Tag Archives: Ecosystem

The Anthropocene Mass Extinction


Looking for sea ice for hunting

Looking for sea ice for hunting

The Earth has had five previous mass extinctions events, and we are now in number six. The current crisis is called the Anthropocene Extinction, meaning that it is caused by human activity.

Much has been published recently about global climate change. But there is a much bigger picture to see if we just “connect the dots.” The planet is in a perfect storm of anthropocentric attacks on the biosphere that taken together will severely reduce the life carrying capacity of the planet.

Forty-five percent of all mammal species are endangered or threatened. This includes everything from elephants to polar bears. Elephant populations are declining rapidly due to habitat destruction and poaching. Polar bears are starving as the loss of the arctic ice sheet makes it harder for them to hunt for seals. Recently orcas have replaced polar bears as the apex arctic predators. The large dorsal fins on the orcas have mean that they would not swim or hunt in arctic waters. But now with the substantial loss of arctic ice the orcas have expanded into this new territory.

Ice sheets are diminishing across the globe. The loss of the Greenland ice sheets will increase global sea levels by 30 feet. The loss of the Antarctic ice sheets would raise global sea levels by 300 feet. The Greenland ice sheets are showing increasing signs of collapse. There are lakes of snow melt atop of the glaciers. These lakes drain to the ground below. This lifts and lubricates the remaining ice and speeds its slide into the ocean.

Global climate change is not a future concern; it is already upon us. Hurricane Patricia was the worst hurricane on record, greater even than Katrina or Sandy. California burns while South Carolina is underwater. The weather patterns have already spun out of control. There are droughts, fires, floods, and expanding deserts.

Sea levels are already rising. In Alaska tribal villages are collapsing into the ocean. Island nations like Vanuatu are struggling to survive. In March of 2015 Vanuatu was hit by Cyclone (i.e. hurricane) Pam with wind gusts of 200 mph. It destroyed 90% of the capital city of Port Vila.

Even with all the trappings of civilization, all life on Earth depends upon its biodiversity. Who decided that it was a good idea to grow food using poisons? Consider the case of the humble honey bee. This species is critical to agriculture. It pollinates a wide variety of crops. But bee populations have been devastated by pesticides. To replace the bees in an apple orchard it would take armies of farm laborers pollinating each blossom using ladders and paint brushes.

The combination of global climate change, pollution, and over-harvesting will create a food crisis. We grow foods in arid climates unsuited for agriculture. Irrigation results in an increased salinity in the soils. Any use of irrigated land it a temporary solution to food production which causes a permanent impairment of the ecosystem. As we take ever more extreme measures to feed our growing population, every measure damages the biosphere and reduces our chances of long-term survival. We do slash-and-burn agriculture in the Amazon basin. But as this land is denuded of its foliage, the ground becomes rock hard within a few years, rendering it unusable. The only current option is to clear-cut new sections of jungle and to repeat the destructive cycle.

Food production will continue to be a major challenge. Clearly we need to create a global economic system that can provide for the needs of all of Earth’s people, and do it is a manner that is sustainable. We also need to understand that we are not the only specie on this planet, and that our survival depends upon biodiversity. We need wilderness areas, pollution free wetlands, fecund oceans, rain forests, and coral reefs. We need bees and other helpful insects, and all manner of flora and fauna to survive.

Famine may be our most urgent concern. Shifting weather patterns may cause our breadbasket regions to dry up. We have seen this before on the American plains in the 1930’s. The Sahara Desert is expanding southward into the savannah, causing civil strife and tribal, sectarian uprising as people struggle to survive. Beijing is endangered by the encroachment of the Gobi Desert.

Much of the western United States are already in severe drought conditions. There is already tension between the farmers of the San Joaquin Valley and the population centers of the coast. The San Joaquin valley is the source of one-half of the nation’s fruits, vegetables, and nuts. The San Joaquin Valley is sinking by one foot per year due to the pumping of ground water.

Southern California depends on the Sierra Nevada snow pack for its moisture. The 2014-2015 ski season was severely impacted by a lack of snow. Early indications are that the 2015-2016 season are projected to be seriously worse.

Many civilizations have collapsed due to ecological disasters. Potable water will become as big of an issue as food. Clean, fresh water will become the new oil. One third of the Earth’s population depends on the snow pack of the Himalayas and the Tibetan Plateau for its water. This includes China, the Indian sub-continent, and Southeast Asia. But even the Himalayan glaciers are shrinking.

