Planet Earth Weekly

Climate Change and Renewable Energy: Saving Our Planet for Future Generations


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Climate Change and Human Population Growth Precipitated the Pleistocene Mass Extinction

climate change and species extinction

Climate change and extinction of species

“Extinction is the rule. Survival is the exception!”

By John J. Hidore

May 19, 2018—-Changes in climate can and do result in the elimination of species of plants and animals. Evolutionary adaptation and ecological equilibrium may not take place as rapidly as the climate changes. Adaptation by plant and animal species to environmental change may take years, centuries or thousands of years.

Different species respond at different rates and in different forms to climate change. Plants are always producing hybrids and individuals with mutations. In any plant species, there are those individuals better suited to the extremes of the range of the plant. These individuals may thrive under changing conditions while the majority perish. In this manner, the optimum conditions for the species changes to those of the new environment. Animals may also come under more and more stress with changing environmental condition and some species become extinct.

Mass extinction and climate change

Mass extinction throughout time

The Paleozoic/Mesozoic Mass Extinction

At intervals through geologic time, events have taken place that resulted in the demise of many if not most living species. Extreme cases are called extinctions or mass extinctions. A current definition of a mass extinction is a widespread and unusually rapid decrease in the number of species of plants or animals. There have been at least 13 mass extinctions since life became abundant on the planet. As a result of these mass extinctions 99 percent of all species that have existed on the planet no longer exist.

The most extensive mass extinction of all time happened at the boundary between the Paleozoic and Mesozoic Eras. Ninety percent of all living species died out and very drastic changes took place in the fauna of the planet with a major collapse of marine fauna, especially those living in shallow water on the continental shelves.

Among the organisms that perished were the trilobites. Trilobites were one of the dominant organisms of the seas. They survived the previous two extinctions but couldn’t withstand the changes that mark this period in earth’s history. While many land species disappeared, there was no parallel to the mass extinction of marine animals. The changes were so drastic that the life of the following Mesozoic Era was quite different from that of the Paleozoic Era.

climate change and mass extinction

Survival or mass extinction

The Pleistocene Mass Extinction was a Global Event

In the recent history of the earth there have been two periods of accelerated extinction of biota during which the extinction rates were greater than evolutionary causes would predict. These two periods are the end of the Pleistocene Epoch and the modern period.

The Pleistocene extinction, took place over a period of a few thousand years, at the end of the last glacial advance (l8,000 to 8000 BCE). In a relatively short period of time, whether measured in either geologic time, evolutionary time or in terms of human history on earth, a large number of species of mammals and birds disappeared without being replaced. The period of greatest species loss was from 13,000 to 8000 BCE. During this time there was a rapid warming of the planet. Especially impacted species were the larger animals weighing more than 40 kg (88 lbs)The spacing of the extinctions over several thousand years makes it difficult to ascribe to climate events alone. Furthermore, most of the extinct animals were large enough to be conspicuous and edible.

The rate of extinction varied from place to place and through time. The rate of extinction was lowest in Sub-Saharan Africa where modern humans coexisted with the large animals the longest. The rate of extinction increased as distance from the African region increased. The highest rate of extinction occurred in South America.

mass extinction of species

Climate change and mass extinction

To some extent the rate of extinction paralleled the spread of modern humans. It was long believed that large mammals were too powerful for humans to hunt. Perhaps this was true for the individual hunter with spear or bow and arrow, but when hunters went out in groups, it is quite possible they could have been very successful hunters of large animals, even using only simple tools.

In Africa, pygmies hunted elephants with primitive tools. The Plains Indians of North America demonstrated they could successfully hunt large animals with primitive weapons. Herds of animals were driven off cliffs or into water by the use of fire and were either subsequently destroyed in the fall or drowned, or at least made far more vulnerable to attack. Modern humans became more sophisticated hunters as they spread from their place of origin in Africa. Places that were isolated from human migration for a longer period of time, such as some islands, suffered less species loss.

The Mass Extinction in North America

The largest North American mammals were hardest hit. Seventy percent of existing species became extinct. Horses and camels, which had evolved in the New World, became extinct on this continent, as did mammoths and mastodons, which had migrated into the New World over the once dry land of the Bering Strait. The ground sloth, saber toothed tiger, dire wolf, giant buffalo, antelope, and the giant beaver also disappeared, and yet there was no concomitant loss of small mammals, plants or aquatic organisms.

The spread of the human species and the state of the cultural development at the end of the Pleistocene suggests that humans were a major factor in this accelerated extinction. A surprising number of the fossilized bones of extinct animals and birds were discovered associated with charcoal and stone tools, such as arrowheads or spear points. Some of the sharpened tools were still embedded in the bones. Humans appeared in North America rather suddenly from Asia, occupied the continent, and began hunting animals that had never had a chance to adapt to this special type of predator.

