Humans dispose of trillions of tons of garbage every year. The average person in a developed country produces about 2.6 pounds of garbage every single day.
Landfills take in most of this garbage, while a substantial amount of litter finds its way into the natural environment. Tens of thousands of cans and bottles are thrown out of moving vehicles everyday. An enormous amounts of waste is left behind on beaches, parks and river banks. One clean-up drive alone along a US coastline collected over 3.5 million tons of garbage. A two-mile highway stretch of West Virginia yielded over 30,000 items of litter.
Imagine if that litter was being tossed into your home. For wildlife, this is the disturbing and dangerous reality of litter.
What is litter to us, unwittingly becomes food for hungry animals. This litter may seem useful to animals, but it is often harmful or deadly. Discarded foods are prone to quick contamination and the microorganisms that cause food poisoning can be fatal to animals.
Broken glass can cut the feet of wild animals, and unbroken bottles can be a death trap. Hungry animals in search of food remains at the bottom of a jar or can often get their heads stuck, causing fatal suffocation. Even the tiniest of creatures can be lured by something like a beer or soda can. The sharp edges of a discarded can can be a threat to such delicate creatures seeking shelter or a taste of what remains inside.
Highways have become deathbeds for many unwary animals foraging for food. Litter tossed out of car windows onto freeways attracts inquisitive deer, coyotes, raccoons and skunks. Foxes forage for garbage on our streets at night, followed by pigeons during the day feasting on the night's leftovers. In addition to the hazards posed by litter, these animals often suffer serious injuries or death from vehicle collisions.
Aquatic animals are among the worst affected by human litter. Trash tossed carelessly outside washes into storm drains and creeks, which empty into rivers that eventually flow to the oceans. Trash adversely affects the habitat of marine and other aquatic environments causing death and injury to seabirds, fish, marine mammals, turtles and countless other species through swallowing and entanglement. Fishing hooks are often injested by pelicans, turtles, seabirds and other aquatic creatures. Often, larger items like nets, fishing line, and abandoned crab pots snare or trap animals. Entanglement can lead to injury, illness, suffocation, starvation, and death. Seabirds suffer lead poisoning from ingesting small lead fishing weights. Seabirds have also moved inland to garbage dumps where they injest a variety of rubbish.
Plastic bags on the seafloor take 10 to 20 years to decompose. Plastic bottles take much longer. As a result, one piece can kill more than one animal. An animal killed by ingesting plastic will decompose long before the plastic, allowing the plastic to kill again.
Litter along our coastlines, much of it plastic, is often digested by seabirds, turtles and whales. Seagulls act as scavengers and consume litter from food leftovers on beaches. Serious consequences for these creatures include stomach and bowel damage, strangulation and death. Many more animals are ensnared by plastic six-pack holders.
Cigarette butt waste is not only unsightly, but when ingested may be hazardous to the health of animals. Cigarette butts are commonly discarded onto beaches, sidewalks, streets, parks and many other public places where domestic animals and wildlife may be exposed to risk of ingestion. When carelessly discarded, they are carried from storm sewers and beaches to streams, lakes and oceans. Sea creatures, birds and companion animals are indiscriminate eaters. Ingested cigarette butts can choke an animal or poison it with toxins. Animals may not be able to regurgitate such items, with some acquiring gastrointestinal bezoars that can lead to a false sense of satiation and subsequent under-nutrition.
Balloons are great at birthdays, weddings, graduations and more, but once they get loose, balloons can pose a threat to many animals. Birds, turtles and other wildlife commonly mistake balloons for food, which can harm or kill them. In addition, many animals become entangled in balloon strings, which can injury or even strangle them.
Attitudes towards litter management seem to be shifting towards the positive, albeit slowly. Landfills, the biggest receivers of garbage, have made some progress concerning the protection of wildlife. Improving package design and construction can reduce needless waste and render them less harmful to animals. But real change has to come from individuals. Recycling techniques adopted domestically can reduce outflow of litter from homes dramatically. Education on basic rudiments of garbage management and disposal at the domestic level can indeed go a long way in mitigating the threat to animals foraging for litter.
At the root of this growing hunger for trash lies the shrinking natural habitat of animals affected by unwarranted development. In the human quest for faster progress, the environment is the biggest casualty and animals are the victims. It is our responsibility to save animals from the hazards we have created. With the mountain of garbage being added daily to the earth's surface and seas by our teeming billions, a huge challenge faces us into the future.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
Fighting the litter problem begins at home.
- Cut back on the amount of trash you produce.
- Opt for reusable items instead of single-use products.
- Recycle as much of your trash as you can.
- Join local efforts to pick up trash.
- Keep streets, sidewalks, parking lots, and storm drains free of trash.
- Don’t litter. Common litter includes plastic bags, paper, candy wrappers, fast-food packaging, bottle caps, glass bottles, plastic six-pack rings and plastic straws.
- Spend one hour picking up litter. Organize a team of family, friends, or co-workers to pick up litter in your local neighborhood, wildlife refuge or park. Enjoy making a difference, getting exercise, getting to know people better and having cleaner surroundings.
- Don't host balloon releases. Encourage others to substitute balloons for other, more ecologically responsible, party favors.
Forest biomes are dominated by trees and extend over one-third of the earth's land surface. There are three main types of forests—temperate, tropical and boreal. Each type has a different assortment of animals, climate characteristics and species compositions.
● Temperate forests are in temperate regions of the earth including North America, Europe and Asia. They have four well-defined seasons and a growing season between 140 and 200 days. Rainfall takes place throughout the year and soils are nutrient-rich.