Monoculture has created ecological problems since the beginnings of agriculture. Monoculture is simply the alteration of the land to support one plant or animal species. Just think about that dandelion in your yard. We kill the dandelion, often with carcinogenic poisons, because it violates our notion of monoculture. We believe that our yard is supposed to be nothing but green grass, and any competing species are swiftly exterminated. How much better it would be if we would allow our yards to be biodiverse, to create habitats, and not putting greens? We need to have a change of expectations

In the beginning humans had little power to transform and destroy nature. Our ever increasing technology has given us greater and greater mastery over the Earth and its resources, and with that power we have the power to render the planet uninhabitable. Early farmers using sticks for plows, or early hunters catching whales from canoes did not have the power to undermine the ecosystem. It is a lot easier to clear a rain forest with a bulldozer than it is to clear it with a machete.

It is hard to be optimistic about the Earth’s future. While we cannot destroy the Earth we can make it uninhabitable. It is likely that the Earth is near its peak in human population. Later in this century we will see a decline in population from droughts and famines caused by shifting weather patterns. We will continue to see a host of species going extinct. The decline is already happening. The best we can hope for is to reduce the future effects.

Global Climate Change Burning of fossil fuels Increase in greenhouse gases Increased temperatures
Rising sea levels
Increased storm intensity
Disruption of weather patterns
Floods, droughts, fires, reduced availability of drinking water.
Change is accelerating as warming planet releases methane, a more powerful greenhouse gas, and reduction of ice sheets increases heat absorption
Disruption of agriculture with accompanying famines
Pollution Industrial and agricultural chemicals Increased toxicity of biosphere Contamination of air, ground, and water
Birth defects, stunted fertility
Destruction of ozone layer
Plastic Trash Non-biodegradable and toxic detritus: Nylon fishing nets, Mylar balloons, plastic bags Animals entangles in debris or filling their guts with plastic
Habitat Destruction Destructive exploitation of wilderness to support civilization, overpopulation Slash and burn agriculture, draining of wetlands, expansion of cities Loss of nurseries and breeding grounds
Diminished carrying capacity for wildlife
Over-Harvesting of Resources Using up renewable resources faster than they can be renewed Over fishing, clear-cutting forests, poaching, hunting to extinction, Elimination of valuable species and habitats, reduction of biodiversity
Disruption of food chain
Monoculture Destruction of local biodiversity to support one plant or animal species Killing predators and competitors to protect grazing livestock, clear-cutting forest to grow coffee plants, sacrificing natural environment for cash crops Loss of genetic diversity, destruction of natural environment, disregard for biosphere

Eco-Touring in Costa Rica

Taken from our hotel patio

Taken from our hotel patio

Eco-Touring Costa Rica

Costa Rica is a dream vacation for any eco-tourist.  This is a great place to connect with nature.  You will see the natural world in all of its glory from the volcanoes to the rain forest canopy to the seashores.  The tropical forests are lush and teeming with wildlife.

Travelling around

My wife and I just completed a ten-day odyssey through this land of wonders.  During this trek we were driven some 1000 kilometers (600 miles) through the countryside on our ground transfers and tours.  You would have to be crazy to drive in Costa Rica due to the roughness of the roads and the utter lack of traffic regulations.  Driving is best left to the local professionals who know the terrain.

Most of the roads we travelled had no yellow lines down the middle.  But where present they were merely decorative.  For example, a left turn signal is given to a trailing vehicle on a road with a double-yellow line to indicate that it is safe to pass!  We were driven down highways, back roads, and even no roads at all.  We saw farms and fields and small towns and rural crossroads.

It was interesting to see all the agriculture and the native vegetation.  We saw sugar cane, coffee and rice plantations, pineapple farms, melon farms, and orchards of many varieties.  We toured a coffee processing plant and learned way more about producing coffee than we had expected. We saw rubber trees, coconut palms, date palms, plantain trees, and pineapple plants. There were lush and aromatic tropical flowers everywhere.

There were wild rivers full of exotic inhabitants.  On a river tour we saw crocodiles, iguanas, howler monkeys and white-faced monkeys, bats, and even the lizard that walks on water, Basiliscus Basiliscus or the “Jesus Christ lizard”.  Costa Rica has some 500,000 species of animals including some 600 resident bird species plus migrants from all over the continent.

Bird thief.  Can anyone tell me the species?

Bird thief. Can anyone tell me the species?

At one of our hotels, there was a bird family that would hang out at the open air restaurant and steal sugar packets and other goodies off of the table.  They would first graciously pose for pictures and then demand payment in kind.

