Saturday, May 3, 2014

Terrestrial Ecosystem Loss and Biosphere Collapse

By Dr. Glen Barry
Independent Political Ecology Scientist

Excerpt of manuscript accepted for publication mid-2014 by Management of Environmental Quality

Planetary boundary science defines key thresholds in the Earth System's biogeochemical conditions that precede ecosystem collapse and threaten human well-being. Terrestrial ecosystems enter into the nine originally defined planetary boundaries only indirectly, through boundaries such as biodiversity and land use. This study proposes a measurable terrestrial ecosystem boundary to answer the question: what extent of landscapes, bioregions, continents, and the global Earth System must remain as connected and intact core ecological areas and agro-ecological buffers to sustain local and regional ecosystem services as well as the biosphere commons? Two preeminent considerations are connectivity of large ecosystem patches, enabling them to persist as the matrix for the landscape, and critical collapse of the dominant large habitat patch – or "percolating cluster" – into smaller, more isolated habitats, amid a matrix of human development. This transition, found to occur at about 40% habitat loss in landscapes and bioregions, is likely to be similar at continental and global scales.
A new planetary boundary threshold is proposed based on ecology’s percolation theory: that across scales 60% of terrestrial ecosystems must remain, setting the boundary at 66% as a precaution, to maintain key biogeochemical processes that sustain the biosphere and for ecosystems to remain the context for human endeavors. Strict protection is proposed for 44% of global land, 22% as agro-ecological buffers, and 33% as zones of sustainable human use.
Because humanity is now the major force shaping the biosphere, up to 50% of Earth's land surface has already been cleared of natural ecosystems; thus the biosphere may already have lost its global percolating cluster. If so, with diminished connectivity, the global ecological system is now composed of islands of nature within a sea of humanity, meaning critical water, climate, soil, and other ecosystems processes are at risk. This observation suggests that to sustain the biosphere it is urgent to protect remaining large, relatively intact terrestrial ecosystems, especially old-growth and primary forests. This will require accelerating current approaches such as biosphere reserves, and taking up new polices such as a carbon tax to fund protection and restoration of natural and agro-ecological terrestrial ecosystems. To ensure global ecological sustainability, it will be necessary to reconnect matrices of intact ecosystems across scales, so that globally the biosphere and its constituent ecological processes and patterns can percolate back to connected nature as the context to all life. Otherwise, it is hypothesized the global biosphere may collapse and the Earth System perish.