● Tropical forests are located in equatorial regions between 23.5°N and 23.5°S latitude. They experience two seasons, a dry season and a rainy season. The length of each day varies little throughout the year. Soils in tropical forests are nutrient-poor and acidic.
● Boreal forests make up the largest terrestrial habitat. They are a band of coniferous forests located in the high northern latitudes between about 50°N and 70°N. Boreal forests create a circumpolar band of habitat from Canada, to northern Europe, to eastern Russia. They are bordered by tundra habitat to the north and temperate forest habitat to the south.
Some of the wildlife that inhabit the forest biome include deer, bears, wolves, moose, caribou, gorillas, squirrels, chipmunks, birds, reptiles and insects.
Temperate forests are found in a wide range of climates and are some of the richest habitats earth. Temperate forests are home to a variety of plants and animals. Some live within them year-round, while migratory animals visit them seasonally.
The two main types of temperate forests are deciduous forests and evergreen forests.
Deciduous forests contain trees that loose their leaves in the fall. They are usually located in the Northern Hemisphere in parts of North America, Europe and Japan.
Evergreen forests are made up of trees that don't lose their leaves in the fall. They usually are found in warmer climates in South America, southern Europe, South Africa and parts of southern Australia. A more varied range of wildlife is often found in evergreen forests than deciduous forests.
A wide variety of animals call temperate forests home. Mammals, reptiles, amphibians, birds and insects live in temperate forests. The most common mammals are deer, squirrels, birds and wild boars.
Since food is plentiful in evergreen forests year round, even more varieties of wildlife inhabit them. Reptiles, amphibians, birds, mammals and insects are plentiful in evergreen forests.
Temperate forests once covered huge areas of the Northern Hemisphere. As a result of logging and deforestation for agriculture, most forests are already gone.
Coniferous forests are located in the far north, many within the Arctic Circle. They are predominantly home to conifers, the toughest and longest living trees. Conifers grow close together resulting in dense forests that are sheltered.
Coniferous forests include boreal forests and temperate forests.
Boreal forests stretch across the far north. Temperate coniferous forests are located in western North America, New Zealand and Chile. Some trees in the temperate coniferous forests in North America are over 500 years old.
Boreal coniferous forests stretch across the far north from Siberia, through Northern Europe, to Alaska, covering a distance of 6 million square miles. They are 1,000 miles wide in places. A large proportion of boreal coniferous forest is in the Arctic Circle, where plants and animals are well adapted to cold temperatures.
While fewer plant and animal species are found in coniferous forests compared to temperate forests and rainforests, many plants and animals still live within them. Conifer trees withstand the cold. Their pine needles are acidic, which passes into the soil when needles drop, allowing only acid loving plants to survive in coniferous forests. Only herbivores that survive on acidic plants can inhabit coniferous forests.
Insects make up the majority of animals found in coniferous forests. The dense trees provide ideal habitat for them to build their nests. Deer, elk, wolves and bears are also common in coniferous forests.
Coniferous forests are the least affected forests by humans. The trees are softwood and usually only used for making paper. Larger areas of coniferous forests are being logged however, as paper demand increases.
Rainforests are home to more than 50% of all living species on the planet. They receive an abundance of rain and contain extremely diverse wildlife. The two main types of rainforest are tropical rainforests and seasonal rainforests.
Tropical rainforests are close to the Equator where the climate is warm, providing ideal conditions for plants. 170,000 of the world’s 250,000 known plant species are found in tropical rainforests. They have various layers of canopy providing a wide variety of habitats for animals. A large collection of tall tree species is made possible by a constant water flow. Tropical forests are home to smaller primates and bird species than seasonal rainforests.
Seasonal rainforests are usually further away from the Equator. Their climate is less stable then tropical rainforests. Rather than rain being dispersed evenly throughout the year, it comes all at once in what is called the monsoon. Trees in seasonal rainforests are generally much smaller than those in tropical rainforests. Larger animals inhabit the changing seasonal rainforests, such as tigers, primates and large snakes.
The broad array of animals found in rainforests include mammals, reptiles, birds and invertebrates. Mammals include primates, wildcats and tapirs. Reptiles include a variety of snakes, turtles and lizards. Numerous species of birds and insects live in rainforests. Fungi is common, which feed on the decomposing remains of plants and animals. Many animal species have adopted a tree-dwelling (arboreal) lifestyle in the rainforest. Food is abundant in the forests due to the amount of water and plant life.
Numerous plant and animal species are rapidly disappearing from rainforests due to deforestation, habitat loss and other human activities. Around 50 million people live in rainforests. Their habitat and culture is also threatened as an alarming amount of rainforest land disappears each year.
Hundreds of mountain peaks in Appalachia have been destroyed through the practice of mountaintop removal (MTR) coal mining. Trees are clearcut, and explosives and massive machines are used to remove earth and access coal seams from the top down. Mining waste, or “spoil,” is dumped into valleys. The landscape is altered forever in one of the nation’s main hotspots of biological diversity. Natural habitats in some our country's most important forests are laid to waste. There is no justification for blowing up the oldest mountains on the continent.
MTR mining is controversial for its devastating environmental impacts. Research studies have linked these environmental impacts to adverse outcomes in community health, raising questions about whether the benefits of MTR mining come at too high a health cost.
Coal companies use explosives to blast as much as 800 to 1,000 feet off the tops of mountains in order to reach thin coal seams buried deep below. To annihilate an entire mountainside, trees are ripped from the ground and brush is wiped away with huge tractors. The trees and brush are then set ablaze while deep holes are dug for explosives. Explosives are poured into the holes to literally blow mountaintops apart. Draglines, giant machines that can be the size of an entire city block, scoop dirt and rocks into nearby valleys and streams. Waterways are forever buried beneath the rubble.
