“There is Nothing Permanent Except Change”
Heraclitus , Circa 500 BC
”What the outcome for the human population and other living species is not known. Certainly the decisions being made now will make a huge difference in what the planet is going to be like in coming years–and what the life of our descendants will be become.”
By Dr. John J. Hidore
June 7, 2014—Change, through time, is a basic attribute of Earth. Earth has been undergoing constant change since it was formed from a cloud of cosmic dust some 4.6 billion years ago. The changes that have taken place and are taking place today, vary in form, size, duration and extent. Days use to be shorter than now, the planet has been both warmer and colder than it is now and the magnetic poles of Earth have changed end for end. Mountain ranges have grown and then eroded away. Ancient seas no longer exist; and biological species have appeared and disappeared. Even the sun which supports life on the planet is not a constant source of energy.
Earth’s climate has changed through time, like all else. Throughout most of the history of Earth, the planet was much warmer than it is now.
Changes in Planet Earth
The initial atmosphere contained high concentrations of carbon dioxide and little oxygen. Eventually, the balance between carbon dioxide and oxygen changed to what we now have, with much more oxygen. Scattered through time were ages of extreme cold. The earliest ice age took place two billion years ago. The second glaciation took place between 800 and 600 million years ago. This may have been the most extensive glaciation ever to occur on the planet. There have been times when a large number of species became extinct due to some natural catastrophe. These times are often referred to as mass extinctions.
The global environment is changing, now, faster than at any time in recent history. What is most significant perhaps is that not only is it changing at a rapid rate, but the rate at which it is changing is itself increasing. Simply put the environment in which all living things exist is changing faster and faster.
A Growing Population
A few examples of current phenomenon will serve to make the point: Modern humans, or Homo Sapien Sapien, evolved in Africa some 200,000 years ago. From Africa, the species spread out over the planet replacing the Neanderthals. It took the modern human species more than a hundred thousand years to reach a total population of one quarter million. We are now adding that number of people to the planet each and every day. Each of these added individuals needs food, clothing, and shelter in order to survive. In addition to meeting the needs for survival, they will want many of the amenities of life that are found in the most prosperous countries.
Extinction of Plants and Animals
Species of plants and animals are now becoming extinct at an extremely high rate. The rate of extinction is now perhaps as much as a thousand times greater than the rate prior to the origin of humans. The rate of extinction of species, before human development, is estimated to have been about one species every ten years. The current rate is at least 100 each year and possibly as high as 1000 each year. One example of how fast species can decline is that of the monarch butterfly. Less than two decades ago as many as a billion monarchs migrated to Mexico for the winter. In the fall of 2013, that number dropped to a tiny fraction of that –1/30. The primary reason for the drop in numbers is the tremendous application of herbicides to agricultural fields.The rapid drop in butterflies is just one of what is now considered the sixth mass extinction.
Among the major reasons for the high rate of extinction among other species is the changing climate. Temperatures around the world are increasing rapidly. Most of the United States has experienced rapid rise in temperatures in the last 30 years, with the northeastern states of Maine and Vermont warming the most. The arctic is now warmer than it has been in more than 44,000 years. The coldest temperatures ever recorded on the Antarctic Continent have occurred in the past five years.
The “Yet to be Determined” Outcome
An even cursory look at what is happening on the planet in 2014 suggests that some drastic changes in the behavior of the human population needs to take place now. What the outcome for the human population and other living species is not known.