Introduction to Planetary Boundaries
From Malthus (1798), through Aldo Leopold's land ethic (1949), to The Limits to Growth (Meadows et al. 1972), the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (2005), and finally current planetary boundary and global change science (Rockström et al. 2009a, 2009b) runs a strand of concern about human growth's impacts upon Earth's biophysical systems – terrestrial ecosystems in particular – and about requirements for global ecological sustainability, while avoiding biosphere collapse. Our biosphere is composed of Earth's thin mantle of life present at, and just above and below, the Earth's surface. Some have indicated that human impacts upon the biosphere are analogous to a large, uncontrolled experiment, which threatens its collapse (Trevors et al. 2010). Little is known regarding what collapse of the biosphere would look like, how long it would take, what are its ecosystem and spatial patterns, and whether it is reversible or survivable. But it is becoming more widely recognized that Earth's ecosystem services depend fundamentally upon holistic, well-functioning natural systems (Cornell 2009).
Accelerating human pressures on the Earth System are exceeding numerous local, regional, and global thresholds, with abrupt and possibly irreversible impacts upon the planet's life-support functions (UNEP 2012). Planetary boundaries provide a framework to study these phenomena, by defining a "safe operating space for humanity with respect to the Earth System" (Rockström et al. 2009a). Planetary boundary studies seek to set control variable values that are a safe distance from thresholds of key biophysical processes governing the planet's self-regulation to maintain conditions conducive to life (Rockström et al. 2009b). This builds upon landmark efforts by Meadows et al. (1972) to first define global limits to growth. Their prediction that key resource scarcities would emerge has proven remarkably accurate (Turner 2008), albeit delayed – but not avoided – through the advent of computer technology. Ecological and economic warnings since at least Malthus have called attention to economies' dependence upon natural resources. The observation that near-exponential growth of human population and economic activity cannot be sustained, far from being disproven, is more valid than ever (Brown et al. 2011). Those who deny limits to growth are unaware of biological realities (Vitousek 1986).
The initial planetary boundary exercise identified nine global-scale processes, including climate change, rate of biodiversity loss (terrestrial and marine), nitrogen and phosphorus cycles, ozone depletion, ocean acidification, freshwater, land use change, chemical pollution, and atmospheric aerosol loading (Figure 1). Preliminary safe planetary thresholds were established for seven of these, and three – rate of biodiversity loss, climate change, and the nitrogen cycle – were found to have already surpassed such a threshold (Rockström et al. 2009a). Many such changes occur in a nonlinear, abrupt manner; others are more incremental and subtle. Yet both types of change threaten the viability of contemporary human societies by diminishing or destroying ecological life-support systems. If one or more of these boundaries are crossed, it could be "deleterious or even catastrophic" as nonlinear, abrupt environmental change occurs at the continental to planetary scale (Rockström et al. 2009b).
Here an ecologically rich revision to the planetary boundary framework is proposed – in the tradition of political ecology, not ignoring politics – to set the threshold of how many intact terrestrial ecosystems are required to sustain the biosphere. It is not possible to carry out controlled experiments upon our one biosphere to know at what point collapse occurs. We are thus left with observational studies and synthesis papers regarding what is known about ecosystem collapse at other scales. This paper first reviews what is known about biodiversity and old-growth forest loss, abrupt climate change, and ecosystem collapse as ecological systems are diminished at lesser scales. Next, the critical phase shift seen as landscapes percolate from nature surrounding humanity, to small reserves surrounded by human works, is presented as analogous to outcomes for the biosphere, whose terrestrial ecosystems are after all simply a large-scale landscape.
The remainder of the paper synthesizes these findings regarding ecosystem loss and thresholds in loss of ecosystem connectivity into a rationale for recognition of a 10th planetary boundary in regard to terrestrial ecosystem loss. It is suggested that some two-thirds of Earth’s land surface should be protected totally (44%) or partially (another 22%) to avoid biosphere collapse. Given current best estimates are that approximately one-half of Earth’s terrestrial ecosystems have already been lost, the discussion centers around biocentric policy measures required to protect and restore terrestrial ecosystem connectivity in order to maintain global ecological sustainability.

Figure 1: Proposing a Terrestrial Ecosystem Loss Planetary Boundary. Currently nine planetary systems are recognized as providing a safe operating space for humanity, as long as boundaries are not exceeded. It is thought three systems (denoted with +) have already surpassed their boundaries. This paper proposes a Terrestrial Ecosystem boundary of 66% ecosystem land cover (44% as intact natural ecosystems and 22% as agro-ecological buffers) to avoid biosphere collapse. Best estimates are that about 50% of terrestrial ecosystems have been lost; thus this boundary has been surpassed too, albeit full impacts may not yet be realized due to time lags (adapted from Rockström et al. 2009a).

Coming Soon: the rest of this journal article as published mid-2014, including these headings:
Biodiversity and Old-Growth Forest Loss, Abrupt Climate Change, and Ecosystem Collapse
Percolation Theory and Landscape Connectivity
Terrestrial Ecosystem Loss as a Planetary Boundary
Biocentric Discussion on Achieving Global Ecological Sustainability

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Monday, March 17, 2014

God Pollution: Nature Is My Religion, Earth Is My Temple

There are no invisible ghosts in the sky ruling over and judging us. God pollution kills, obscures truth, and slows progress. All we have and need is each other, kindred species, ecosystems, and the biosphere.