“Spoil”—the earth and rock dislodged by mining—buries thousands of miles of headwater streams that ultimately feed the Mississippi River. Slurry, the residue from cleaning the coal, is impounded in ponds or injected into abandoned underground mine shafts where it can leach potentially toxic constituents such as arsenic, lead, manganese, iron, sodium, strontium, and sulfate that ultimately may end up in groundwater.
A form of surface mining, MTR mining first emerged in the late 1960s but remained a small source of coal until the mid-1990s. Now it is a major form of coal mining in West Virginia and Kentucky—the second and third largest coal-producing states after Wyoming—and it also occurs in Virginia and Tennessee. MTR mining uses less labor than underground mining, with massive draglines able to move 100 cubic yards of earth in a single scoop. And with underground coal supplies significantly depleted, MTR mining allows the harvest of seams of coal too thin to work from traditional coal mines.
So Called Reclamation
While mountaintop removal sites must be “reclaimed” by law after mining is complete, reclamation usually focuses on stabilizing rock formations and controlling erosion. The reforestation of the affected area is seldom achieved. Most flattened mountaintops receive little more than a spraying of exotic grass seed. The non-native flora provide vegetation but compete with tree seedlings that have difficulty establishing roots in the compacted backfill.
Coal companies often receive waivers following claims that economic development will occur on the destroyed mountaintop. But despite the promotion of reclaimed flat land for economic development, only a very small percentage of sites are developed.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, it may take hundreds of years for a forest to re-establish itself on a removed mountain site.
Pollutants may take any of several pathways into an area’s water supply. Some may leach into streams from the overburden that is dumped into valleys. Others hitch a ride in the slurry that is frequently injected directly into old mine shafts or impounded in ponds, from which it can seep through coal seams into ground-water. Where pollutants go once they hit groundwater is not easily predicted. Appalachian hydrology is complex and poorly charted. But severely contaminated water supplies have been the basis for multiple lawsuits against coal companies, alleging adverse health effects arising from contaminated drinking water. Residents may suddenly find that their water suddenly goes bad after mining begins nearby. One of the biggest health complaints is unremitting diarrhoea. Other conditions reported include learning disabilities, kidney stones, tooth loss, and some cancers.
Water contamination is not the only concern for communities. Residents quickly become accustomed to the rotten-egg scent of hydrogen sulfide. The sulfide is produced when bacteria reduce sulphate that presumably comes from mining runoff. Sulphide has always been recognized as an occupational hazard. Sulphide interferes with oxidative metabolism, and cardiac and nervous tissues are particularly sensitive, according to the World Health Organization. Chronic inhalational exposure in occupational settings has been shown to cause headache, irritability, and poor memory.
Another potential hazard is coal dust from both mining and processing the coal. The coal is crushed or pulverized, and that releases particulate matter into the air. Potential impacts from coal dust exposure include cardiovascular and lung disease, and possibly cancer.
The Clean Water Act specifies that streams must be suitable for “designated uses,” which include recreation, consumption of fish by humans, and protection of the health of aquatic life. However, health studies that have been conducted in Appalachia have revealed direct and indirect links to MTR mining. An investigation found that ecological impairment of streams correlated with human cancer mortality rates in surrounding areas. Three studies showed strong associations between MTR mining and increased cardiovascular disease, increased frequency of birth defects, and reduced quality of life.
Residents in mountaintop mining counties have 18 more unhealthy days per year than those in other non-mining counties, according to research. Over a life span of 78 years, that adds up to nearly 4 additional years’ worth of impaired mental and/or physical health.
The evidence that MTR mining may directly and adversely affect public health continues to become significantly stronger. Scientists say more research may still be needed, but the time has come to shift the burden of proof to the mining companies.
Mountaintop removal coal mining, which as its name suggests, involves removing all or some portion of the top of a mountain or ridge to expose and mine one or more coal seams. The excess overburden is disposed of in constructed fills in small valleys or hollows adjacent to the mining site.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has determined that mountaintop mines and valley fills lead directly to five principal alterations of stream ecosystems:
- springs and ephemeral, intermittent and perennial streams are permanently lost with the removal of the mountain and from burial under fill
- concentrations of major chemical ions are persistently elevated downstream
- degraded water quality reaches levels that are acutely lethal to organisms in standard aquatic toxicity tests
- selenium concentrations are elevated, reaching concentrations that have caused toxic effects in fish and birds
- macroinvertebrate and fish communities are consistently degraded.
In addition, six potential consequences of environmental impacts of mountaintop mines and valley fills operations include:
- loss of headwater resources
- impacts on water quality
- impacts from aquatic toxicity
- impacts on aquatic ecosystems
- cumulative impacts of multiple mining operations
- effectiveness of on-site reclamation and mitigation activities.
Mining operations are regulated under the Clean Water Act (CWA), including discharges of pollutants to streams from valley fills (CWA Section 402) and the valley fill itself where the rock and soil is placed in streams and wetlands (CWA Section 404). Coal mining operations are also regulated under the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977 (SMCRA).
EPA, in conjunction with the US Army Corps of Engineers, the US Department of the Interior's Office of Surface Mining and Fish & Wildlife Service, and the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection, prepared an environmental impact statement looking at the impacts of mountaintop mining and valley fills. This was done as part of a settlement agreement in the court case known as Bragg v. Robertson, Civ. No. 2:98-0636 (S.D. W.V.). The purpose was to evaluate options for improving agency programs that will contribute to reducing the adverse environmental impacts of mountaintop mining operations and excess spoil valley fills in Appalachia. The geographic focus was approximately 12 million acres encompassing most of eastern Kentucky, southern West Virginia, western Virginia, and scattered areas of eastern Tennessee.