The most recent extinction is that taking place today. How severe it will be is yet to be determined.

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Climate change and mass extinction

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Belize: Creating Healthy Coral Reefs

coral reef

Flying into Belize

“Coral nurseries use several methods of growing and attaching the newly grown coral to the bleached reef.”

By Linn Smith
May 13, 2018—–My daughter recently returned from Belize where she snorkeled among the fish of the Belize Barrier Reef, which runs along the coast for 190 miles. It’s part of the Mesoamerican Barrier reef, which is continuous from Cancun to Honduras… 560 miles. Belize has passed an ordinance prohibiting snorkelers from wearing sunscreen, but this tiny country is doing so much more to ensure the health of their reef and reefs around the world.

Bleaching of a Coral Reef

Coral reefs help protect our shorelines. They also provide food for many species of fish, which, in turn, provides food for the human population. Fishing is a major part of the economy in Belize, providing jobs, recreation and tourism. 

Coral reefs cover less than 1% of our ocean floor but support more than 25% of marine life. Due to global warming, hurricanes, diseases, overfishing, and the warming and acidification of the seas, coral bleaching is happening 4 times the rate of bleaching 40 years ago. Bleaching of a reef looks just like what the word bleaching implies…the reef turns white!

climate change

Bleaching occurs when the reef is under stress.

According to Wikipedia corals are, “A colony of genetically identical polyps, each polyp being a sac-like animal only a few millimeters in diameter, with a set of tentacles surrounding a central mouth opening.”

Corals get their color from the tiny algae that live on them, providing food for marine life. When it gets too hot or the corals get diseased or stressed, they dispel the algae, which is known as bleaching. Bleached corals are more vulnerable to diseases, which spread to surrounding healthy corals and makes it difficult for the reef to recover.

Fragments of Hope

A nonprofit organization, Fragments of Hope, is restoring the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef through transplanting coral from coral nurseries. Lisa Carne, a Marine Biologist, visited Belize after a devastating hurricane in 2001. She noticed fragments of living coral from the reef floating in the sea and asked herself if these could somehow be transplanted back onto the reef. After moving to Belize, Lisa received a research grant to study coral transplanting, thus the creation of Fragments of Hope.

Fragments of Hope

Building a healthy coral reef.

Fragments of Hope has transplanted almost 100,000, more temperature tolerant, coral fragments along the Mesoamerican Reef. With constant documentation and observation, only 7 of the the original 19 Elkhorn fragments transplanted in 2006 were lost. Not only are 12 of the original still surviving, they have also created satellite colonies! Fragments of Hope has created 28 gene bank nurseries of threatened coral species as of 2018.

Fragments of Hope

Restoring our reefs through attaching healthy coral.

Coral Nurseries

Coral nurseries use several methods of growing and attaching the newly grown coral to the bleached reef. A rope method uses a long strand of rope strung between a steel frame which is buried on the bottom of the sea floor. The rope is twisted slightly apart to insert the corals between the rope strands. When the coral is mature the entire strand of rope is attached to the bleached-out reef.
Several other methods use a cement mixture to attach fragments of coral to the reef or transplant coral plugs into the reef. The average growing time to create a healthy transplant is about a year.

Fragments of Hope has successfully trained 30 women for the diver roles over the past several years, a role that has previously been dominated by males. Women who successfully train can earn 3 times the minimum wage of Belize.

Fragments of Hope

Creating healthy coral reefs

United Nations Lighthouse Awards

Fragments of Hope has also expanded to other countries, including Jamaica, Colombia and St. Barth. Fragments of Hope offers training for others through manuals, videos and a precise curriculum to guide them towards success in saving the world’s coral reefs.

Fragments of Hope is a 2017 winner of the Lighthouse Awards, an award given by the United Nations to people and organizations that, “Shine a light on the activities underway across the globe that are moving the world toward a resilient, innovative and transformative solutions that address climate change, the economy and social and environmental challenges. The winners also address some of the most practical and replicable examples of what people are doing to tackle climate change.” The United Nations has been recognizing winners since 2011. There were 19 winners in 2017.

Anyone leading a results-driven project that is successfully addressing climate change may apply for the Lighthouse Momentum for Change Award. The next applications will be taken between February-April 2019. More information is at http://www.momentum.unfccc.in 

Also the Coral Reef Replenishment Manual can be downloaded from Google

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Wind Driven Power Surging Globally

windpower

Wind power is thriving in Arizona.