By Dr. Glen Barry, EcoInternet

God pollution threatens our existence
On a small planet plagued by a myriad of life-threatening problems, it’s time to choose between truth and myth, superstition and wisdom, life and death. Either you believe in truth, justice, and knowledge, or you let ghosts, spirits, and superstition guide you.

Observable truths are the only basis for the necessary social change to bring about ecological sustainability and equitable justice. As long as we believe in ghosts in the sky more than the ecosystems that nurture us, there is no hope.

There are way too many false prophets, claiming absolute truth and being used for false profits. God pollution has decimated humanity, society, and ecology for millennia. Organized religions’ superstition and belief in ghosts limit the human family’s ability to come together to sustain global ecology.

It is better to live a life based upon doing what is observably right and good, and go to hell, than to waste a life following the edicts of invisible, nonexistent gods.

God Pollution

GOD POLLUTION has decimated humanity, society, and ecology for millennia. Superstition and belief in ghosts hold back human advancement. Belief in mythical, god ghosts in the sky is malarkey, the worst sort of mind pollution ever. Yet such irrational thought has become firmly entrenched in society and the body politic, with tremendous deleterious effects.

I am told religion is love. Yet, the crusades, the Inquisition, European colonialism under the cross, slave trades, islamo-fascism, and millennia of religious wars don’t seem to have been so full of love. Those who believe in various flavors of god have been at war for centuries, over who most fanatically believes in their invisible ghost and all-knowing book. Organized religion is organized delusional superstition devoid of fact and real truthful love.

Superstition has been the basis for much evil and ecosystem destruction and will never be the basis for ecological sustainability. Edicts to go forth and multiply, and to subdue nature and nonbelievers, have left a shameful legacy of genocide and ecocide. Even in this age of modernity and glittering technology, religious extremism of every type thrust upon the public sphere continues to be one of the gravest threats facing human well-being, advancement, sustainability, rights, liberty, and free thinking.

The amount of credence and power given to unknowable faith by organized religion – at the expense of observable science and other truths – in governing society is truly shocking. Medieval fairy tale beliefs in invisible ghosts have no place in governance or policy-making. These types of illogical, irrational god myths are largely responsible for many societal problems, including the current state of perma-war, abject poverty, and global ecosystem collapse.

It is time that nonbelievers demand that superstitious people keep their god myths off of our bodies, out of our government, and treading lightly upon Earth – retaining them (if at all) as personal spirituality.  And stop denigrating – and even killing – those who have shrugged off the mental slavery of mindless faith and don’t believe in your threadworn, bloody myths.

Truth and Earth Are Godlike

One can believe in spirit, truth, and life – living in faith and grace – while rejecting absent god myths sold by corrupted and outdated organized religions. The myth of human superiority and the division caused by the belief in multiple “gods” have brought the Earth, her peoples, and all species to their knees.

We must embrace the truths before us that are vital for our survival and well-being. There are no nations, we are one human family, god is a myth, and Earth is alive and dying. And all humans have inalienable rights and sacred duties to live justly and sustainably.

Truth and wisdom matter. Having an opinion – particularly drawn from a book of dubious origins, full of contradictory statements – is not the same as education, knowledge, and wisdom. Much loudly spoken ignorance is the result of superstition, limited experience, and a brainwashed disregard for truth.

Truths exist and are being ignored, for instance: that we need clean water to survive, that land can only support so many people, that we are all one human species, and that there are no invisible ghosts in the sky ruling over us. All we have is each other, kindred species, ecosystems, and the biosphere.

Humanity is one species – separated by national, religious, and class lies, yet utterly dependent upon each other, on kindred species, and on our shared ecosystem habitats for a continued decent existence. If we don’t embrace such ecological truths and abandon superstition as the basis for living our lives, human and all being will end.

Look around you at the trees, animals, sky, and land; this is what there is to observable reality. You already exist in a paradise and don’t have to put off pleasure. Embrace the here and now of ecology that surrounds and nurtures us, to which our bodies return upon death.