Based on studies of over 1200 stream segments impacted by mountaintop mining and valley fills the following environmental issues were noted:
- an increase of minerals in the water - zinc, sodium, selenium, and sulfate levels may increase and negatively impact fish and macroinvertebrates leading to less diverse and more pollutant-tolerant species
- streams in watersheds below valley fills tend to have greater base flow
- streams are sometimes covered up
- wetlands are at times inadvertently, and other times intentionally, created; these wetlands provide some aquatic functions, but are generally not of high quality
- forests may become fragmented (broken into sections)
- the regrowth of trees and woody plants on regraded land may be slowed due to compacted soils
- grassland birds are more common on reclaimed mine lands as are snakes; amphibians such as salamanders, are less likely.
Cumulative environmental costs have not yet been identified.
In addition to health and environmental concerns, social, economic and heritage issues are created by mountaintop removal.
Regulation Is Not The Answer
Mountaintop removal is not necessary. It provides only a fraction of national coal production — an estimated 5-7 percent. It does not increase employment in Appalachia. Coal mining jobs have actually disappeared or been displaced as a result of heavily mechanized strip mining.
When the forests are gone and the streams destroyed, all the unique and diverse plant and animal species are destroyed with them. Irreplaceable ecosystems are being wiped out.
Decades of irreversible damage clearly show that regulatory compromises are no longer sufficient. Mountaintop removal mining is a crime against nature, wildlife and human health. It must be abolished, not regulated.
Woodchucks are harmless, comical vegetarians who are commonly sighted in suburban backyards and along roadways. Conflicts usually arise over who gets to eat the garden vegetables. Suburban landscapes provide perfect habitat for woodchucks. Our raised decks provide cover and a perfect place to raise young, and our lush lawns provide a virtual buffet. Most woodchuck conflicts occur in spring and summer, just when birthing season has begun. That's why problems need to be solved in a way that doesn't leave orphaned young behind.
KEEPING WOODCHUCKS OUT OF GARDENS
The best way to exclude woodchucks is by putting up a simple chicken wire or mesh fence. All you need is a roll of 4-foot high chicken wire and some wooden stakes. Once the job is done, it won't matter how many woodchucks are in the neighborhood because they won't be getting into your garden.
There are 2 secrets for making a successful fence:
Tip #1: The top portion of the fence only needs to be 2 ½ to 3 feet high but it should be staked so that it's wobbly -- i.e. the mesh should not be pulled tight between the stakes but rather, there should be some "give" so that when the woodchuck tries to climb the fence, it will wobble which will discourage him. Then he'll try to dig under the fence, so:
Tip #2: Extend your mesh fence 4 inches straight down into the ground and then bend it and extend the final 8-12 inches outward, away from the garden, in a "L"-shape which creates a false bottom (you can also put this mesh "flap" on top of the ground but be sure to secure it firmly with landscaping staples or the woodchuck will go under it). When the woodchuck digs down and hits this mesh flap, he'll think he can't dig any farther and give up. It won't occur to him to stand back a foot and THEN start digging!
IF YOU AREN'T WILLING TO PUT UP A FENCE, you can also try the following scare techniques, which do work in some cases:
1) Line your garden with helium-filled, silver mylar balloons or make a low fence of twisted, reflective mylar tape bought at your local party store. Be sure to purchase heavier weights to attach to the bottom of the balloons. The balloons bobbing in the wind will scare the woodchucks.
2) Sprinkle cayenne pepper around the plants and spray your plants with a taste repellent such as Ropel (available at garden stores) every 2 weeks.
GETTING WOODCHUCKS OUT FROM UNDER SHEDS
Woodchucks don't undermine foundations and really aren't likely to damage your shed. In spring and summer, the woodchuck under your shed is probably a mother nursing her young, which is why you should consider leaving them alone. Be sure you really need to evict the woodchuck before taking action. If you must, put some dirty kitty litter down the woodchuck burrow -- the urinated part acts as a predator odor, which often causes the entire family to leave. Ammonia-sprinkled rags or sweaty, smelling socks placed in the burrow may also cause self-eviction.
WOODCHUCKS & CHILDREN
Woodchucks are harmless vegetarians who flee when scared. Remember that even a small child looks like a giant predator to the woodchuck. There is no cause for alarm. Woodchucks live under houses and day care centers all over the country. Healthy woodchucks simply don't attack children or pets. If chased, woodchucks will quickly flee to their burrows.
WOODCHUCKS & RABIES
Woodchucks have a higher susceptibility to rabies than other rodents, yet the incidence of rabies in woodchucks is still very low. Woodchucks are much more susceptible to the roundworm brain parasite, which causes symptoms that look exactly like rabies. Roundworm is NOT airborne -- it can only be transmitted through the oral-fecal route, i.e. the ingestion of an infected animal's feces.
SETTING A TRAP FOR WOODCHUCKS & CATCHING A SKUNK
This is a common occurrence when traps are left open at night. You can let the skunk out without getting sprayed just by knowing that skunks have terrible eyesight and only spray when something comes at them fast, like a dog. If you move slowly and talk soothingly, you shouldn't get sprayed. Skunks stamp their front feet as a warning when they're nervous, so if the skunk stamps, just remain motionless for a minute until he stops stamping, then proceed. You can drape a towel -- slowly-- over the trap prior to opening it. Once the trap door is opened, the skunk will beeline for home. If you must trap and relocate a woodchuck, remember to close the trap at night so another skunk doesn't get caught.