“Globally, the use of wind driven turbines to generate electricity is growing extremely rapidly.”

By Dr. John J. Hidore

April 30, 2018—-Wind has long been used as a power source. The earliest use of wind as an energy source probably began with its use to power boats and ships. Evidence indicates that it has been used for this purpose for several thousand years. Both Egyptians and Phoenicians were using primitive sails on boats. Pictorial evidence shows that it was used on the Nile nearly 4000 years ago.

Windmills are believed to have been in use in what is now China and Persia as early as 2000 BC. They came into use to power water pumps and for grinding grain in Europe around the tenth century. Paintings by early Dutch artists often include windmills. They are still widely used to lift water from the ground throughout the arid and semi arid lands. In the United States such windmills are visible throughout the Great Plains region.

wind turbines

Building offshore wind turbines.

Historic Growth of Wind Power

Wind is one of the renewable sources of energy that is rapidly replacing the use of coal to generate electricity. Windmills to generate electricity are a product of the 20th Century, and in the 21st Century there has been a phenomenal growth in the industry. Today a single wind turbine can power up to 500 homes. According to current estimates renewable energy sources will surpass coal by 2045.

Wind Driven Turbines are now in Operation on Both Land and Sea

Not only are wind driven turbines found on land, but they are also being placed in the ocean. Some are in shallow water with their base on the sea floor. Others are now being placed on floating platforms in deeper water. Hywinds, the world’s first floating wind farm recently began operation off the coast of Scotland and extends towards Norway. The project includes five turbines. The turbines will be tethered to the sea bottom in several hundred feet of water. The system was developed by Statoil, a Norwegian oil and gas company.

wind turbines

Building Wind Farms offshore.

Wind Power Usage in the United States

In the United States five states now produce more than twenty percent of their electrical energy from wind farms. These states are all in the Midwest. They are Iowa, North Dakota, South Dakota, Kansas, and Oklahoma. Texas is known worldwide for its history of oil production. Now the state of Texas ranks 6th in the world in energy produced from wind when compared to that produced by countries around the world.

The state of Iowa is a leader in the proportion of its energy demands being met of wind driven electrical energy. In 2016 it got 36 percent of its electricity from wind turbines and this is expected to increase to at least 40% by 2020. The town of Georgetown, Texas decided in 2015 to require all of the city’s electricity to be from renewable sources. The town currently gets most of its power from a wind farm in Amarillo and this summer will add solar energy from a West Texas farm.

Wind turbine

Wind farm off the coast of the U.S.

Global Use Growing Rapidly

Globally, the use of wind driven turbines to generate electricity is growing extremely rapidly. The year 2017 saw a record high amount of installed wind power. The capacity increased 11 percent over 2016. In 2017 China was the world’s leader in installing wind energy capacity. The European Union was second in amount. Among the countries projected to make substantial increases in wind power generation are Russia and India, both potentially large markets.
Not only is the total amount of electric energy produced by wind increasing, but other aspects of the industry are increasing as well. For example, in the year 2016 there were more than double the number of employees in the wind industry than in the coal industry. As renewable energy grows, so will job opportunities.

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The Impact of Fossil Fuels on our Planet

“The gases from fossil fuels trap heat in our atmosphere leading to the greenhouse effect.”

By Linn Smith
April 21, 2018—Most people by now know the impact of fossil fuels on our environment. Ten years ago this wasn’t true, but today it’s common knowledge. Even with this knowledge and scientific data to confirm it, there are still some naysayers out there. As I have said many times in my articles, some people won’t believe in global warming until it’s in their own backyard, or as Bill Wilson put it….”Even then he may be like the farmer that looked out from his cellar to find his home ruined, saying, ‘Don’t see anything the matter here, Ma. Ain’t it grand the wind stopped blowin’?’”

Are Fossil Fuels the Cause of Global Warming?

How do we know fossil fuels are causing global warming? According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, the molecules of carbon dioxide (the main culprit in global warming) contain information about their source of origin. Carbon in atmospheric molecules have a distinctly different “signature,” so scientists can analyze these variations. Also, when using just the data that would show normal changes in our climate (such as from forces of the sun), our changing climate can’t be explained. When the carbon molecules are factored in, global warming can be explained accurately.

Coal and Its Negative Impact on Our Environment

Burning coal causes the chemical bonds that hold its carbon atoms together to break. This releases the energy from coal, which we use to heat our houses. But breaking down these chemical bonds that make up coal also releases pollutants and heavy metals into our atmosphere. Carbon Dioxide is the main byproduct of burning coal and coal powered plants are the main culprits of CO2 emissions, contributing 24% of all energy related emissions in 2016.

fossil fuels and the environment

One of Colorado’s many oil wells.