God myths are dead and have no place in the movement to sustain ecology. Ecological sustainability – and a just, equitable world – will not come from superstitious zealots for organized religion. No climate, ecological, or social justice answers will come from such medieval, conflicting, and unknowable myths and superstitions.

Sustaining ecology requires a fresh way of thinking that stresses trained intuition, science, wisdom, and love for the human family and all life, while deeply valuing education, observation, and experience of many types. Commit yourself to Earth, truth, knowledge, wisdom, logic, rationality, justice, equity, rights, and duties now in order that humanity, all creatures, and Earth may survive and thrive together.

This rejection of organized religion does not mean one should be blinded to spiritual awe and to ritual that binds us to the Earth and the universe’s mysteries.

Gaia – the Earth System – is godlike and the giver of all life, the mother’s womb from which all life flows, a loving but firm nurturer, that provides as long as her rules (and her children’s duties) are recognized and respected. Gaia is spirituality that matters, because it is based upon truthful observation, not ancient and irrelevant god myths. Worshiping Earth and her life speaks to the challenges of ecocide, collapsing ecosystems, justice and equity, and truthfully sustaining global ecology, her peoples, and all life based upon what is observably evident.

Ecology is the ultimate truth. Without intact natural ecosystems there can be no life. Humanity is destroying natural life for fleeting comfort for some. It cannot last long. Either the human family changes – rejecting god myths for truthful knowledge – or ecology collapses and we all needlessly die in a final apocalypse. The god-freaks’ self-fulfilling prophecy will have come true, but I can assure you the only heaven is the Earth that will have been lost.

Nature is my religion, Earth is my temple.

The Unholy Trinity

Economics, religion, and nationalism are utter nonsense, and their teachings and organizations are destroying the ecological basis of being. Organized religion, nanny government, and authoritarian corporatism together combine to enslave humanity in abusive hierarchical structures, leading to overexploitation and even murder of other people, species, ecosystems, and the Earth for profit, god, and country.

Islamo- and Christo-fascists try to out-crazy each other. Christo-fascists lack none of the craziness of their Islamo-fascist counterparts, and are no less loony and dangerous, equally ready to murder for their false god. Indeed, right-wing nut-job Christians are much the greater threat to Earth and all peoples as they have nukes, money, and power over resources to utterly destroy being. In fact, Earth’s destruction is their goal as they fully expect to leave this tawdry world of their own making and be whisked away to paradise.

There will never be long-term ecological sustainability – or universal justice, equity, and rights – as long as corporatists, churches, nanny governments, and their media hold power. An economic system based upon infinite growth in a finite world can only spectacularly collapse. Despite being brainwashed to worship mythical ghosts and indoctrinated to salute authoritarian power, people have no excuse for ecocide, fascism, or stupidity.

In god’s name much evil is promulgated. Destroying ecosystems for “development” is evil. Standing armies to better wage perma-war are evil. Industrial speculative capitalism that commodifies nature and humanity is evil. Lack of global rights, justice, and equity is evil too. Why are we tolerating evil? Could it be that millennia-long proselytizing by zealots for personal gain has brainedwashed us to call hate love, war peace, and evil god?

The history of god fairy tales is the history of ecocide, injustice, and war. God pollution destroys ecology and all that is natural, decent, and good. Conflicting and militant superstitious myths undermine truth and threaten us all.

There is no god, and god pollution must be resisted if we are to survive. Those who don’t believe superstitious god myths have every right to speak up – at least as much as those promoting a plethora of god myths – as we watch the damage done to ecology, truth, peace, and society by adherence to unknowable fairy tales in an age of science and ecocide.

You can never know my dismay and outrage as society and governments – with innumerable social and ecology crises threatening the very existence of us all – are run by mythical edicts from absent gods rather than by truth, logic, wisdom, and knowledge. There can be no human progress or even survival from ecocide if the bastardized words of mythical ancient carpenters and warlords are all we have to go on.

