The Most Delicious Foods That No Longer Exist

The last male passenger pigeon
For much of the 19th century, passenger pigeon was a staple of American cuisine. The last male died in 1912 (Bettmann / Getty).

The earliest humans favored juicy, meaty mammoth at mealtimes. Ancient Romans loved their favorite herb, silphium, so much that they sprinkled it on everything from lamb to melon. In the 19th-century United States, passenger pigeon pie was a cherished comfort food, long before chicken potpie became commonplace. And for dessert, Americans a century ago might have enjoyed a superlatively buttery Ansault pear, reckoned to be the greatest pear ever grown. What did these foods beloved by previous generations taste like? Well, apart from some written descriptions, we’ll never know: They’re all extinct. Join us this episode as the culinary geographer Lenore Newman takes us on a tour of lost foods—and the lessons they can teach us as we fight to save our current favorite foods from disappearing forever.

“This project started because of a bird,” Newman told Gastropod. “And that bird was Martha.” Newman’s project is a new book titled Lost Feast: Culinary Extinction and the Future of Food; Martha was a passenger pigeon and the last living member of her species—an “endling,” as such lonely creatures are evocatively called. Her death, on September 1, 1914, represented perhaps the first time that humanity watched a species disappear, in full awareness of the concept of extinction and our role in causing this particular one. “There was no denying it was us,” said Newman: Somehow, together, we had eaten so many pigeons that we had wiped the most abundant bird in North America off the face of the planet.

But the passenger pigeon wasn’t our first culinary extinction. In this episode, Newman takes us on a tour through the foods we have eaten to their end, such as the Pleistocene megafauna, which early humans destroyed as our numbers spread around the world, and the leek-flavored silphium that was so valuable that its last stalks were hoarded, alongside gold and jewels, by Roman emperors. In each case, we sift through the evidence that points to human appetite as the leading cause of extinction, and unpack the response of a bewildered, bereft humanity.

The Romans clung to the belief that their beloved silphium could perhaps spontaneously reappear someday; the idea that something could be gone forever was simply, at the time, inconceivable. The concept of extinction—along with its mirror, evolution—wasn’t formulated until the end of the 18th century, and it finally gave humans a framework within which to understand their actions. But, as Newman describes, the pace of culinary loss has only increased since then, with thousands and thousands of varieties of plants and breeds of animals vanishing in the early 20th century.

Why have we allowed so many of the foods we love to vanish? What impact has their disappearance had—and what lessons can it teach us for the future? Listen in this episode as Newman helps us tackle these morbid questions, leaving us with some hope, as well as a whole new perspective on chicken.

Unsettling Study Finds People Just Don’t Care That Much if Humans Go Extinct

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(AaronAmat/iStock)

Forget nuclear weaponsbiological warfare, and the slew of other ways humanity could cause its own destruction for a moment.

If you take into account only naturally occurring phenomena — supervolcanic eruptionsasteroid impacts, and the like — researchers from the University of Oxford recently determined that the probability of our entire species going extinct in any given year could be as high as one in 14,000 (although it’s probably closer to 1 in 87,000).

The second group of researchers asked more than 2,500 people in the United States and the United Kingdom to rank three possible scenarios from best to worst: no major catastrophe, a catastrophe that wipes out 80 percent of the human population, and a catastrophe that causes complete human extinction.

As you might expect, most people ranked no catastrophe as the best possibility and complete human extinction as the worst. But when asked to think about the difference in “badness” between the possibilities, most people were more bothered by the possibility of losing 80 percent of humanity than losing all of it.

“Thus, when asked in the most straightforward and unqualified way,” the researchers wrote, “participants do not find human extinction uniquely bad.”

When the researchers switched the whole scenario to focus on an animal species, though, survey respondents saw the loss of all zebras as worse than the loss of 80 percent of zebras.

The issue, it seems, is that survey respondents focused a lot on the individual human lives lost in scenario two — and how the deaths might affect those left behind — rather than on the loss of humanity as a whole.

In other words, we tend to think of a world without any zebras as more tragic than a world in which most zebras die. But for humankind, most people believe the reverse.

There was a way to get survey respondents to consider the loss of our entire species as uniquely bad, though: the researchers just had to tell them humanity would be missing out on a long future existence that was “better than today in every conceivable way.”

While there’s seemingly little we could do to prevent an asteroid impact or a volcanic eruption, humanity does have a say in whether we fall victim to nuclear war and the like — and knowing that people are more likely to care about our species’ potential downfall if they’re feeling optimistic about our future could play a role in making sure we don’t go down one of those self-destructive paths.

“People are going to have a lot of influence over what we’re going to do [about the threats of human extinction in our near future],” Stefan Schubert, co-author of the survey paper, recently told Vox. “So it’s important to find out how people think about them.”

This article was originally published by Futurism. Read the original article.

We Have Broken Nature into More Than 990,000 Little Pieces

Habitat fragmentation is splintering undeveloped areas on Earth.

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A new global survey has revealed that areas on Earth with little human impact are becoming smaller and more isolated. Human activity is continually bisecting forests and grasslands into smaller and smaller slivers of undeveloped land.

Using satellite data, the new research suggests that 56% of the land on Earth—excluding areas covered in ice and snow—has relatively low human impacts.

But that area is being parsed into ever-shrinking segments. Land with low human impact exists in roughly 990,000 fragments larger than 1 square kilometer, a much higher number than what occurs with natural boundaries of water, rock, and ice. The same area would be broken into just 73,000 fragments naturally.

The latest survey could serve as a guide when shaping future international goals for biodiversity protection. Lead author of the study Andrew Jacobson, a professor at Catawba College in North Carolina, said in a press release that the findings are “good news for the planet” because they show there is still time to preserve land in low-impact areas.

“This paper shows that it’s late in the game, but not too late,” Jacobson said. “We can still greatly increase the extent of the world’s protected areas, but we must act quickly.”

The study identifies areas that may be ideal for land conservation in the future.