Trapping won't solve the problem. As long as woodchuck habitat is available, there will be woodchucks. Even in studies where all the woodchucks are trapped out of an area, others from the surrounding area quickly move into the vacated niche. In addition, trapping and relocating woodchucks may lead to starving young being left behind. Homeowners are then horrified to smell a foul odor. It's much more effective to simply exclude woodchucks from areas where they're not wanted. Don't trap unless an animal is stuck somewhere and can't get out, or poses an immediate threat to humans or domestic animals.
Since life began on Earth, countless creatures have come and gone, rendered extinct by naturally changing physical and biological conditions. Since extinction is part of the natural order, and if many other species remain, some people ask: “Why save endangered species? Why should we spend money and effort to conserve them? How do we benefit?”
Congress answered these questions in the preamble to the Endangered Species Act of 1973, recognizing that endangered and threatened species of wildlife and plants “are of esthetic, ecological, educational, historical, recreational, and scientific value to the Nation and its people.” In this statement, Congress summarized convincing arguments made by scientists, conservationists, and others who are concerned by the disappearance of unique creatures. Congress further stated its intent that the Act should conserve the ecosystems upon which endangered and threatened species depend.
Although extinctions occur naturally, scientific evidence strongly indicates that the current rate of extinction is much higher than the natural or background rate of the past. The main force driving this higher rate of loss is habitat loss. Over-exploitation of wildlife for commercial purposes, the introduction of harmful exotic (nonnative) organisms, environmental pollution, and the spread of diseases also pose serious threats to our world’s biological heritage.
Conservation actions carried out in the United States under the Endangered Species Act have been successful in preventing extinction for 99 percent of the species that are listed as endangered or threatened. However, species loss on a global scale continues to increase due to the environmental effects of human activities.
Biologists estimate that since the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock in 1620, more than 500 species, subspecies, and varieties of our nation’s plants and animals have become extinct. The situation in earth’s most biologically rich ecosystems is even worse. Tropical rainforests around the world, which may contain up to one half of all living species, are losing millions of acres every year. Uncounted species are lost as these habitats are destroyed. In short, there is nothing natural about today’s rate of extinction.
BENEFITS OF DIVERSITY
How many species of plants and animals are there? Although scientists have classified approximately 1.7 million organisms, they recognize that the overwhelming majority have not yet been cataloged. Between 10 and 50 million species may inhabit our planet. None of these creatures exists in a vacuum. All living things are part of a complex, often delicately balanced network called the biosphere. The earth’s biosphere, in turn, is composed of countless ecosystems, which include plants and animals and their physical environments. No one knows how the extinction of organisms will affect the other members of its ecosystem, but the removal of a single species can set off a chain reaction affecting many others. This is especially true for “keystone” species, whose loss can transform or undermine the ecological processes or fundamentally change the species composition of the wildlife community.
CONTRIBUTIONS TO MEDICINE
One of the many tangible benefits of biological diversity has been its contributions to the field of medicine. Each living thing contains a unique reservoir of genetic material that has evolved over eons. This material cannot be retrieved or duplicated if lost. So far, scientists have investigated only a small fraction of the world’s species and have just begun to unravel their chemical secrets to find possible human health benefits to mankind.
No matter how small or obscure a species, it could one day be of direct importance to us all. It was “only” a fungus that gave us penicillin, and certain plants have yielded substances used in drugs to treat heart disease, cancer and a variety of other illnesses. More than a quarter of all prescriptions written annually in the United States contain chemicals discovered in plants. If these organisms had been destroyed before their unique chemistries were known, their secrets would have died with them.
A few hundred wild species have stocked our pharmacies with antibiotics, anti-cancer agents, pain killers and blood thinners. The biochemistry of unexamined species is an unfathomed reservoir of new and potentially more effective substances. The reason is found in the principles of evolutionary biology. Caught in an endless “arms race” with other forms of life, these species have devised myriad ways to combat microbes and cancer-causing runaway cells. Plants can make strange molecules that may never occur to a chemist. For example, the anti-cancer compound taxol, originally extracted from the bark of the Pacific yew tree, is “too fiendishly complex” a chemical structure for researchers to have invented on their own, said a scientist with the U.S. National Cancer Institute. Taxol has become the standard treatment for advanced cases of ovarian cancer, which strikes thousands of women every year. But until the discovery of taxol’s effectiveness, the Pacific yew was considered a weed tree of no value and was routinely destroyed during logging operations.
BIODIVERSITY & AGRICULTURE
Thomas Jefferson once wrote that “the greatest service which can be rendered any country is to add a useful plant to its culture, especially a breadgrain.” It has been estimated that there are almost 80,000 species of edible plants, of which fewer than 20 produce 90 percent of the world’s food. If underutilized species are conserved, they could help to feed growing populations. One grain native to the Great Lakes States, Indian wild rice, is superior in protein to most domesticated rice, and its increasing commercial production earns millions of dollars annually.
Many individual species are uniquely important as indicators of environmental quality. The rapid decline in bald eagles and peregrine falcons in the mid-20th century was a dramatic warning of the dangers of DDT—a strong, once widely used pesticide that accumulates in body tissues. (It hampered fertility and egghatching success in these species.) In another example, lichens and certain plants like the eastern white pine are good indicators of excess ozone, sulfur dioxide, and other air pollutants. Species like these can alert us to the effects of some contaminants before more damage is done.