Petroleum and its Negative Impact on Our Environment

Petroleum is usually found as small pockets of liquid trapped in layers of rock below the surface of the earth. Burning petroleum products (fuel oil and gasoline) also releases CO2 into our atmosphere. According to http://www.eia.gov, almost 20 pounds of CO2 is produced from burning a gallon of gas that does not contain ethanol. As with coal, many other hazardous byproducts are also released, but the release of CO2 from burning petroleum products is a main contributor to global warming.

Natural Gas and its Impact on Our Environment

Natural gas is a mixture of hydrocarbons, including methane, nitrogen, and carbon dioxide. It is often found beneath the earth’s surface near pockets of coal or petroleum and is often extracted at the same time. Even though it burns cleaner than the other fossil fuels (it produces about ½ the CO2 emissions per unit of coal), it still contributes CO2 to our atmosphere. The demand for natural gas has increased greatly in the past decade, requiring drilling for natural gas separately from petroleum. This is called fracking.

Fracking contributes to other environmental hazards besides global warming. Earthquakes, created by disturbing ancient fault lines deep under our earth’s crust, can be a result of drilling for natural gas. As with coal byproducts, the gases from fracking can seep into our water ways, contaminating our drinking water and surrounding soil.

fossil fuels vs renewable energy

House explosion caused by fracking

Hazards of Fracking

In 2017, in Firestone, Colorado, fracking caused a house explosion which killed 2 and seriously injured another. The wells were drilled in the area years before the housing development appeared. The house that exploded was built in 2014. The COGCC (Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission) does not regulate the distance of houses from wells, allowing fracking companies in Colorado to have 129,000 underground oil and gas pipelines within 1000 feet of occupied buildings.

fossil fuels vs clean energy

Gas well showing lines extending out.

Anadarko Petroleum, owners of the nearby well which caused the explosion, allowed toxic gases from an uncapped line to seep into the soil around the house, and to eventually seep into the house. A gas well was 170 feet from the home that exploded, with a gas line 7 feet underground. The gas line, which ran within 10 feet of the house, appeared to be severed at some point, possibly from housing construction. In the past the gas line had run from the well to nearby storage tanks. The tanks had long been removed, but the line that caused the house explosion was still connected to a valve at the well that was left in the “on” position. This allowed a mixture of propane, methane and other gases to seep into the surrounding soil and into the home through drains and a sump pit in the basement. The explosion occurred when the family was trying to light a new hot water heater in the basement. 

Who takes responsibility to prevent these events from happening? In Colorado it’s a constant fight between communities and the owners of wells, such as Anadarko Petroleum.

Eliminating Fossil Fuels

The gases from fossil fuels trap heat in our atmosphere leading to the greenhouse effect—the heating of our earth which causes stronger, more frequent extreme weather patterns, rising and warming seas, and extinction of wildlife and their habitats.

Renewables produce little to no effect on weather patterns. Renewables lead to a healthier planet, healthier waterways, less erosion……the list goes on and on! If we support clean energy, we support a healthy planet!

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The Warming of Planet Earth Varies from Place to Place

Melting of the Arctic

The Arctic sea ice is melting at a record rate.

“The Arctic Region is the Most Rapidly Warming Region in the Northern Hemisphere.”

By Dr. John J. Hidore

April 10, 2018—–There is no doubt that Planet Earth is warming relatively fast! Data supports this allegation. The data supporting global warming include biological, geological, hydrological and climatological. 

The year 1880 has been established as the beginning of a period of accelerated warming due to the increased use of fossil fuels and a growing population. From 1880 to 1979, the global temperature increased 0.1°F (0.05ºC) above the pre-industrial average. By 2016 the global temperature had climbed 1.4°F(0.6ºC).

Land and Sea Warm at Different Rates

The warming of our planet is not the same from place to place over the surface. With the possible exception of Antarctica, the continents are warming faster than the oceans. The main reason is the difference in specific heat between land and ocean. The specific heat of a substance is the amount of energy it takes to raise the temperature of one gram of the substance 1°C (1.8ºF). The specific heat of water is used as the base for measuring specific heat and has a value of 1.0. The specific heat for some other substances are ice=0.5, air=0.24, and sand=0.19.

The significance in the difference in specific heat is that a given unit of energy will raise the temperature of earth materials about five times as much as a unit of water. Thus, land surfaces warm faster than water when an equal amount of energy is added.

Glacier National Park

Global warming is causing disappearing glaciers.

