Caleb’s Conception: People should take better care of Earth

Caleb Bolin 
Political Columnist

April 22, is Earth Day, and what better way to celebrate than taking a look at our home planet from space. NOAA's GOES-East satellite captured this stunning view of the Americas on Earth Day, April 22, 2014 at 11:45 UTC/ 7:45 a.m. EDT. The data from GOES-East was made into an image by the NASA/NOAA GOES Project at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. (c) 2014. NASA. Distributed by McClatchy/Tribune Information Services. Photo Credit: NASA/MCT

April 22, is Earth Day, and what better way to celebrate than taking a look at our home planet from space. NOAA’s GOES-East satellite captured this stunning view of the Americas on Earth Day, April 22, 2014 at 11:45 UTC/ 7:45 a.m. EDT. The data from GOES-East was made into an image by the NASA/NOAA GOES Project at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. (c) 2014. NASA. Distributed by McClatchy/Tribune Information Services. Photo Credit: NASA/MCT

People overfish; people hunt to the point of extinction; people exploit nature; people waste a lot of stuff; people too frequently just don’t care. However, we can still help to save the world.

According to the United States Census Bureau, there are about 323 million people in the United States. One person is born every eight seconds and one person dies every 12 seconds. There is one international migrant (net) every 28 seconds. These births, deaths, and migrants equal a net gain of one person every 13 seconds for the United States. There are 31,536,000 seconds in a year. At this rate, there are currently about 2,425,846 more people each year in the United States. That’s a lot of mouths to feed.

The U.S. population is growing and so is the world population. It is widely accepted by scientists that we all consume food and resources. We all create waste as well.  The management of these resources is a tricky business, but it should not be taken lightly.

According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization’s The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture (SOFIA) report, in 2010, fish provided more than 2.9 billion people with close to 20 percent of their intake of animal protein and provided another 4.3 billion with about 15 percent of their animal protein intake.

Some say fish is readily available and we should take advantage of it as a resource. However, it is crucial that fish stocks are protected and managed rather than exploited.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, in 2013, 28 stocks, or 9 percent, of fisheries were being overfished (meaning that the annual rate of catch is too high), 40 stocks, or 17 percent of fisheries were overfished (meaning the population size is too small) and 34 stocks were rebuilt (meaning previously overfished populations were back at healthy size). In 2014, there were 26 stocks, or 8 percent of stocks on the overfishing list, 37 stocks, or 16 percent of stocks on the overfished list and 37 stocks rebuilt.

While the reduced number of depleted stocks and overfished stocks is reassuring, there is still progress to be made; well known, commonly consumed fish like the Atlantic Bluefin Tuna and the Atlantic Cod are still endangered or vulnerable, and countless other species are still under threat of extinction.

Though only some seven percent of the ocean has been closely studied and explored, the seas are heavily fished in most areas. Large nets dragged across the ocean floor in a method called bottom trawling destroy entire ecosystems before they can be studied, and unknown species, which sometimes only reside in one location, are subject to extinction.

Studies from 2011 by PLOS biology estimate that there are about 8.7 million species on Earth (give or take 1.3 million species). About 2.2 million of these species (give or take 0.18 million species) are marine. These studies also suggest that some 86 percent of existing species and 91 percent of marine species have yet to be described. If whole ecosystems are destroyed faster than they can be studied, then the world risks losing crucial links of food chains that span the globe and damaging potentially crucial parts of the world, which we do not yet fully understand the importance of.

Human exploitation of the oceans has caused lasting damage in recent memory. On April 10, 2010, an explosion in a BP oil drilling rig killed 11 workers and released an estimated 4 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. Coral reefs and estuaries, sensitive, ecologically valuable feeding and nursing grounds for many species, were negatively affected by the spill as winds blew the oil miles away. Sea turtles, dolphins, birds, whales, and other animals that spend lots of time at the surface were coated in oil and often died. Some 80,000 square miles of commercial and recreational fishing grounds were temporarily closed in order to understand the effects of the spill on the organisms that lived in the area. Monitoring of the area continues today.

Human exploitation of the land has also caused lasting damage recently. In the 1930’s, human destruction of prairies led to loose topsoil, which turned to dust and was blown by winds in massive dust storms that destroyed the agricultural and ecological productivity of large parts of Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado, Kansas and New Mexico.  The dust storms were stopped when some 200 million trees were planted from Canada to Texas to break the wind, hold soil in place and hold water.

Other natural disasters are being worsened by human activity. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) believes that increased levels of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere have led and will lead to an increase in temperatures globally, which possibly increase the risk of drought and the intensity of storms. Contrarily, the increase in temperature could decrease the number of storms but increase the number of severe storms because of an increase in water vapor presence in the atmosphere, which fuels storms.

The greenhouse gasses which are causing the global temperature increase are largely the products of the use of electricity, transportation (vehicles), industry, residential and commercial carbon emissions and agriculture. Human consumption drives all of these emissions.

Another byproduct of human consumption is waste. Food, plastic, paper and other wastes pile up in and outside of garbage dumps around the nation. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), in 2013 Americans produced about 254 million tons of trash and recycled or composted 87 million tons. Recycling and composting the 87 million tons of trash prevented it from having to be dumped in a landfill, which prevented about 186 million metric tons of carbon dioxide, the most common greenhouse gas, from being released into the air.

What can we do to help save the world from disaster?

The issue, as seen above, is complicated by a lot of data and research numbers, but the answer is simpler than we might think. We shouldn’t eat more than necessary and we should make sure our food comes from sustainable sources. We should use more clean energy, like solar power and wind power, and less nonrenewable energy, like the oil and gas for cars or the electricity from coal. We should carpool or bike to save gas and reduce emissions. We should turn off devices and unplug them when we are not using them to reduce the use of electricity. We should recycle our paper, plastic, and other reusable materials and we should carefully and thoughtfully determine what the impact on ecosystems will be before we build an oil pipeline or dredge marine ecosystems. Last but not least, love the world we live in because we only have one. With Earth Day on April 22, keep these things in mind.


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