Freshwater mussels are also very effective environmental indicators. The eastern United States boasts the richest diversity of freshwater mussels in the world. These animals are filter feeders, drawing in water and straining out food particles. Their method of feeding helps to keep our waters clean. But because mussels filter material from the water, they are often the first animals to be affected by water pollution. They tend to accumulate whatever toxins, such as chemicals in agricultural and industrial runoff, are present in their habitat. Too much pollution can eliminate the mussels. Other threats to mussel populations include siltation, the introduction of competing nonnative mussels, stream channelization and dredging, and the impoundment of free-flowing streams and rivers. Today, most native freshwater mussel species are considered to be endangered, threatened or of special concern.
As the pioneering naturalist Aldo Leopold once stated, “To keep every cog and wheel is the first precaution of intelligent tinkering.” As we tinker with ecosystems through our effects on the environment, what unexpected changes could occur? One subject of increasing concern is the impacts these effects can have on “ecosystem services,” which is a term for the fundamental life-support services provided by our environment.
Ecosystem services include air and water purification, detoxification and decomposition of wastes, climate regulation, regeneration of soil fertility, and the production and maintenance of biological diversity. These are the key ingredients of our agricultural, pharmaceutical, and industrial enterprises. Such services are estimated to be worth trillions of dollars annually. Yet because most of these services are not traded in economic markets, they carry no price tags that could alert society to changes in their supply or declines in their functioning. We tend to pay attention only when they decline or fail.
An emerging field called phytoremediation is an example of the ecosystem services provided by plants. Phytoremediation is a process that uses plants to remove, transfer, stabilize and destroy contaminants in soil and sediment. Certain plant species known as metal hyperaccumulators have the ability to extract elements from the soil and concentrate them in the easily harvested plant stems, shoots, and leaves. The alpine pennycress, for example, doesn’t just thrive on soils contaminated with zinc and cadmium; it cleans them up by removing the excess metals. In the home, houseplants under some conditions can effectively remove benzene, formaldehyde and certain other pollutants from the air.
OTHER ECONOMIC VALUES
Some benefits of animals and plants can be quantified. For example, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department calls birding “the nation’s fastest growing outdoor recreation.” It estimates that birders pump an estimated $400 million each year into the state’s economy. A host of small rural towns host festivals to vie for the attention of these birders. Nationwide, the benefits are even more amazing. Wildlife watching—not just bird watching—generates billions of dollars in economic benefits to nations each year.
If imperiled plants and animals lack a known benefit to mankind, should we care if they disappear? If a species evolves over millennia or is created by divine intent, do we have a right to cause its extinction? Would our descendants forgive us for exterminating a unique form of life? Such questions are not exclusive to scientists or philosophers. Many people believe that every creature has an intrinsic value. The loss of plant and animal species, they say, is not only shortsighted but wrong, especially since an extinct species can never be replaced. Eliminating entire species has been compared to ripping pages out of books that have not yet been read. We are accustomed to a rich diversity in nature. This diversity has provided inspiration for countless writers and artists, and all others who treasure variety in the natural world.
Human impact continues to have a devastating effect on the natural world, with wildlife species across the globe under threat from poaching, hunting and the consequences of climate change. Recent studies indicate that 59 percent of the world's largest carnivores and sixty percent of the largest herbivores are currently threatened with extinction.
Scores of species across the globe, including tigers, lions and rhinos, are at risk of extinction due to a plethora of threats imposed by mankind. We will lose many of these incredible species unless swift, decisive and collective action is taken by the global community.
Every country should strive to do more to protect its wildlife, but the richest countries, who can afford to do the most, are not doing enough. Less affluent countries are more committed to conservation of their large animals than richer ones. In comparison to the more affluent, developed world, biodiversity is a higher priority in poorer areas such as the African nations, which contribute more to conservation than any other region.
Researchers from Oxford's Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU) have created a Mega-Fauna Conservation Index (MCI) of 152 nations to evaluate their conservation footprint. The benchmarking system evaluates three key measures: a) the proportion of the country occupied by each mega-fauna species that survives in the country (countries with more species covering a higher proportion of the country scoring higher); b) the proportion of mega-fauna species range that is protected (higher proportions score higher); c) and the amount of money spent on conservation - either domestically or internationally, relative to GDP.
The findings show that poorer countries tend to take a more active approach to biodiversity protection than richer nations. Ninety percent of countries in North and Central America and 70 percent of countries in Africa are classified as major or above-average in their mega-fauna conservation efforts.
Despite facing a number of domestic challenges, such as poverty and political instability in many parts of the continent, Africa prioritizes wildlife preservation and contributes more to conservation than any other region of the world. African countries make up four of the five top-performing mega-fauna conservation nations, with Botswana, Namibia, Tanzania and Zimbabwe topping the list. By contrast, the United States ranks nineteenth out of the twenty performing countries. Approximately one-quarter of countries in Asia and Europe are identified as significantly underperforming in their commitment to mega-fauna conservation.
Mega-fauna species are associated with strong 'existence values', where just knowing that large wild animals exist makes people feel happier. In some cases, such as the African nations, this link explains why some countries are more concerned with conservation than others. Larger mammal species like wild cats, gorillas and elephants play a key role in ecological processes as well as tourism industries, which are an economic lifeline in poorer regions.
The conservation index is intended as a call to action for the world to acknowledge its responsibility to wildlife protection. By highlighting the disparity in each nations' contributions it hopes to see increased efforts and renewed commitment to biodiversity preservation.