Splintered Land

Using publicly accessible satellite data, Jacobson and his team mapped areas that are not actively managed for human use.

They ruled out land with forest clearing, agriculture, light pollution, human population, and other marks of human activity. Notably, they left in some roads as well as areas with humans and livestock at levels that would not stress ecosystem health.

The study then computed fragmentation using an idealized globe with no human-caused fragmentation. They created a baseline map of natural habitat fragmentation from water, ice, and rock boundaries and counted the individual pieces. Comparing the baseline fragmentation with the observed fragmentation from the satellite data, they showed that humans have splinted nature into hundreds of thousands of segments, increasing the number by over 1,200%.

The result is a world with more boundaries and fewer areas far from development. Patches in their observations were 95% smaller on average than in a human-free world, and more land sat close to each fragment’s edge, particularly for temperate broadleaf forests. The median distance to an edge for a segment of broadleaf forest was 58 kilometers in the baseline map, compared to 1.4 kilometers in their observations.

Overall, patches of low-impact lands in temperate grasslands and tropical dry forests showed the largest deviation from the baseline, with an average size decrease of 99%.

Future Targets

Professor Nicholas Haddad at Michigan State University, who was not involved in the research, said that the study “sheds new light on the pervasiveness of habitat fragmentation” and the findings could be used to identify areas for future conservation.

The latest research confirms earlier results, according to Professor Erle Ellis at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, who did not work on the study. Ellis said that future action must be taken to “connect isolated habitats together and conserve biodiversity.”

Past research is divided on how fragmenting habitats affects wildlife. Jacobson and his team wrote in their study, presented in Scientific Reports in October, that they would not comment on the impacts of fragmentation but presented their results as one way to “review the conservation status of different biomes.” The National Geographic Society provided funding for the work.

Humans are the leading cause of dwindling natural habitat that leads to biodiversity loss, and countries have signed on to global initiatives to save habitats from farming, grazing, and development, but economic pressures make conservation difficult.

The upcoming 2020 United Nations Biodiversity Conference will set future targets for global land preservation. Some have called for global land protection targets to shoot for 30% and 50% land conservation by 2030 and 2050, respectively. Currently, 15% of land on Earth is preserved.

But Jacobson said with so much relatively untouched land left, “it’s not too late to aim high.”

—Jenessa Duncombe (@jrdscience), News Writing and Production Fellow

Human extinction would be a uniquely awful tragedy. Why don’t we act like it?

How pessimism about the future affects how we think about humanity and extinction.

Silhouette of a man standing on a rock outcropping with a clear night sky over the ancient city of Mesotimolos in Turkey, August 13, 2019.
In many ways, we’re shockingly blasé about the end of our world. 
Soner Kilinc/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

It would be immensely sad if humankind went extinct. But what exactly should we be sad about? Is it just our deaths that would be tragic? Or would the loss of all future human civilization — beyond the immediate loss of life — be what we should mourn?

That’s the question explored in a new paper by Stefan Schubert, Lucius Caviola, and Nadira Faber at the University of Oxford. They surveyed thousands of people about how they think about human extinction.

Here’s one of the questions they asked of thousands of people in the US and UK:

Compare three futures for humanity:

(1) There is no catastrophe.

(2) There is a catastrophe that immediately kills 80% of the world’s population

(3) There is a catastrophe that immediately kills 100% of the world’s population.

Rank them from best to worst.

Almost everyone, unsurprisingly, thinks that 2 is worse than 1, and 3 is worse than 2. (Some people, of course, disagree, perhaps thinking that humanity shouldn’t exist, but they’re in a very small minority.)

But then the researchers asked a trickier followup question: “Which difference is greater: the difference between 1 and 2, or the difference between 2 and 3?” That is, are we mostly bothered by the mass deaths involved in both scenario 2 or 3 — considering 3 worse than 2 only because it involves more people dying — or is there something uniquely and notably terrible about the end of human civilization itself?

According to the survey results, most people think that we lose more between 1 and 2 than between 2 and 3. In other words, they see most of the tragedy as the present-day deaths; they don’t see the end of the human race as a larger additional tragedy.

To many of you, these questions may seem too hopelessly abstract for us to learn anything from them.

But there’s something important here. The fact is, we give the possibility of human extinction very little thought. And when we do, our reasoning about it is often superficial, contradictory, and easy to influence. “People are going to have a lot of influence over what we’re going to do” about the threats of human extinction in our near future, Schubert told me. “So it’s important to find out how people think about them.”

In many ways, we’re shockingly blasé about the end of our world. Despite many people rating extinction “somewhat likely” in the next 15 years, few people rate the causes of extinction as among their top policy priorities for the next president or Congress. People say extinction is kinda bad and under some circumstances they even say it’s likely, but they don’t take it that seriously — and their intuitions about it are often inconsistent.

But one particular result that cuts against this finding stands out in the paper. When asked to imagine a long, peaceful, good human future, most readers suddenly rated extinction as much worse than they previously considered it. That suggests that lots of people don’t care as much as they should about extinction due to a sort of hopelessness — they don’t envision anything much better than the present ahead for humanity, so they don’t care too much about losing it.

The takeaway seems clear: In order to convince people to fight for our species, we might first need to convince them that the fight could be winnable.

What survey questions can tell us about why extinction is bad

Schubert and colleagues’ study involves asking survey recipients one of five different questions. Each question is meant to highlight a particular detail that might be relevant to how we think about extinction. Then, by comparing them, we can see how much each detail influences our answers.

The first question is the one put forward at the start of this article. It comes from a thought experiment by philosopher Derek Parfit. Parfit argued that almost everyone thinks of the difference between the first scenario (no catastrophe) and the second scenario (mass, non-extinction catastrophe) as much bigger than the difference between the second scenario and the third (human extinction).

But, he claimed, this is a consequence of not taking the concept of human extinction seriously enough. When we all go extinct, not only do we die, but all hope of a good human future dies with us; there’ll be no further human art or music or stories or new generations or new cultures and societies.