Our cabin in Arenal

Our cabin in Arenal

We spent three nights in an elegant cabin in the mountains.  Our cabin had a glass wall facing the Arenal Volcano.  We could watch the clouds perform their fan dance across the peak.  We never tired of watching the graceful movements of the clouds.  One afternoon we had a cloudburst that was a passionate display of the powers of nature at their finest.  The next morning the clouds graciously parted and allowed us to take pictures of the volcano erupting.

While in Arenal we took a zip line tour of the jungle canopy.  We travelled some 8 kilometers (5 miles) on the cables, with the longest segment being about 800 meters long (one-half mile). Did I mention that my wife and I are in our sixties and have never done zip lines before? We got to see a tarantula up close and personal.

Our accommodations were posh, with all of the amenities that one would expect at a nice resort.

The People 

The people of Costa Rica are known for their warmth and kindness.  They are gentle and giving souls who will do anything to help a friend or even a stranger.  Everyone in the tourist industry that we met went out of their way to make sure that our trip was a great success.  Everyone speaks English, even in the most remote areas, and most speak it at least well enough for simple conversations.  You can expect that anyone in the tourist industry will speak English very well. But even so, I took great joy in practicing my fractured Spanish, and the people were happy to help me improve.

The people of Costa Rica all seem to be healthy and strong.  This seems to stem from their connection to nature, their cheerful disposition, the rigors of their daily lives and the excellent diet that they enjoy.  Infant mortality is low and the life expectancy is 78 years.  Even the people in their sixties or beyond seem attractive, healthy, slender and strong. It would seem to be a great place to spend one’s golden years.

The per capita GDP is $12,157.  By comparison the per capita GDP of Mexico is $16,588.  Everyone in Costa Rica has access to a good education and medical care.  But the people seem happy and prosperous beyond the statistical data.  The roads are seemingly full of late-model SUV’s of Toyota and Hyundai persuasions.

The Food

The food in Costa Rica is truly outstanding, and is reason enough to make the trip.  Rice and black beans is a staple which is called “casado” (marriage).  Breakfast is often a combination of casado and fresh fruits.

Coffee and chocolate are two of the spectacular foods of Costa Rica.  The rich volcanic soils grow some of the best coffees in the world.  Pineapples and coffee are the two largest export crops.

Fresh pineapple in Costa Rica is a memorable experience.  A slice of fresh pineapple can bring on tears of joy at the sheer wonder of the cool sweetness.

All of the chickens are free range, as are the cattle, pigs and goats.  There are no factory farms or feed lots. There are also abundant resources of fresh-caught fish and seafood.  The diet is based on plant products with these protein sources as flavoring, and not the main source of nutrition.

As a vegan I had wondered how hard it would be to stick with a vegan diet while traveling through Costa Rica.  I found, much to my relief, that a vegan diet is no problem in Costa Rica.  Everywhere we went had vegan options.  There were times where I requested menu items prepared without cheese.

In Costa Rica, food is local.  Many people engage in subsistence or village agriculture, living substantially off of the grid and making due by their own resources.

Some of the best food that we ate came from little roadside diners and dives, places where the locals ate.  On one of our tours we ate under a shed roof at a combination farm and farm museum in the middle of nowhere.  We had a truly outstanding meal while the farm animals contemplated where our next meals were coming from, and the naughty white-faced monkeys in the treetops pelted us with mangos.

The Weather

We traveled in late May.  May is the start of the rainy season.  Since we were somewhat off-season we found the hotels and restaurants uncrowded and the rates low.  We did get some afternoon cloudbursts, but that is just part of being in a rain forest.  Also, for an eco-tourist this is an opportunity to see how a rainforest nurtures its abundant flora and fauna.

Tour Planning

We were especially pleased with our travel company, Costa Rica Vacations, which helped us plan this trip and executed the plan flawlessly.  This was not a bus trip with fifty strangers, but a customized package suited to our exact requirements.  Your desired trip may look altogether different than ours.  That is the beauty of dealing with Costa Rican Vacations.  You can plan your own dream vacation and trust that it will be an experience that you will never forget.

Special thanks to :

Jeremy Clyce
Travel Consultant

Costa Rican Vacations

Jeremy helped to design our trip and did everything possible to make it the experience of a lifetime.  I would highly recommend him for any of your Costa Rican travel needs.  Jeremy is an American Ex-pat, and part of a large and growing American ex-pat community in Costa Rica.