Northern Hemisphere is Warming Faster Than the Southern

Climate normals are periods of 30 years that move forward every 10 years. The current normal being used is that of the period 1980-2010.When compared to the 30 year global average for the period 1980-2010, the northern hemisphere is warming faster than the average for the earth as a whole. It is also warming faster than the southern hemisphere. The Northern Hemisphere temperature increased more than two degrees Fahrenheit. The reason the Northern Hemisphere is warming faster than the southern Hemisphere is due to the fact that most of the earth’s land mass is in the Northern Hemisphere.

Disease and melting ice caps

Consequences of Global Warming

The Arctic Region is Rapidly Warming

The Arctic is the coldest region in the Northern Hemisphere. The region consists of the sea surrounding the North Pole and land that rings the sea. The arctic is warming faster than mid-latitude or tropical regions. It is warming more than twice as fast as the average for the earth. The reason for this is that as ice and snow melt on the fringes of the arctic the ratio between reflection and absorption of solar energy changes drastically.

In the winter the sea is covered by a veneer of ice and the surrounding land is generally covered by snow. With the onset of summer, the increased solar radiation results in the melting of ice and snow melting off the land. The more snow and ice that melts, the faster the arctic warms. This change results in what is known as a positive feedback mechanism. More and more energy is absorbed rather than reflected or used to melt the ice. As the melting season lengthens the land and atmosphere above it warm faster than areas further south.

While the Arctic is still the coldest region in the Northern Hemisphere, it is warming more rapidly than other areas!

Global Warming

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Trump Rolls Back Clean Air Act

Following are recent changes announced by the Trump administration for rolling back the Clean Air Act. This article was copied from the EPA’s website:

EPA Administrator Pruitt: GHG Emissions Standards for Cars and Light Trucks Should Be Revised
04/02/2018

WASHINGTON (April 2, 2018) — Today, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt is announcing the completion of the Midterm Evaluation (MTE) process for the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions standards for cars and light trucks for model years 2022-2025, and his final determination that, in light of recent data, the current standards are not appropriate and should be revised. Administrator Pruitt is also announcing the start of a joint process with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to develop a notice and comment rulemaking to set more appropriate GHG emissions standards and Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards.
“The Obama Administration’s determination was wrong,” said EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. “Obama’s EPA cut the Midterm Evaluation process short with politically charged expediency, made assumptions about the standards that didn’t comport with reality, and set the standards too high.”
Under the Clean Air Act (CAA), EPA sets national standards for vehicle tailpipe emissions of certain pollutants. Through a CAA waiver granted by EPA, California can impose stricter standards for vehicle emissions of certain pollutants than federal requirements. The California waiver is still being reexamined by EPA under Administrator Pruitt’s leadership.
“Cooperative federalism doesn’t mean that one state can dictate standards for the rest of the country. EPA will set a national standard for greenhouse gas emissions that allows auto manufacturers to make cars that people both want and can afford — while still expanding environmental and safety benefits of newer cars. It is in America’s best interest to have a national standard, and we look forward to partnering with all states, including California, as we work to finalize that standard,” said Administrator Pruitt.
Additional Background
As part of the 2012 rulemaking establishing the model year 2017-2025 light-duty vehicle GHG standards, EPA made a regulatory commitment to conduct a MTE of the standards for MY 2022-2025 no later than April 1, 2018. This evaluation would determine whether the standards remain appropriate or should be made more, or less stringent.
In November 2016, the Obama Administration short-circuited the MTE process and rushed out their final determination on January 12, 2017, just days before leaving office. Since then, the auto industry and other stakeholders sought a reinstatement of the original MTE timeline, so that the Agency could review the latest information.
EPA and the U.S. Department of Transportation announced a reestablishment of the MTE process in March 2017. And, in August 2017, EPA reopened the regulatory docket and asked for additional information and data relevant to assessing whether the GHG emissions standards remain appropriate, including information on: consumer behavior, feedback on modeling approaches, and assessing advanced fuels technologies. EPA also held a public hearing on this topic.

For more information: https://www.epa.gov/regulations-emissions-vehicles-and-engines/midterm-evaluation-light-duty-vehicle-greenhouse-gas

https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2018-04/documents/mte-final-determination-notice-2018-04-02.pdf

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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Global Violence Is a Symptom of Overpopulation and the Need to Limit Growth

Aristotle

Poverty and Revolution

“There are many factors which precipitate violence. Poverty and unemployment are two key ones in today’s world.”

By Dr. John J. Hidore

March 16, 2018—-Among the symptoms of global overpopulation and the need to limit population growth are widespread human health problems, resource depletion, and migration. Violence must be added to these symptoms.