Schubert and colleagues find that Parfit was right: Most people think that the difference between 1 and 2 is much bigger than the difference between 2 and 3. At least, if you ask them about humans, they do.

In the second survey question, they asked instead about animals. Here, they got mixed answers. Many people believed that the death of all zebras was a much bigger loss than the death of 80 percent of zebras.

That’s probably because we are accustomed to thinking about the extinction of animal species in a different way than we think about the extinction of humans. We think about the extinction of zebras less in terms of the tragedy of the death of each individual zebra and more about the tragedy of a world with no zebras ever again.

Now, no one dies — so the implications for the future of humanity should loom larger in the minds of survey respondents. And indeed, respondents answered this question very similarly to the way they answered the question about the zebras.

After that, the researchers decided to get to the point and outright tell respondents to consider the fact that we’d be forfeiting the possibility of a good long-term future. This got more respondents to rate the extinction scenario as uniquely bad — but it was only about as effective as telling them to imagine zebras.

Finally, to get the overwhelming majority of respondents to agree that extinction was uniquely bad, you had to be even more direct and tell them to imagine that human civilization will go on to a long, happy, prosperous future — unless a catastrophe wipes us out.

Suddenly, almost everyone agreed that human extinction was uniquely bad.

The case against pessimism

There’s one interpretation that makes a lot of sense of these varied responses: that most people don’t expect a good future, and that for that reason the future doesn’t weigh heavily in their minds as they think about human extinction. It’s not that survey respondents are unreasonably ignoring the possibility of a good long-term future for humanity — they just consider it unlikely, so it’s not much of a consideration.

Collectively, the results suggest that people care lots more about extinction when they concretely envision a good human future.

But how many visions of that does our society lay out? There’s not a lot of discussion of what a wonderful 2100 looks like. In fact, the many threats we face make lots of people unwilling to imagine 2100 at all.

And these results suggest to me that that inability to imagine the future might interfere with ensuring that we make it that far.

Climate change activists, in particular, spend a lot of time discussing the advantages and disadvantages of negative — even apocalyptic — rhetoric and the advantages and disadvantages of taking a more optimistic tone. Research like this inclines me to believe that the optimists have a good point. It’s not that we should exaggerate the odds of solving our problems or pretend they aren’t there. But any discussion of our problems needs to be accompanied by a positive vision for what the world can look like if we solve them.

If people don’t believe there’s a meaningful and good future on the other side of the challenges ahead of us, then it looks like they have a hard time rating our extinction as a uniquely bad thing. And that means pessimism can be a self-fulfilling prophecy as we let our fears interfere with our motivation to prove them false.

Humans Will Never Live on Another Planet, Nobel Laureate Says. Here’s Why.

Human colony on an exoplanet.

(Image: © Shutterstock)

Here’s the reality: We’re messing up the Earth and any far-out ideas of colonizing another orb when we’re done with our own are wishful thinking. That’s according to Michel Mayor, an astrophysicist who was a co-recipient of the Nobel Prize in physics this year for discovering the first planet orbiting a sun-like star outside of our solar system.

“If we are talking about exoplanets, things should be clear: We will not migrate there,” he told Agence France-Presse (AFP). He said he felt the need to “kill all the statements that say, ‘OK, we will go to a livable planet if one day life is not possible on Earth.'”

All of the known exoplanets, or planets outside of our solar system, are too far away to feasibly travel to, he said. “Even in the very optimistic case of a livable planet that is not too far, say a few dozen light years, which is not a lot, it’s in the neighbourhood, the time to go there is considerable,” he added.

Related: 8 Ways Global Warming Is Already Changing the World

Since then, over 4,000 other exoplanets have been found in the Milky Way, but apparently, none of them can be feasibly reached.

Stephen Kane, a professor of planetary astrophysics at the University of California in Riverside, agrees with Mayor. “The sad reality is that, at this point in human history, all stars are effectively at a distance of infinity,” Kane told Live Science. “We struggle very hard as a species to reach the Earth’s moon.”

We might be able to send people to Mars in the next 50 years, but “I would be very surprised if humanity made it to the orbit of Jupiter within the next few centuries,” he said. Since the distance to the nearest star outside of our solar system is about 70,000 times greater than the distance to Jupiter, “all stars are effectively out of reach.”

Well, you might say, plenty of things seemed out of reach until we reached them, such as sending aircraft on intercontinental flights. But “in this case, the required physics to reach the stars, if it exists, is not known to us and it would require a fundamental change in our understanding of the relationship between mass, acceleration and energy.”

“So that’s where we stand, firmly on the Earth, and unlikely to change for a very, very long time,” he said.

Mayor told the AFP: “We must take care of our planet, it is very beautiful and still absolutely livable.”

Andrew Fraknoi, emeritus chair of the astronomy department at Foothill College in California agreed that we won’t be able to travel to these stars in the near future. But “I would never say we can never reach the stars and possible habitable planets,” he said. “Who knows how our technology will evolve after another million years of evolution.”

Originally published on Live Science.

Why the Mauna Kea Protests Are So Challenging to the Mainstream Climate Movement

Much has been written this summer about the protests at Mauna Kea in Hawaii, the tallest mountain in the world from base to peak, and sacred sites of Native Hawaiians. Starting in July, hundreds of demonstrators and allies had blocked the main road to prevent the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope on top of the mountain, drawing international attention and bringing the construction activities to a halt.

The telescope would be the biggest ever built on the mountain, which has already been plastered with 13 other observatories since the 1970s. The project, with an estimated cost of $1.4 billion, would be built with money from Canada, China, India and Japan and “owned and operated by a consortium of US universities and international institutions,” according to Space.

Critics say the project can only be understood in the context of the long history of colonialism in Hawaii, which was illegally annexed by the United States after a coup sponsored by U.S. businessmen in 1893. For decades, the use of the Hawaiian language was punished, Native culture was suppressed and a large military presence was maintained on the islands.

