Earth Day 2019: Protect Our Species

Galapagos penguin

Galapagos penguin

“In nature, nothing exists alone.”
Rachel Carson, 1962

In late February, 2019, I had an amazing opportunity to visit the Galapagos Islands off the coast of Ecuador, a country approximately the size of Colorado that has more biodiversity per square kilometer than any other country in the world. We were able to walk among, snorkel with, photograph up close, and marvel at giant tortoises, marine iguanas, green sea turtles, Galapagos penguins, sea lions, and blue footed boobies. As incredible as all of these animals are, they are also all endangered species, facing the possibility of extinction, of disappearing from this Earth forever.

Earth Day 2019 Focus:

On April 22, 2019, the world will celebrate Earth Day for the 49th time since its inception in 1970. This year’s focus is “Protect Our Species” and the following information is from their website: https://www.earthday.org/campaigns/endangered-species/earthday2019/

The world is facing a mass extinction of species. All species of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, arthropods (insects and spiders), fish, crustaceans, corals, and plants have declined, in many cases severely. We are in the midst of the greatest rate of species extinction in the last 60 million years, since we lost the dinosaurs. Normally, between 1 and 5 species will go extinct annually. However, scientists estimate that we are now losing species at 1,000 to 10,000 times the normal rate, with multiple extinctions daily. The number of animals living on the land has fallen by 40% since 1970 alone.

Some argue that species have disappeared before and that the current decline is just part of a natural process. But prior periods of mass global extinction (dinosaurs) in the history of our planet happened because of catastrophic natural events (impact of asteroids and super-volcanoes). They were not, as is the case for the current period of mass extinction, the result of the intervention of a single species, humans. It is estimated that we have impacted (often negatively) 83% of Earth’s land surface. How are we driving this process of extinction?

  • Over-exploitation of species either for human consumption, use of byproducts, or sport

  • Habitat loss such as filling in wetlands, dredging rivers, mowing fields, and cutting down trees. Habitat fragmentation by roads and development on land and dams as well as water diversions in our lakes and rivers that limit the territory where animal species can find mates and food. Habitat loss and fragmentation also makes it difficult for migratory species to find places to rest and feed along their migration routes. Habitat degradation from pollution, invasive species, and the disruption of ecosystem processes (such as changing the intensity of fires) also result in land that can no longer support native wildlife.

  • Climate change alters temperature and weather patterns and this in turn impacts plant and animal life. Scientists expect that the number and range of species (the definition of biodiversity) will decline greatly as temperatures continue to rise. The biggest contributors to global warming are: burning of fossil fuels, animal agriculture, and deforestation

  • The spread of non-native species around the world, the growth of the same crops across the globe at the expense of local varieties, and the introduction of animals into places where they did not exist and often have no natural predators to curb their destructive activities

  • Chemical products used in agriculture and other productive processes

Our natural world has been likened to a house of cards with every species playing a key supporting role. With each species loss, regardless of its size or position in the food chain, the integrity of the entire structure is threatened. When enough species are lost, the entire, delicately balanced ecosystem crashes irrevocably.

Protecting Our Species:

Also from the Earth Day Network: https://www.earthday.org/2019/01/31/what-you-need-to-know-about-the-endangered-species-act/

In the United States, in 1973, congress worked across party lines to pass the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Forty-five years later, the ESA remains the best and most effective law for wildlife conservation in the world. This powerful legislation works to safeguard not only domestic species (large and small) but also their habitats. It’s success has been powerful, less than 1% of listed species have gone extinct since its inception. The law has been credited with saving 225 species from extinction including the American bald eagle, the brown pelican, and the grey wolf to name a few. However, the ESA has been as controversial as it has been successful. Issues with the law have included property rights, the failure to list species, and inadequate resources. It also continues to be under attack, most often from the mining, oil, gas, and livestock industries. The Trump administration has made attempts to curtail and weaken the ESA by proposing policy changes that would greatly undermine protections for our wildlife and ecosystems. This could result in irreparable damage. For example, the endangered honey bee is solely responsible for pollinating more than 30% of food plants. Referring back to Rachel Carson’s quote above, “In nature, nothing exists alone,” consider what happens if we lose honeybees, we lose our food supply, how will we survive?

Take Action:

  1. REDUCE - Re-read Still Speaking Earth’s March 2019 blog post (https://www.etownucc.org/still-speaking-earth-blog/2019/2/17/amys-march-bog-post). In light of the new and drastically limited paper and plastic recycling guidelines in our area, there is a reason that in the catchphrase “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle”, REDUCE is always first. It needs to be our first and most important step. As reported by National Geographic (https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/2019/03/whale-dies-88-pounds-plastic-philippines/) , in March 2019 , a dead curvier beaked whale washed ashore in the Philippines. At autopsy, 88 pounds of plastic was found jammed in its belly, including 16 rice sacks in addition to other plastic bags, snack bags, and big tangles of nylon rope. The plastic trash was so densely packed into the dead whale’s stomach that it had started to calcify. The whale could no longer eat due to the amount of undigested plastic in its gut, it literally starved to death. As the plastic crisis grows, more whales, dolphins, birds, and fish are being found dead with their stomachs full of plastic. PLEASE REDUCE YOUR PLASTIC CONSUMPTION! Yes, it takes more time. Yes, it takes more planning and forethought. Yes, it is worth it. Make 1 change and make it today, this week. Stop using plastic grocery bags and produce bags. Don’t tell yourself that it’s okay if you just take them back to the store to recycle. Stop consuming them. If we collectively decrease our consumption, then corporations will be forced to decrease their production. Christ Church’s Green Team will be reaching out to our local grocery stores to investigate their sustainability programs and to encourage them to stock reusable produce bags for purchase in order to encourage consumers to reduce and reuse rather than relying on recycling. Could you lend your voice or your signature (more information to come) to that effort? Could you speak with your grocery store’s manager and let them know that you are one of many interested in reducing plastic pollution? Could you purchase re-usable grocery and produce bags (https://www.amazon.com/s?k=reusable+produce+bags&crid=3BWYOWM51UCZE&sprefix=reusable%2Caps%2C149&ref=nb_sb_ss_i_2_8) and eliminate that plastic?

  2. CONTACT YOUR REPRESENTATIVES and tell them you want them to work to preserve the Endangered Species Act.
    https://smucker.house.gov/contact (Representative Lloyd Smucker)
    https://www.casey.senate.gov/contact%20/ (Senator Bob Casey)
    https://www.toomey.senate.gov/?p=contact (Senator Pat Toomey)

  3. Be aware of international campaigns by organizations such as Greenpeace that are attempting to pressure manufacturers to reduce their plastic pollution. Go to this website: https://act.greenpeace.org/page/39417/petition/1?locale=en-GB and ADD YOUR NAME TO THE PETITION urging major plastic polluters like Nestle, Unilever, Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Colgate, Johnson & Johnson, and Mars (some of the biggest corporate polluters) to be more responsible and more responsive to consumer demands for decreasing plastic packaging. It’s easy. It’s fast. It’s one way to add your voice to the growing movement to decrease plastic production. Make a commitment to protect our communities, oceans, and wildlife from all of the plastic produced that never gets recycled and that threatens our habitats and our health.