There are three ways countries can improve their MCI scores:
They can 're-wild' their landscapes by reintroducing mega-fauna and/or by allowing the distribution of such species to increase;
They can set aside more land as strictly protected areas;
And they can invest more in conservation, either at home or abroad.
Some of the poorest countries in the world are making the biggest investments in a global asset and should be congratulated. Some of the richest nations just aren't doing enough.
Greenwashing is hiding harmful activities behind the guise of environmentalism and conservation. It's a tactic many corporations and organizations use to manipulate and deceive the public.
A clean, safe and healthy environment is important, and everyone wants to see it protected. With this goal, many people donate millions of dollars each year to organizations that say they are working to protect the environment and wildlife. Many people also buy products that they believe to be animal and environmentally friendly. But how much do we really know about these organizations, companies and products? For example, do their campaigns demand a ban on toxic chemicals or take the bureaucratic route and call for more testing? Are they concerned about protecting animals as well as people, or do they at least ensure that their activities do not harm animals?
Many generous contributors are shocked to learn that some "environmental" and "conservation" groups use people's donations to support activities that are extremely harmful to the earth and animals and accomplish little or nothing to protect the environment. Some organizations support and even promote the poisoning of animals to test pesticides and other chemicals already known to be toxic. In fact, several well-known environmental groups are directly responsible for the creation of what have become the most massive animal-testing programs in history.
For example, despite killing hundreds of thousands of animals in cruel chemical toxicity tests, the EPA has not banned a single toxic industrial chemical in more than 10 years using its authority under the Toxic Substances Control Act. The chemical industry has long approved of the EPA's near-exclusive reliance on animal tests because their results are easily manipulated. In addition, required testing means that a company's products are safe from regulation for years while the products are tested and retested on animals. And, after decades of practice, industry representatives have perfected the art of arguing both sides of the animal-testing issue.
Here's how they do it: If a chemical is shown to cause cancer or other harmful effects in animals, industry representatives claim that the results aren't applicable to humans. At the same time, company officials happily display the results of EPA-required studies that suggest that their chemicals are not harmful. In these cases, companies laud the predictability of animal-testing and claim that their products are safe for humans. This is exactly what happened with cigarettes for more than 20 years, as industry scientists claimed that tobacco was safe for humans because animal tests, many of which involved cutting holes in the throats of dogs and forcing them to inhale cigarette smoke, did not cause cancer in animals.
The EPA's addiction to animal testing is so pervasive that even when evidence from human population studies implicates a chemical, the results are ignored by the EPA for the sake of conducting more and more animal studies. For years, population studies have shown that arsenic in drinking water causes cancer in humans. Yet the EPA dragged its feet for more than 20 years while thousands of animals were killed in tests that attempted to reproduce the effects already seen in humans.
The matter is made worse by the fact that the EPA refuses to subject animal-based test methods to the same level of scientific validation to determine their reliability and relevance to humans that all non-animal test methods must meet before they are accepted and used. The results of nonvalidated animal tests are scientifically useless as a basis upon which to regulate dangerous chemicals. So, the EPA's animal-testing programs do not protect either people or the environment, despite causing enormous animal suffering. Yet some environmental groups continue to call for ever-more animal-testing and defend every animal test, no matter how cruel or irrelevant.
Many companies and organizations spend more time and money claiming to be “green” through advertising and marketing than actually implementing business practices that minimize environmental impact. Research products and companies before making purchases. If you are a member of, or donate money to environmental or conservation groups, be sure to inquire that your donations are not being used to support greenwashing activities that harm animals and the environment.
Ocean acidification refers to a reduction in the pH of the ocean over an extended period time, caused primarily by uptake of carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere.
For more than 200 years, or since the industrial revolution, the concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere has increased due to the burning of fossil fuels and land use change. The ocean absorbs about 30 percent of the CO2 that is released in the atmosphere, and as levels of atmospheric CO2 increase, so do the levels in the ocean.
When CO2 is absorbed by seawater, a series of chemical reactions occur resulting in the increased concentration of hydrogen ions. This increase causes the seawater to become more acidic and causes carbonate ions to be relatively less abundant.
Carbonate ions are an important building block of structures such as sea shells and coral skeletons. Decreases in carbonate ions can make building and maintaining shells and other calcium carbonate structures difficult for calcifying organisms such as oysters, clams, sea urchins, shallow water corals, deep sea corals, and calcareous plankton.
Pteropods are small calcifying (or shelled) organisms that live as zooplankton in the water column and are an important prey species for many fish. Changes in ocean chemistry can break down their calcium carbonate shell, ultimately leaving the marine food web at risk.
These changes in ocean chemistry can affect the behavior of non-calcifying organisms as well. Certain fish's ability to detect predators is decreased in more acidic waters. When these organisms are at risk, the entire food web may also be at risk.
Ocean acidification is affecting the entire world’s oceans, including coastal estuaries and waterways.
Viewing and interacting with marine mammals in the wild attracts sufficient numbers of people. A small industry has grown from it. Well intentioned or not, this industry and the public it serves frequently do not take into account the well-being of the animals they view. Marine mammal specialists and advocates have sufficient cause to be concerned.
TYPES OF INTERACTION
Marine mammals in their natural habitat attract many tourists. Anyone who approaches a wild animal to touch, feed, or pose for photographs with it may be guilty of unintentional harassment. Sometimes the harassment is a matter of indifference, such as the many people on some parts of the west coast who frequently disregard posted signs and walk among elephant seals "hauled out" (who have hauled themselves out) on beaches.