Looking at the facts, it would seem straightforward for the mainstream climate movement to condemn the situation and to show solidarity with the demonstrators at Mauna Kea. Yet, many have remained silent on the issue. Perhaps the reason for this is that the Mauna Kea confronts the Western environmentalist with an inconvenient, unpleasant truth: There is a contradiction between environmentalism and the outlook of Western modernity, including its commitment to the myth of universal, value-neutral science.

The struggle at Mauna Kea epitomizes that modern natural science, which has been the major talking point of and driving force behind the Western climate movement, might be as much part of the problem as it is part of the solution. Modern science undoubtedly emerged in the context of the Enlightenment project of dissecting, measuring and exploiting nature. “Let the human race recover that right over nature which belongs to it by divine bequest,” wrote English philosopher Francis Bacon, one of the fathers of the Western Enlightenment.

Just like Bacon’s own biography — Bacon was a key figure in the establishment of British colonies in North America — the rise of modern science also cannot be separated from the history of colonialism. It was driven by the large-scale theft of artifacts from the Global South, the use of slave labor, the erasure of Indigenous ways of knowing and crucial to the success of the European imperial machine.

Mauna Kea shows that science does not happen in a vacuum. It leaves very real traces in the world — from the desecration of Native land at Mauna Kea to the atomic bomb. A science that is not reflective of questions such as for whom is it gathering knowledge, at what cost is it doing so, and what ways of life it is destroying, is perpetuating the kind of positivist thinking that has significantly contributed to the current ecological crisis.

Philosophers — even in the West — have written about this for years, but so far, the mainstream climate movement seems largely unshakable in its commitment to scientific modernity. Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, for example, the brave and determined face of the global youth strike (“unite behind science,”) hasn’t said anything publicly about the Mauna Kea struggle but tweeted about the latest scientific data that was collected from Mauna Loa observatory, the volcano neighboring Mauna Kea. Not a public word, either, from Roger Hallam, co-founder and public face of Extinction Rebellion. To Hallam, empirical science is not only a tool of diagnosis but also a guide to action: “We need agreement on what works on the basis of the social science — just as we insist on following the natural science on the climate crisis.”

Western climate activists would be well-advised to consider the possibility that a scientific outlook that sees nature as external to the human, as the “environment” surrounding humankind that can be measured, calculated and controlled, is fundamentally flawed. Mauna Kea presents an opportunity to carefully reconsider the way in which we think about science. It is a reminder that decolonization must be part of any environmentalist agenda. For survival’s sake!

Indigenous communities are at the front line of the struggle against the unfolding ecological and climate crisis, whether in Jair Bolsonaro’s Brazil, at Standing Rock in the United States, or in the struggle against fracking in Australia’s Northern Territory. Indigenous peoples protect 80 percent of the world’s biodiversity, while only accounting for less than 5 percent of the global population. The Western climate movement could learn a lot from the communities who have been able to live sustainably within their lands for tens of thousands of years and have been resisting capitalism and colonialism for centuries.

“If there is something you can learn from Indigenous people, it’s what it’s like to live in a post-apocalyptic society,” said author Nick Estes in a recent interview with Dissent Magazine. “Indigenous people are post-apocalyptic. In some cases, we have undergone several apocalypses. For my community alone, it was the destruction of the buffalo herds, the destruction of our animal relatives on the land, the destruction of our animal nations in the nineteenth century, of our river homelands in the twentieth century.”

In contrast, the Western climate movement finds it hard to grapple even with the idea of an inevitable social collapse, heralding ever-new deadlines until which a catastrophe can still be averted. Probably any philosophical tradition is better at grasping and theorizing the current ecological collapse than the vocabulary of Western modernity, an issue that is addressed by the book An Ecotopian Lexicon.

Of course, decolonization must go beyond the mere appropriation of subaltern analytical vocabulary — it must challenge colonialism and extinction on the ground. That is why the success at Mauna Kea should trigger action and solidarity, not silence and confusion.

As the Amazon Burns, It’s Time to Roll Up Our Sleeves

[Unfortunately, although this piece says a lot of good things about the anthropogenic threats faced by the natural world, it becomes delusional in its defense of stone-aged hunter-gatherer societies. Human hunters have never acted in harmony with the life that surrounded them–especially not in North and South America. Just ask the megafauna driven to extinction 10,000 years ago by humans armed with nothing more than spears and inflated egos. How were they different from modern trophy hunters?]
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Right now, we are facing the end of the world, says Derrick Jensen. We have the opportunity and the honor to protect the planet that gave us our lives.
Amazon burning, Amazon burns, Amazon fires, fire in the Amazon, Amazon rainforest, Amazon rainforest fire, Derrick Jensen, Derrick Jensen news, environment, environment activist

© Mike Mareen

The Amazon is burning. This is what the end of the world looks like. Oh, and there’ll be more forests burn, more forests felled by chainsaws, more wetlands drained, more rivers dammed, more grasslands plowed, oceans further toxified and emptied of fish.

And each of these is what the end of the world looks like.

The end of the world looks like factory trawlers pulling in net after net full to bursting with fish — the fish’s eyes popping out from the pressure of all those bodies squeezed together. It looks like puffins starving to death. It looks like emaciated polar bears. It looks like whales washing up on shore and walruses not finding ice on which to rest.

The end of the world looks like plows digging into grasslands, turning over soil and killing all who live there, even down to bacteria. It looks like rows of monocrops, as far as the eye can see.

The end of the world looks like humans staring at screens, clucking their tongues at the destruction of forests far away, never noticing that they themselves — whether they’re in London, New York, Paris, Rome, Athens, Beirut, Beijing or Baghdad — are standing in clear-cuts.

The end of the world looks like cities, with most of their residents never giving a thought to who and what was killed to build that city, never giving a thought to who and what was killed to mine, manufacture and move everything they consider necessary to their lives, and never thinking about what is necessary to life and what is not.

The end of the world looks like humans turning the planet to human use. Or rather attempting to, because it’s not possible to turn this wild and fecund Earth totally to human use, and this attempting is itself what is causing the end of the world.