Violence can be defined as the use of physical force to injure or abuse another person or persons. It also includes mental injury due to the distorting of the truth or verbal abuse. It should be pointed out that most violence does not result in death. Among the elements that most often lead to violence are: poverty, resource depletion, regional health problems, such as under nutrition, and alternative facts. These factors are often difficult to separate from one another. By far the greatest number of acts of violence do not result in death. These acts include physical assaults such as rape and beatings. Verbal abuse and threats of physical violence are also widespread, particularly. Deaths due to violence have increased in recent decades. In 2013, the most recent year for which the World Health Organization has data, an estimated 1.3 million people died from violence. Self inflicted action, or suicide, was responsible for the greatest share of the deaths, 65% of the total.

Crime and revolution

Poverty and Crime result from overpopulaton.

Violence by Individuals

Violence involving relationships between individuals accounts for another 32% of deaths. In the interpersonal death by violence, knifes and guns were the primary weapons used. The United States is the worlds leader in death by firearms. Approximately 70% of all guns privately owned on the planet are in the United Sates, mostly by men. In total numbers it is estimated there are about 300 million guns privately owned in the United States. In the last few years death by gun has passed the 30,000 mark. It now exceeds those killed in automobile accidents. Mass shootings are increasing in frequency and numbers killed. Many of these involve killing children in schools.

Overpopulation and hunger

A depletion of resources.

Group Violence

The remaining deaths were due to war between tribes or nations. In today’s world extreme violence has become global. Religion is one of the factors in group violence and tribal wars. The best known of these tribal wars is that between Christianity and Islam. However, there is violence between Islamic groups and between groups classified as Christians. The clash between Shiite and Sunni Muslims is one example. Within the major religions there are often extremist sections that promote violence such as the Ku Klux Klan in the United States and Isil in the middle east.

Contributing Factors and Trends

There are many factors which precipitate violence. Poverty and unemployment are two key ones in today’s world. The prospects for much of the population in the poor countries are not good. It should be clear that the income gap is contributing to global unrest and increased violence. Most of the increase in national wealth will go to just a few people.

One can only conclude there will be more and more violence as civil uprisings by every large numbers of people as they protest the continual decrease in income and resources available to them. It should be reiterated that the vast majority of violence does not result in death. However, the physical and mental pain that accompanies non-fatal incidents is just as real and long lasting.

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The Effect of Climate Change on the Saguaros of the Sonoran Desert

saguaro pic by Linn Smith

Saguaro of the Sonoran Desert

“Saguaros have evolved to rely on the summer monsoons and winter rains that prevail here.”

By Linn Smith
March 4, 2018—-Each morning I ride along the dirt paths in southwest Arizona, my dog in tow, and wonder at the giant Saguaros, towering, as if royalty of the desert. What do I know about these gigantic, human like plants? I know I am truly humbled by their presence. The beauty against the mountains, the size, the human like features of arms lifting to a blue sky above, their age and, while the world moves forward, these mammoth cactuses have survived the elements of a dry arid life in the Southwest…all part of my fascination!

But what about the survival of the Saguaros? What is the future of these majestic desert plants? With climate change comes a hotter, drier desert and with a hotter, drier desert comes a greater risk of fires and drought, making it difficult for the Saguaro to propagate according to the narrow margin of time allotted for seed dispersion that coincides with the monsoons.

And also….there’s Buffelgrass!

Saguaros

Buffelgrass competes with Saguaros for nutrients

Buffelgrass: A Giant Threat to a Giant Cactus

Buffelgrass is native to Africa and was transported to the desert of Arizona to prevent erosion and for cattle forage in the 1940’s. Many volunteers work tirelessly digging up the invasive grass, which competes with the Saguaros for food and water. The grass not only competes for the nutrients and water among the Saguaros, it is also fire-resistant, as the roots are able to survive a fire, allowing the Buffelgrass to endure the elements of nature and return healthier than ever.

Buffelgrass is highly flammable and burns very hot, much hotter than the Saguaros can survive. It changes a fire-resistant desert into a flammable grassland and, as climate changes and fires increase, so does the Buffelgrass. A healthy ecosystem is able to resist changes of climate due to global warming, but the buffelgrass creates an unhealthy environment for the Saguaros of the Sonoran Desert. When it fills in the bare areas between the Saguaros, the grass acts like fodder for fire caused by lightning strikes.