Militant belief and public proselytizing on behalf of competing invisible gods and other nonsensical fairy tales are stopping humanity from urgently responding to clearly visible deterioration and looming collapse of global ecology and society. Muslim, Hindu, Jewish, and Christian fanatics lead mirror-image intolerant, superstitious, and truthless lives based upon false messiahs, failed dogma, a mythical afterlife, religious wars, and other deadly lies that are killing Earth and all life right before our eyes in the here and now.

We need to stop quibbling about whose invisible god is better and focus upon rational solutions to observed decline in the physical reality surrounding and nurturing us, which is collapsing and dying.

Free, Truthful Thinking Will Lead the Way

Our path to future well-being is simple, and rather than waiting for invisible ghosts in the sky to respond to our prayers, it focuses upon expecting more from ourselves. We must learn to rekindle connections to ecosystems, kindred life, each other, and nature, and in so doing to sustain being essentially forever. The power is within each of us to transform ourselves and our shared reality, in the here and now, for the better, based upon what is observably good and true.

Believe in truth and ecology; distrust partisan politics, corporations, organized religion, and the urge for more stuff; and educate and trust in yourself as well. Learn to identify observable threats from antiquated parables. Trust in radical freedom as long as one is not hurting oneself, others, or the Earth. Embrace obvious, scientifically validated truths such as this: together we either stop cutting old-growth forest ecosystems and burning fossil fuels or face final apocalyptic death.

Fairy tales don’t make good ecological policy. Toxic god pollution has a shameful history of killing all with which it comes in contact. Given their scurrilous, predatory, and ecocidal histories, religions including Christianity, Islam, and Judaism offer no basis for justly sustaining ecology. A few green initiatives here and there, after millennia of natural desecration, do not redeem ecocidal faith.

Declare yourself free from religion. Insist that the god-deluded please keep their Abrahamic god mythology to themselves. The key to living a good, truthful life is to think freely, resist indoctrination, unlearn myths and untruths, find your own road, and be about big, truthful ideas larger than yourself. And focus upon loving and defending Earth, the most observable and evident godlike being.

Beliefs in invisible, mythical gods are fundamentally incompatible with achieving a just, truthful, fair, and ecologically sustainable world. Such superstitious fairy tales serve only to lead humans, like lambs, to their unreasoned slaughter.

The issue is the corrosive role of organized religion upon society and ecology, not individual personal faith practiced in the privacy of one’s home. Believe whatever you want personally. But again, I insist that you please keep your god out of government, treading lightly upon Earth, and off of and out of nonbelievers’ bodies. Then all is fine.

I am not sure where we go when we die, yet I am unable and unwilling to accept millennial tales handed down without a shred of evidence to me by those with obvious conflicts of interest. Like fairies, religious belief is comforting and fun to think about for some, yet both are clearly myths. And untruthful myths stop us from focusing upon the here-and-now, observable world before us, which is in great need of reason-based social change.

There is nothing I hate more than being proselytized to by ignorant, small-minded, and superstitious people about ghosts in the sky – whom we can live with, if we follow their dogma. How stupid do you think we are? Geez, get a grip.

If superstitious religious people put half as much thought into caring for the world before our very eyes as they do about a mythical afterlife, everything – particularly global rights, ecology, and fairness – would be much improved.

Mythical gods can’t save ecology, celebrities aren’t able, and the oil oligarchy’s governments won’t. It is up to you and me to save being, based upon a reasoned sense of self-enlightenment. It is time to think freely to solve our problems with an open mind, unfettered by myth, or we are all going to die needlessly as ecology collapses.

Above all else, commit to truth – of all types, particularly Earth truth – as the only just and equitable basis to sustain ecology and universal well-being. Free, truthful thinking enmeshed within ecology’s warm embrace is the answer.

Achieving global ecological sustainability and rights for all living beings will require a sense of rationality and respect for knowledge that is lacking. Throw off indoctrination, mind control, and superstition; and instead THINK FREELY.  And commit to large important ideas like Earth, equity, justice, and other self-evident truths. Together we can make it so. Only then will humanity live forever in an Earthly paradise.