From the beginning of this culture, it has been so. When you think of Iraq, is the first thing you think of cedar forests so thick that sunlight never touches the ground? That’s what it was like, prior to the beginning of this culture. The first written myth of Western civilization is Gilgamesh deforesting the hills and valleys of Iraq to make a great city.

Have you heard of Mesopotamian elephants? Most of us haven’t. They were exterminated to make way for this culture. And when you think of the Arabian Peninsula, do you think of oak savannas? These forests were cut for export to fuel the economy, to build cities.

The Near East was heavily forested. We’ve all heard of the cedars of Lebanon. They still have one on their flag. The great forests of North Africa were felled to make the Phoenician and Egyptian navies. Greece was heavily forested. So was Italy. So was France. The great forests of Britain came down to make the navy that allowed the sun never to set on the British Empire.

This is what this culture does. Forests precede us and deserts dog our heels.

The end of the world was not written into human existence. For most of our species’ time on Earth, we’ve lived sustainably. The Tolowa Indians lived where I live now for at least 12,500 years, and when the dominant culture arrived, salmon still ran so thick they turned entire rivers “black and roiling” with their bodies. There was no such thing as “ancient redwood forests.” There was only “home” — a home filled with trees thousands of years old, a home filled with nonhumans in abundance most of us literally cannot conceptualize.

Can you imagine — and this moves us across the continent — flocks of passenger pigeons so large they darken the sky for days at a time, flying 60 miles per hour and sounding like rolling thunder? Can you imagine so many whales that the air looks foggy, just from their breath? Can you imagine fish in such abundance that they slow the passage of ships? Can you imagine entire islands so full of great auks that one European explorer said they could load every ship in France and it would not make a dent? Well, they did, and it did, and the last great auk was killed in the 19th century.

How did the world get to be so full of life in the first place? By each creature making the world richer by living and dying. Salmon make forests stronger by their lives and deaths. Redwood trees do the same. Buffalo make grasslands stronger by their lives and deaths. Wolves do the same. And humans can do the same. But not living the way we do.

The Tolowa were not alone in their sustainability. There have been sustainable cultures the world over. The San of southern Africa, for example, evolved in place. They have lived there, in human terms, forever.

And how have humans lived sustainably in place? Simple. By not destroying the places where they lived, and by not destroying other places either. By improving the habitat on its own terms by their presence. The Tolowa made land-use decisions, just as all other beings on the land do, and just as we make land-use decisions. But the Tolowa made these land-use decisions on the assumption they would be living in a place for the next 500 years. That assumption changes everything about how you make decisions and how you live. It is the difference between life and death, between sustainability and the end of the world.

The end of the world was not written into human existence. It was, however, written into the story of Gilgamesh. The end of the world is written into this way of life of converting the Earth solely to human use. It was written into existence with the plow, and with the cities the plow makes possible.

The logic is simple and inescapable. If you convert the land that previously grew bushes and trees that fed elephants into wheat that feeds humans, you can grow more humans per hectare. Many of these humans can become a standing army. And you can use those trees you cut down to build ships of war. You now have a competitive military advantage over those who live sustainably, over those who do not destroy their land base. Further, because you’ve degraded your own land base, you must expand into other land bases. But fortunately for you, you’ve got a standing military.

This is the last 6,000 years of history. This is the story of the end of the world.

More than 90% of forests on the planet have been destroyed. The same is true for wetlands, grasslands, seagrass beds, large schools of fish, wildlife populations in general.

This culture is killing the planet. It doesn’t have to be this way. Not every culture has lived this way. Not every culture has killed the planet.

Recently, more and more people are talking about the possibility of human extinction. That possibility has entered our consciousness enough that, in December 2018, The New York Times published an op-ed asking whether it would be better for the Earth if humans went extinct.

As the Amazon burns, here’s the thing that haunts me. How is it that this culture can contemplate the end of the Amazon rainforest, contemplate the end of elephants, great apes, insects, fish in the oceans? How is it that it can blithely destroy life on Earth? How is it that it can with not much horror contemplate human extinction, but cannot contemplate stopping this way of life?

If aliens came from outer space and did to Earth what this culture is doing — change the climate; burn the Amazon; deforest the planet; vacuum the oceans and put dioxin in every mother’s breastmilk; and bathe the world in plastics, endocrine disrupters and neurotoxin — we would know exactly what to do. We would resist. We would fight as though our lives depend on it. We would destroy the aliens’ infrastructure that allows them to wage war on the planet that is our only home.

Or, put another way, if the Amazon could take on human manifestation, what would it do? If salmon could take on human manifestation, how long would dams stand? If humans from the future could come to our time, how would they act?

As the writer Lierre Keith often says, “If there are any humans left 100 years from now, they are going to ask what the fuck was wrong with us that we didn’t fight like hell when the world was going down.”

Many of us who know history might have fantasies of how we would have acted were we alive under German occupation in World War II or under British colonial rule. Right now, we are facing the end of the world. We have the opportunity and the honor to protect the planet that gave us our lives.

The time is now. Roll up your sleeves and get to work. Life on this planet needs you.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.

The Deadliest Hunter of Humans on the Planet

In this introduction to his book “The Mosquito,” Timothy C. Winegard profiles the creature that has changed the course of war and empire, and survived every attempt to wipe it out.

Marvin Recinos/Getty

The Deadliest Hunter of Humans on the Planet? The Mosquito

In this introduction to his book “The Mosquito,” Timothy C. Winegard profiles the creature that has killed the most people in history, changed the course of war and empire, and survived every attempt to wipe it out.

lion enemy mosquitoes patrols every inch of the globe save Antarctica, Iceland, the Seychelles, and a handful of French Polynesian micro-islands.

The biting female warriors of this droning insect population are armed with at least 15 lethal and debilitating biological weapons against our 7.7 billion humans deploying suspect and often self-detrimental defensive capabilities. In fact, our defense budget for personal shields, sprays, and other deterrents to stymie her unrelenting raids has a rapidly rising annual revenue of $11 billion.