Climatecental.org states, “Like many such imports, which seemed like a good idea at the time, this one (Buffelgrass) has gone out of control. Approximately 2,000 acres of Saguaro National Park are currently covered with buffelgrass, and can spread at a rate of up to 35 percent per year. There’s no way for one park or its visitors to hold back global warming, but while park employees attack the fire-loving buffelgrass with herbicides, volunteers show up for communal buffelgrass pulls. It’s a difficult battle, but after great effort and thousands upon thousands of buffelgrass clumps yanked from the ground, mostly by volunteers, some land is declared free of the unwanted grass.”
The staff at Saguaro National Park states it like this, “The math of climate change is simple: Hotter summers mean a greater likelihood of fire. Warmer winters mean less chance for buffelgrass to die back in a hard freeze. It all adds up to long odds for the saguaros. If we start seeing buffelgrass come through and we have larger fires, really you can start calling us Buffelgrass National Park. The cacti are not going to survive that.”

Saguaro

Saguaros of the Southwest

The Saguaros and Monsoon Rains

The Saguaros only habitat on earth are the deserts of the southwest. Andy L. Fisher, chief of interpretation for Saguaro National Park says, “Even — or especially — in the desert, water is life. Saguaros have evolved to rely on the summer monsoons and winter rains that prevail here. Their adaptations to this regional weather cycle are so specific that the species is found in the Sonoran Desert and nowhere else on Earth. The saguaros have got it dialed in. They know exactly when they need to put up the fruit to put out the seeds, to get the seeds carried by the animals, to get seeds deposited just in time for the first monsoon rains.” If the monsoons fail to bring the needed rains within their usual timespan, these cactuses could soon become extinct, along with the many other species of plants throughout our planet dependent on timely conditions for survival.

Saguaro Population Regeneration

A seventy-five year study of the Saguaro cactus by the National Parks Conservation Association titled, “Saguaro Mortality and Population Regeneration in the Cactus Forest of Saguaro National Park: Seventy-Five Years and Counting,” created maps showing the percent of population change of the Saguaros according to sections. The study shows that only 12 of the 64 four-hectare (one hectare equals approximately 2.5 acres} plots had a population increase over the past 75 years in which the Saguaro was studied. The other 52 plots decreased in Saguaro population. Other studies document the same degree of regeneration.

Weiss, Castro, and Overpeck , who headed the study, contrasted the drought of the 2000s with the drought of the 1950s and point out the following. “Temperatures during the drought of the 2000s have been generally higher than during the 1950s drought due to climate change. They note that the higher temperatures increase the evapotranspiration especially in the foresummer prior to the monsoons. Hence, we suspect drought, not reproductive potential, is primarily responsible for the lack of regeneration in this population in the current era.”

The observations made during the past 75 years of this study suggest that the success of the Saguaro’s regeneration in the 21st century will depend on a combination of factors including climate and fire associated with the invasive non-native buffelgrass. Climate change may benefit some species, such as Buffelgrass, and cause extinction of others….the Saguaro, which is at risk of disappearing in the future!

If you are in the Southwest or just visiting and would like to spend a day for a worthy cause….digging Buffelgrass, contact the Desert Museum: https://www.desertmuseum.org/buffelgrass/volunteer.php

One last note, don’t try to poach a Saguaro to sell or relocate to your yard, as many are microchipped!

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 A Visit to Biosphere 2

“On a day by day basis I was very aware that the Biosphere, the plants, the algae in there, were providing me with my oxygen.”

By Linn Smith

January 13, 2018—–A visit to Biosphere 2 last week, which is the world’s largest science laboratory, revealed a site of many experiments, both past and present. Biosphere 1 is our Planet Earth. Biosphere 2, located in the desert of Arizona, emulates our planet, containing a rainforest, ocean, grasslands, desert and other earth replications. The mini earth also contains human living quarters and an agricultural area for growing food.


Biosphere 2 according to Wikipedia, “was originally meant to demonstrate the viability of closed ecological systems to support and maintain human life in outer space. It was designed to explore the web of interactions within life systems in a structure with different areas based on various biological biomes.”

Life in Biosphere 2

In the 1990’s, eight people were sealed inside of Biosphere 2 for two years. The experiment was to study if conditions on earth could possibly be emulated and contained for living elsewhere—possibly the moon.

One participant, Jane Poynter, said, “We were recycling all our water, all of our air, and growing all our food. Nothing was going in or out. The Biosphere was truly hermetically sealed.” The experiment eventually revealed that the participants couldn’t get enough oxygen or calories, eating their emergency food supplies and getting oxygen injections.

When the experiment ended Poynter stated, “I walked out and the next morning saw a gigantic pile of garbage. We hadn’t had any garbage in the Biosphere, we recycled everything. And then you go to a store to buy stuff, and you’re like ‘holy cow, look at this!’ There’s not only tomato ketchup, there’s 17 brands of it! It’s the abundance of this world that we all take for granted which became so apparent!”

