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Our Troubled Country: Mass Species Extinction in America



“The American people today are involved in warfare more deadly than the war in Vietnam, but few of them seem aware of it and even fewer of them are doing anything about it. This is a war that is being waged against the American environment, against our lands, air, and water, which are the basis of that environment.”

                                             Norman Cousins (1915-1990)



          The 12.6 acres of land needed to support each American—known as the “Ecological Footprint”—removes that land from its natural setting.  It must be paved over, planted in crops, built into suburbs, schools, colleges, fire houses, malls, roads and everything that sustains our society.  That means the next added 100 million Americans wreak havoc on the natural world in an ever more deadly population dance.  We reduce habitat for all other plant and animal life by 1.26 billion lost acres.

          With the United States growing by three million people annually, 37.8 million acres degrade from the natural world into the unnatural.   That means animal habitat diminishes by 37.8 million acres each year.  They can’t eat, drink, find shelter or procreate their species.  Consider annual road-kill:  animals can’t even make it across our highways without being slaughtered!  One million vertebrates suffer death daily in the United States from crossing our highways. That’s one animal run over and killed every 11.5 seconds!  (Source: High Country News, Paonia, CO, “Road Kill Statistics” February 7, 2005)

          Within the past 100 years, Americans, ever expanding across the

land, destroyed 50 percent of all wetlands in the lower 48 states.  Those former water sources no longer exist for ducks, geese, beavers and millions of other animals.

          Today, 6,330 animal species in North America teeter on the edge of extinction.  The National Academy of Sciences predicts 2,500 plants and animals go extinct every decade from habitat loss.  At some point, these extinction rates create a ‘cascading effect’ for all other dependent species.  We all answer to an intertwined ecosystem.

          In the West, the prairie dog provides sustenance for 67 other creatures in the food chain.  Over half of prairie dog colonies suffered human development destruction in the past 30 years.  As their numbers plummeted, every creature depending on those rodents declined commensurately.  In Denver, where eagles and hawks once soared daily in the skies, few remain.  In their place, you can see, however, a brown pollution cloud from horizon to horizon.  

          In southern California, those majestic California condors do not soar on heat thermals any longer, but must be kept in cages to preserve a few dozen left alive.  Most duck populations suffered from 25 to 50 percent decline in the last half century.  The average citizen cannot see what’s happening—therefore, no reaction!

          You’re invited to step into growing ‘unseen’ consequences pushed by overpopulation.  Chief Seattle said, “What humans do to the web of life, they also do unto themselves.” 

          In a report in the Boston Globe, October 19, 2006, by John Donnelly, “Scientists Alarmed at Loss of Pollinators,” he reported rapidly dropping numbers of birds, bees and bats could impact humanity’s food supply.  Most plants depend on their pollen being picked up by birds, bats and bees to be distributed so that fruits, nuts and vegetables can reproduce and grow.

In 2007, on Colorado’s eastern plains, farmers imported beekeepers with their mobile bee hives to pollinate crops.  The lack of bees in the United States created the first imports of bees since 1922.  Reports suggest bees being killed by pesticides called neonicotinoids, that impair the bees’ immune systems.  One of the most widely used is imidacloprid.  It’s sprayed all over crops from California to Maine.  Consequently, bees get sick and die!

          “In addition,” Donnelly reported, “wild pollinators from bumblebees to butterflies to nocturnal moths—have lost much of their habitat, due to vast use of pesticides and herbicides that kill plants and hedges in which the insects and birds live.”

          Most Americans reading this book eat fruits and vegetables from fields sprayed with poisons and from soils injected with chemical fertilizers.  Is it any wonder, in the secondary arena of our dining rooms, we ingest ‘chemicalized’ foods that cause us cancers?  Can you imagine what happens to the birds, bees and bats—not to mention other insects—that die or become mutated by man-made chemicals?  I lament Americans’ total disregard for their fellow creatures. 

          In 1800, estimates included one billion bison roaming the western prairie.  A billion carrier pigeons blackened the migratory skies.  When I was a kid, geese and other birds flew over our house in wave after wave, week after week.  No more!  You’re lucky to see a few hundred buffalo in Yellowstone National Park.  You’ll never see a carrier pigeon because Americans shot them into extinction.  Grizzlies regress into tenuous existence.  I find it hilarious and ironic that Americans leap out of their cars to photograph moose, buffaloes, grizzlies and other great beasts, but they won’t stabilize their own numbers to allow such creatures enough habitats to live.

          Einstein said, “There are two infinites: the universe and human stupidity!  I am not sure about the first but I am positive about the second.”

          With our culpability for causing the extinction of  2,500 plants and animals every 10 years, that number can only grow in the coming decades as we encroach further into their habitat.  What moral and/or ethical question does that bring to mind?  What right does a cognitive species pretend to possess to create such a killing spree on other species that can’t think or fight for their survival?  How far and how many other North American species do we expect to vanquish forever to satisfy our relentless expansion? 

          What might be the optimum number of extinct species that would fall short of the “cascading effect?”  At what point would we supersede the “cascading effect” to create an avalanche of even more extinctions of other creatures that depended on the web of life? 

          At what point would that affect human survival as in the case of the pollinators?

          As you can see, we already create horrific consequences in the natural world with our current 306 million Americans.  It’s not only here in the USA, but worldwide!

          As you will read in “Chapter 18: Destroying our Oceans,” PBS showed hundreds of thousands of tons of discarded fishing nets retrieved by Scuba divers.  The nets had been destroying reefs and marine life because nothing in nature could deal with the nylon.  It rolled around the ocean bottom, washed by eternal tides, while it destroyed millions of marine creatures caught in its indolent grasp.

          Fishing captains cut it loose—knowing the kind of death their nets created for all marine life victimized by those man-made products. On a worldwide scale, we kill 100 million sharks annually along with uncounted other creatures.  How morally unconscionable and utterly reprehensible!

          Let’s fast-forward to 2035 with another 100 million people added to North America.  Remember, the human race globally will have added two billion more humans by that time.  Their impact can only multiply our global impact for devastating species extinction unprecedented in history.  In fact, scientists tell us that five extinction sessions occurred since the dawn of time.  The sixth one moves forward in this century.  What causes it?  The human race! 

          At some point, nature resembles a house made of cards—delicate.  Humans resemble Katrina’s destructive power in a Sri Lanka tsunami-type process.  How far down that gopher hole can we afford to go and how will it affect our children at mid century?
Take action: www.numbersusa.com  ; www.thesocialcontract.com