And yet, her deadly offensive campaigns and crimes against humanity continue with reckless abandon. While our counterattacks are reducing the number of annual casualties she perpetrates, the mosquito remains the deadliest hunter of human beings on the planet. Last year she slaughtered only 830,000 people. We sensible and wise Homo sapiens occupied the runner-up #2 spot, slaying 580,000 of our own species.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which has contributed nearly $4 billion to mosquito research since its creation in 2000, releases an annual report that identifies the animals most lethal to humans. The contest is not even close. The heavyweight champion, and our apex predator in perpetuity, is the mosquito. Since 2000, the annual average number of human deaths caused by the mosquito has hovered around 2 million. We come in a distant second at 475,000, followed by snakes (50,000), dogs and sand flies (25,000 each), the tsetse fly, and the assassin or kissing bug (10,000 each). The fierce killers of lore and Hollywood celebrity appear much further down our list. The crocodile is ranked #10 with 1,000 annual deaths. Next on the list are hippos with 500, and elephants and lions with 100 fatalities each. The much-slandered shark and wolf share the #15 position, killing an average of ten people per annum.*

The mosquito has killed more people than any other cause of death in human history. Statistical extrapolation situates mosquito-inflicted deaths approaching half of all humans that have ever lived. In plain numbers, the mosquito has dispatched an estimated 52 billion people from a total of 108 billion throughout our relatively brief 200,000-year existence.*

Yet, the mosquito does not directly harm anyone. It is the toxic and highly evolved diseases she transmits that cause an endless barrage of desolation and death. Without her, however, these sinister pathogens could not be transferred or vectored to humans nor continue their cyclical contagion. In fact, without her, these diseases would not exist at all. You cannot have one without the other.

The nefarious mosquito, roughly the size and weight of a grape seed, would be as innocuous as a generic ant or housefly and you would not be reading this. After all, her dominion of death would be erased from the historical record and I would have no wild and remarkable tales to tell. Imagine for a moment a world without deadly mosquitoes or any mosquitoes for that matter? Our history and the world we know, or think we know, would be completely unrecognizable. We might as well live on a foreign planet in a galaxy far, far away.

As the pinnacle purveyor of our extermination, the mosquito has consistently been at the front lines of history as the grim reaper, the harvester of human populations, and the ultimate agent of historical change. She has played a greater role in shaping our story than any other animal with which we share our global village. Within these bloody and disease-plagued pages, you will embark on a chronological mosquito-tormented journey through our tangled communal history. Karl Marx recognized in 1852 that “men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please.” It was the steadfast and insatiable mosquito that manipulated and determined our destiny. “It is perhaps a rude blow to the amour propre of our species,” writes acclaimed University of Georgetown history professor J. R. McNeill, “to think that lowly mosquitoes and mindless viruses can shape our international affairs. But they can.” We tend to forget that history is not the artifact of inevitability.

A common theme throughout this story is the interplay between war, politics, travel, trade, and the changing patterns of human land use and natural climate. The mosquito does not exist in a vacuum, and her global ascendancy was created by corresponding historical events both naturally and socially induced.

Our relatively short human journey from our first steps in and out of Africa to our global historical trails is the result of a coevolutionary marriage between society and nature. We as humans have played a large role in the transmission of mosquito-borne diseases through population migrations (involuntary or otherwise), densities, and pressures. Historically, our domestication of plants and animals (which are reservoirs of disease), advancements in agriculture, deforestation, climate change (natural and artificially encouraged), and global war, trade, and travel have all played a part in nurturing the ideal ecologies for the proliferation of mosquito-borne illnesses.

Historians, journalists, and modern memories, however, find pestilence and disease rather dull, when compared to war, conquest, and national supermen, most often legendary military leaders. The literary record has been tainted by attributing the fates of empires and nations, the outcome of pivotal wars, and the bending of historical events to individual rulers, to specific generals, or to the larger concerns of human agencies such as politics, religion, and economics.

The mosquito has been written off as a sidelined spectator, rather than an active agent within the ongoing processes of civilization. In doing so, she has been defamed by this slanderous exclusion of her enduring influence and impact in changing the course of history. Mosquitoes and her diseases that have accompanied traders, travelers, soldiers, and settlers around the world have been far more lethal than any man-made weapons or inventions. The mosquito has ambushed humankind with unmitigated fury since time immemorial and scratched her indelible mark on the modern world order.

“It is worth remembering that a sick soldier is more taxing to the military machine than a dead one.”

Mercenary mosquitoes mustered armies of pestilence and stalked battlefields across the globe, often deciding the outcome of game-changing wars. Time and time again, the mosquito laid waste to the greatest armies of her generations. To borrow from acclaimed author Jared Diamond, the endless shelves of military history books and Hollywood fanfare lionizing famed generals distort the ego-deflating truth: Mosquito-borne disease proved far deadlier than manpower, materials, or the minds of the most brilliant generals.

It is worth remembering, as we navigate the trenches and tour historic theaters of war, that a sick soldier is more taxing to the military machine than a dead one. Not only do they need to be replaced but they also continue to consume valuable resources. During our warring existence, mosquito-borne diseases have been prolific battlefield burdens and killers.

Our immune systems are finely tuned to our local environments. Our curiosity, greed, invention, arrogance, and blatant aggression thrust germs into the global whirlwind of historical events. Mosquitoes do not respect international borders—walls or no walls. Marching armies, inquisitive explorers, and land-hungry colonists (and their African slaves) brought new diseases to distant lands, but, on the other hand, were also brought to their knees by the microorganisms in the foreign lands they intended to conquer.

As the mosquito transformed the landscapes of civilization, humans were unwittingly required to respond to her piercing universal projection of power. After all, the biting truth is that more than any other external participant, the mosquito, as our deadliest predator, drove the events of human history to create our present reality.

