May 8, 2019

A massive new report compiling research findings from numerous scientific fields paints an extraordinarily dire portrait of our changing planet. The full report of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) will not be released until later in the year, but a summary released for policymakers highlights a worldwide collapse of biodiversity and ecosystems, all due to planet-wide transformation of the seas, land, and atmosphere at human hands.

The changes are "unprecedented in human history," says the report. They will each accelerate if global carbon emissions cannot be reduced immediately, if sea and land management practices cannot set aside sufficient natural reserves to support rapidly-collapsing species, and if other forms of pollution cannot be curtailed.

Among the findings:

  • Up to 1 million individual species may go instinct in the next decades, roughly 13% of all species on the planet—a mass extinction event.
  • More than 40% of amphibian species, and roughly one-third of all reef-forming corals and marine mammals, are under threat.
  • 75% of the planet's land and two-thirds of the marine environment have been "significantly altered by human actions." One-third of marine fish stocks are being harvested at "unsustainable levels."
  • Plastic pollution has increased 1000% since 1980; other toxic pollutants from industrial dumping and agricultural runoff have created nearly a quarter-million square kilometers of ocean "dead zones." Greenhouse gases have doubled in the same time period, raising average global temperatures by "at least" 0.7 degrees Celsius, or 1.26 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • 23% of the global land surface is suffering decreased productivity. Up to $577 billion of global crops are "at risk from pollinator loss." Up to 300 million people are now endangered by "increased risk of floods and hurricanes because of loss of coastal habitats and protection."

There is little good news. IPBES chair Robert Watson, however, noted that the report's authors are no longer focused only on convincing international policymakers.

Watson said the authors have learned from attribution science, which has transformed the debate on the climate crisis by showing how much more likely hurricanes, droughts and floods have become as a result of global heating.The goal is to persuade an audience beyond the usual green NGOs and government departments. “We need to appeal not just to environment ministers, but to those in charge of agriculture, transport and energy because they are the ones responsible for the drivers of biodiversity loss,” he said.

Mitigating even a small portion of the likely extinctions, changing weather patterns, and acidifying oceans will require significantly altering current industrial and agricultural patterns. Scientists are not by themselves likely to goad politicians into taking action, no matter how dire the ongoing crisis becomes. The impetus for action must come from an informed global public.

Published with permission from Daily Kos

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