Interdependency of our Planet

Today, Poynter tries to live her life with as low a carbon footprint as possible. Life inside the Biosphere also taught her the value of food. “Today we pick up the phone and order a pizza, but in the Biosphere we had to plant the wheat, which would take about 120 days to grow, harvest it, grind it, turn it into flour and make dough. To get the cheese our goats had to be artificially inseminated and have babies to get our milk!” Similar to what life was like before the early 1900’s!

Even though the experiment failed in some areas, not only lack of food and oxygen, but also warring factions between participants, Poynter states, “On a day by day basis I was very aware that the Biosphere, the plants, the algae in there, were providing me with my oxygen, and I was providing them with their carbon dioxide. It was incredibly interdependent. It’s like that on Planet Earth, but it’s so big you don’t realize it, or think about it.”

Is it time to start thinking of where our oxygen comes from? How interdependent life is? The causes of extreme weather conditions and what our carbon footprint looks like? Will future generations lack food and oxygen? It’s time to look at the truth and the increasing data collected by scientists that will predict how comfortable future generations will be when occupying Planet Earth.


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Extreme Climate Change: The Pleistocene Ice Age

climate change

Climate change through geological time

“Today the total mass of ice on the planet is continuing to decline as global warming increases the melting. Sea level is rising in response.”

By Dr. John J. Hidore

February 23, 2018—-Planet Earth was formed from cosmic debris approximately 4.5 billion years ago. For almost its entire history the planet has been warmer than it is today. Over the past 540 million years relatively warm conditions have existed on our planet probably 90 percent of the time. Temperatures have averaged 5 degrees C (9°F) higher than at present. However, there have been times when the planet cooled enough so that massive amounts of ice formed on the land masses.

The Pleistocene Ice Age

Probably the most important single global environmental event since the human species has been on Earth was the Pleistocene geological epoch. Large areas of the land masses were covered by sheets of ice and mountain ranges supported many individual glaciers. Geologists have dated the Pleistocene Epoch as beginning about 2,588,000 years ago and continued until about 11,700 years ago.

The Pleistocene ice age was not a single glacial expansion followed by warming. It included several large advances and retreats. Each period of expansion included many minor advances and retreats. Significant fluctuations in the last million years averaged about 100,000 years in length. Of the 100,000 year periods, extreme cold prevailed about 90% of the time. The warm periods, or interglacials, were relatively short, averaging approximately 10,000 years.

Areas Covered by Ice

During this epoch large ice sheets formed in both hemispheres on land masses near the poles. At the maximum some 30% of earth’s land surface was covered by ice. The ice sheets reached a thickness of 1500 to 3000 meters (4950-9900 ft). The impact of the ice sheets extended well out from the edge of the ice. Permafrost (permanently frozen soil) extended outward several hundred kilometers in both North America and Eurasia. In North America the present path of the Ohio and Missouri Rivers mark the approximate southern limit of the ice sheet. These two rivers were formed by the melted water at the edge of the ice.

Mountain ranges developed glaciers that extended into the surrounding lowlands and in many cases into the nearest ocean. Pack ice covered the polar seas, and icebergs floated far into the tropical oceans being carried by cold ocean currents.

climate change

Climate Change over geological time

Temperatures

During the time when ice was most extensive over Earth, temperatures averaged 4°C ( 7.2°F) less than at present. In the northern hemisphere it was perhaps 8 to 12°C (14 – 25º F) lower than the current mean temperature. At the edge of the ice the temperature was about -6°C ( -21º F). At the edge of the permafrost is was 0°C (32º F).

The Wisconsin Glacial Advance

The most recent major glacial advance in North America is known as the Wisconsin. It has other names in other geographical regions. It took place about 30,000 to 12,000 years ago. The peak of the advance was about 18,000 years ago. Huge ice sheets extended as far south as 50º N in Scandinavia and to 40º N in North America. Polar ocean currents extended in the North Atlantic as far south as 45º N. The ice mass was great enough to lower sea level approximately 125 to 140 meters (413 to 462 ft). As the ice accumulated the continental margins changed and the landmasses became more extensive. It was during this time that there may have been a land bridge between Asia and North America, allowing humans to cross into North America.

The Pleistocene ice age had a tremendous effect on Earth. The ice sheets and mountain glaciers changed the surface of the land over large areas. There are still visible features on the continents resulting from the moving ice. There was also a mass extinction of species. Large numbers of species of plants and animals disappeared. The melting of the ice continues to impact life including our species.

The ice has been retreating irregularly since its peak. Over the last 6000 years, sea level has been within a meter (3.3 ft) of that of the present. Today the total mass of ice on the planet is continuing to decline as global warming increases the melting and sea levels is rising in response.