due to oxybenzone’s usefulness against UV light and the concentrations of coral reef in certain areas, it’s good that it’s at least going into effect in Hawaii.
Kushmaro said: “In Israel, sunscreens using benzophenone chemicals are widely used.
“According to the measurements not included in the study, similar concentrations of benzophenone were found near the coral reef in Eilat.
Since these chemicals are likely to be washed away from the swimmer’s body, swimming and snorkelling areas The concentration will be higher, such as the coral reef reserve in Eilat. ”