I think I can safely say that most of you reading this have one thing in common—a genuine hatred for mosquitoes. Bashing mosquitoes is a universal pastime and has been since the dawn of humanity. Across the ages, from our hominid ancestral evolution in Africa to the present day, we have been locked in an unsurpassed life-or-death struggle for survival with the not-so-simple mosquito. In this lopsided battle and unequal balance of power, historically, we did not stand a chance. Through evolutionary adaptation, our dogged and deadly archnemesis has repeatedly circumvented our efforts of extermination to continue her feverish uninterrupted feeding and her undefeated reign of terror. The mosquito remains the destroyer of worlds and the preeminent and globally distinguished killer of humankind.

Our war with the mosquito is the war of our world.

Excerpted from the book The Mosquito: A Human History of Our Deadliest Predator by Timothy C. Winegard. Copyright © 2019 by Timothy C. Winegard. Published by arrangement with Dutton, a division of Penguin Random House LLC.

Dr. Timothy C. Winegard is the author of The Mosquito: A Human History of Our Deadliest Predator. He holds a PhD from the University of Oxford and is a professor of history and political science at Colorado Mesa University in Grand Junction, Colorado. Winegard served as an officer with the Canadian and British Forces, has lectured on CSPAN, and has appeared on televised roundtables. He is internationally published, including his four previous books, in the fields of both military history and indigenous studies.

The fossil fuel industry and its promoters will reverse the human population boom

The result could be the mother of all economic busts

Lance Olsen

The human population boom has been the bedrock of economic boom in sector after sector. The stakes are high. Broadly put, the long-ongoing human population boom has meant more customers for businesses and industries, and human labor made cheaper simply by its abundance of supply. It’s also brought cheer to generals dreaming of bigger armies and religions competing for more followers. Over and over again, the long-ongoing human population boom has afforded the political elites and local boosters an opportunity to boast of a booming economy, sometimes raising local and even national concerns that they tout growth at any cost.

In the US alone, the booming human population has been the wellspring for surging numbers of visitors to the likes of Demali and Yellowstone National Parks, city managers bent on promoting growth, and the basis of soaring demand for logging to supply housing for a growing human herd. It’s also been the bedrock foundation of a profit boom for the fossil fuel combustion industries that now put it at risk. 

But there’s long been doubt that it could go on, and on, and on. So, what would happen if it came to an end?

It’s possible that, now, with the added pressure from our booming combustion of fossil fuels, a human population bust could be kicked into gear sometime “by” — a.k.a. before — 2050, or within the next 30 years. To the extent that this holds true, it would be, among other things, the mother of all economic crashes.

We all know what follows an economic boom

In the preface to his 1992 book on the economic history of the United States, James Grant reminded readers that, “Booms have consequences.” Politicians and local boosters who boast of booms seldom if ever mention consequences, but they’re no secret. In July, 2001, The Economist advised its readers that “It is no coincidence that the deepest and most protracted recessions in recent decades have taken hold in countries that experienced booms.” 

The mother of all economic busts?

Climate scientist Kevin Anderson has advised anyone willing to listen that, if we fire up the fossil fuels enough to hike atmospheric heat by 4C, only around half a billion people will survive. Anderson says, “I think it’s extremely unlikely that we wouldn’t have mass death at 4C. If you have got a population of nine billion by” — a.k.a. before— “2050 and you hit 4C, 5C or 6C, you might have half a billion people surviving<<https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kevin_Anderson_(scientist)>>.”

The consequences of human die off at that scale would sprawl widely across both ecological and economic realms. Just in economic terms alone, it would trigger a mass loss of customers for every business and industry across the world. The numbers of tourists flocking to US national parks like Yellowstone and Yosemite would plummet. Vast supplies of housing would be left vacant, and the demand for logging crushed. In an irony to cap all ironies, the mass consumption of fossil energy would hit the floor. All in all, Anderson’s stark scenario would add up to economic catastrophe beyond compare.

It doesn’t have to be that extreme to be extreme

Anderson’s reference to reaching 4C added heat is well within the realm of possibility. But his scenario of mass death doesn’t have to reach the extent he indicates in order to be extreme. For example, if 4C won’t wipe out all but half a billion people, it would still have profound effect if it wiped out all but a billion, or two billion. 

Even if it only wiped out all but 3.5 billion, it would wipe out half of today’s human population. Human die off at even this less extreme scale would put the politically popular cause of economic growth in extremely sharp reverse.

And recent research has turned up signals of economic damage from combustion of fossil fuels, even without mass death. The June 30 2017 issue of Science published a densely detailed article under the title, Estimating economic damage from climate change in the United States. The authors found that the mid-Atlantic and southern states would be hit hard by the heat forced on the region by continued combustion of fossil fuels. 

But the impact wouldn’t stop there. Instead, the impact would ripple across the nation, partly just because of mass migration away from the hardest hit states. When Time Magazine interviewed the lead author, he told Time that  “Conflict and political instability — those kinds of things we don’t see today, but could be baked into the future.” He said, “If we continue to emit, you go into this recession and you get stuck in it forever,” <<https://time.com/4837020/climate-change-economy-recession/>>.”

There’s a lot of money at stake

The moneyed world has recently come wide awake to the economic damage made likely by continuing the combustion of fossil fuels. In an article under the headline, Climate change threatens to wreak havoc on the global economy,” the January 25 2019 issue of World Finance magazine advised its readers that, “It is becoming more and more apparent that the developing threat of climate change is not simply damaging the earth’s natural ecosystem, but is also harming the world economy<<https://www.worldfinance.com/markets/climate-change-continues-to-wreak-havoc-on-the-global-economy>>.”

More specifically, the Institutional Investors Group on Climate Change, reportedly managing climate-vulnerable assets worth more than twice the value of the entire Chinese economy, has launched a campaign of lobbying governments to get away from thermal coal, and put an end to subsidizing all the fossil fuels, and to get on with putting a price on carbon emissions from fossil fuel combustion<<https://www.cnn.com/2018/12/10/business/climate-change-investors-cop24/index.html>>.” This amounts to a direct pushback against policy touted by Trump and the Republicans and, since pushing back, the Institutional Investors Group on Climate Change ranks have grown from 415 to 477.

Plainly enough then, the moneyed world’s worries are  beginning to sound a lot like those voiced by advocates of the Green New Deal and campaigners of Fridays for the Future and the Extinction Rebellion.

Where do the politicians stand?

Democrats on the Senate Banking Committee recently grilled Fed Chairman Jerome Powell on the Fed’s response to a changing climate. They made no reference to Kevin Anderson’s dire scenario, or to risk of a recession that goes on forever. They may even have been unaware of either scenario. They did, however, succeed in getting Powell’s opinion that human-caused climate change does pose financial risk.

Republicans, meanwhile, launched a conservation caucus aimed, according to The Hill, at battling the perception that their party doesn’t care about climate change. Like the Democrats, they made no reference to Kevin Anderson’s dire scenario, or to risk of a recession that goes on forever. They too may even have been unaware of either scenario. They did, however, have something to say. Sen. Lindsey Graham said the  Green New Deal is “crazy economics,” adding that “We believe our friends on the other side care about the environment, but they care so much they’re going to destroy the economy in the name of saving the environment<<https://thehill.com/policy/energy-environment/452399-republicans-form-conservation-caucus-to-take-on-environment-climate>>.”

In an editorial on July 13, 2019, the right-leaning Washington Examiner picked up that accusation with a headline declaring that, “The Green New Deal was never about climate change; it’s just AOC’s excuse to destroy America’s economy<<https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/opinion/editorials/the-green-new-deal-was-never-about-climate-change-its-just-alexandria-ocasio-cortezs-excuse-to-destroy-americas-economy>>.

Avoid change, and get change 

The first sentence of the executive summary of the IPCC Special Report on 1.5C advises policymakers that,“Limiting global warming to 1.5°C would require rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society.”  If we avoid making the sacrifices necessary to that particular set of far-reaching and unprecedented changes, we’ll get another — and nastier — set of far-reaching and unprecedented sacrifices in all aspects of society. In a nutshell, we’ll give up a lot to get a soft-as-still-possible landing, or we’ll give up a lot more in a crash. 

Interestingly, according to The Hill, the Republican “caucus members on Wednesday stressed that traditional energy sources like coal, oil and gas would remain a part of the mix.” In an irony of all ironies, the Republicans, who have long claimed the role of guardians of the economy and defenders of capital, now push the world closer to 4C ? Huh?

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“I just want it to be clear that the mainstream environmental movement has been asking very little of people for decades. They’ve been using a strategy of not trying to scare people,” said Bea Ruiz, also an organizer with the U.S. national [ Extinction Rebellion ] team. “There’s no element of, ‘We are in an emergency. We all need to do more than what we’re doing.’ There’s a lot of emphasis on positivity and hope.”

“We’re trying to put out there what’s necessary, not what people think is politically possible. And then we’re trying to be part of helping to change what’s politically possible through direct action,” Ruiz said. “We are really, literally, almost out of time, and if we don’t make the reductions that are needed based on the science, we’re going to be in serious trouble. We can’t negotiate with reality.”

Extinction Rebellion’s radical philosophy
July 22 2019
https://thinkprogress.org/the-radical-philosophy-of-extinction-rebellion-5857d3955b57/

Mike Pence won’t say if he views climate crisis as threat to US

SOTU Pence FULL_00152803
SOTU Pence FULL_00152803

Tapper spars with Pence on Iran, border, climate 23:58

Washington (CNN)Vice President Mike Pence on Sunday wouldn’t say if he views the global climate crisis as a threat to the United States.

Pence repeatedly dodged when asked multiple times on CNN’s “State of the Union” whether the human-induced crisis is a threat to the country, telling host Jake Tapper: “Well, what I will tell you is that we’ll always follow the science on that in this administration.”
There is near universal consensus in the scientific community that the global climate emergency is man made. President Donald Trump has repeatedly made false claims about climate change.
“But what we won’t do, and the clean power plan was all about that, was hamstringing energy in this country, raising the cost of utility rates for working families across this country,” Pence said Sunday.
When pressed again on whether he believes the climate crisis is a threat, Pence said, “I think the answer to that is going to be based upon the science.”
“Well the science says yes,” Tapper said. “I’m asking you what you think.”
“Well, there’s many in the science that debate that,” Pence said.
Tapper responded, “The science community in your own administration — at (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), at the (Director of National Intelligence) — they all say it’s a threat. But you won’t, for some reason.”
Pence said, “What we’ve said is that we are not going to raise utility rates.”
The Trump administration rolled back last week an Obama-era plan that limited coal-fired power plant emissions.
The Environmental Protection Agency said states can set their own carbon emissions standards for coal-fired power plants — a rule that the agency itself says could result in 1,400 more premature deaths by 2030 than the Obama-era plan it will replace.
The Obama Clean Power Plan was set to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, which contribute to the climate crisis, by up to 32% compared to 2005 levels by the same year.
“So you don’t think it’s a threat,” Tapper said.
“I think we’re making great progress reducing carbon emissions,” Pence said. “America has the cleanest air and water in the world. We’ll continue to use market forces—”
“That’s not true,” Tapper said. “We don’t have the cleanest air and water in the world. We don’t.”
The US ranks 10th in the world for air quality and 83rd for air pollution, according to the 2018 Environmental Performance Index. It ranks 29th for water and sanitation, according to the index, which is produced by Yale University and Columbia University.
The US is tied for first place with nine other countries for the quality of drinking water, according to the index.
“But we’re making progress on reducing carbon emissions,” Pence said, adding, “We’re doing it through technology, through natural gas, through continuing to support, as our administration has — “
Tapper responded, “You just rolled back all these clean–“
“Turn back to nuclear energy, clean energy,” Pence continued. “The answer though is not to raise the utility rates of millions of utility rate payers.”