Jet-skiing, kayaking, boating, and similar aquatic recreational activities may harass marine mammals in the wild by pursuing, annoying or tormenting them. Scuba or snorkel divers may find it "fun" to harass manatees by swimming around them or touching them, an example of intentional wildlife abuse by humans.
Many commercial tour operations regularly feed the wild animals to encourage them to approach their vessels, then offer tourists an opportunity to photograph, feed, pet or swim with marine mammals. Bottlenose dolphins in the southeast are the most affected animals in such activities.
RISK TO ANIMALS & HUMANS
These human interactions threaten the health and well-being of marine mammals. Possible consequences are driving them from their preferred habitat; disrupting their social groups; poisoning them with inappropriate food; and exposing them to fish hooks and boat propellers.
Wildlife fed by humans often become habituated to the free handout and, unwilling or unable to forage for food, develop the unnatural behavior of begging. This is crucial when young animals need to learn foraging skills.
Many people have been seriously injured when marine mammals who have become conditioned to being fed by humans have behaved aggressively toward them. Medical attention is usually required, and sometimes even hospitalization. Animals who behave aggressively in these situations are usually perceived as "nuisance animals," thus opening the door to animal "control" that may mean death to the animals.
The Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) clearly sets forth the law in interactions with wild marine mammals. Interactions such as those mentioned above may constitute harassment and carry civil and criminal penalties, including fines as high as $20,000 and up to a year in jail. The MMPA defines harassment as "any act of pursuit, torment, or annoyance which has the potential to injure a marine mammal or marine mammal stock in the wild; or has the potential to disturb a marine mammal or marine mammal stock in the wild by causing disruption of behavioral patterns, including, but not limited to, sheltering."
Many marine mammals are endangered or threatened. Human interaction may therefore also be a violation of the Endangered Species Act.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
For the animals' sake, and for your safety, please don't feed, swim with, or harm marine mammals.
Share your knowledge with others. Encourage friends and family not to patronize boat operators and resorts that promote marine mammal encounter programs.
Ask the National Marine Fisheries Service to provide increased manpower and money to enforce the federal regulations prohibiting feeding and harassment of marine mammals. Write to: National Marine Fisheries Service, Office of Protected Resources; 1315 East-West Highway, 13th Floor; Silver Spring, MD, 20910.
To report a violation of the Marine Mammal Protection Act, call: NOAA Fisheries Enforcement Hot Line: 1-800-853-1964.
RESPONSIBLE MARINE MAMMAL VIEWING
The significant growth in whale-watching and other marine-mammal viewing increases the likelihood of a threat to the animals. The National Marine Fisheries Service has therefore set forth guidelines for land or water based viewing. If you choose recreational activities in the marine environment, please keep this "Code of Conduct" in mind:
Remain at least 100 yards from marine mammals. Binoculars will ensure that you view at a safe distance. If a whale approaches within 100 yards of your vessel, put your engine in neutral and allow the whale to pass.
Because many watchers on many vessels have a cumulative effect, limit your observing time to one hour. Avoid approaching the animals when another vessel is near.
Whales should not be encircled or trapped between boats, or boat and shore.
Offering food, discarded fish, or fish waste is prohibited.
Do not touch or swim with marine mammals. Never attempt to herd, chase or separate groups of marine mammals or females from their young.
If your engine is not running, whales may not recognize your location. To avoid collisions, make noise, such as tapping the side of the boat.
Do not handle pups. "Hauled out" seal or sea lion pups may appear abandoned when the mother is feeding. Leave them alone.
When viewing hauled out seals or sea lions, try not to let them see, smell or hear you.
Deserts are classified by their geographical location and dominant weather pattern as trade wind, midlatitude, rain shadow, coastal, monsoon, or polar deserts. Former desert areas presently in nonarid environments are paleodeserts, and extraterrestrial deserts exist on other planets.
Trade Wind Deserts
The trade winds in two belts on the equatorial sides of the Horse Latitudes heat up as they move toward the Equator. These dry winds dissipate cloud cover, allowing more sunlight to heat the land. Most of the major deserts of the world lie in areas crossed by the trade winds. The world's largest desert, the Sahara of North Africa, which has experienced temperatures as high as 57° G, is a trade wind desert.
Midlatitude deserts occur between 30° and 50° N. and S., poleward of the subtropical highpressure zones. These deserts are in interior drainage basins far from oceans and have a wide range of annual temperatures. The Sohoran Desert of southwestern North America- is a typical midlatitude desert.
Rain Shadow Deserts
Rain shadow deserts are formed because tall mountain ranges prevent moisture-rich clouds from reaching areas on the lee, or protected side, of the range. As air rises over the mountain, water is precipitated and the air loses its moisture content. A desert is formed in the leeside "shadow" of the range.
Coastal deserts generally are found on the western edges of continents near the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn. They are affected by cold ocean currents that parallel the coast. Because local wind systems dominate the trade winds, these deserts are less stable than other deserts. Winter fogs, produced by upwelling cold currents, frequently blanket coastal deserts and block solar radiation. Coastal deserts are relatively complex because they are at the juncture of terrestrial, oceanic, and atmospheric systems. A coastal desert, the Atacama of South America, is the Earth's driest desert. In the Atacama, measurable rainfall 1 millimeter or more of rain may occur as infrequently as once every 5-20 years. Crescent-shaped dunes are common in coastal deserts such as the Namib, Africa, with prevailing onshore winds.
"Monsoon," derived from an Arabic word for "season," refers to a wind system with pronounced seasonal reversal. Monsoons develop in response to temperature variations between continents and oceans. The southeast trade winds of the Indian Ocean, for example, provide heavy summer rains in India as they move onshore. As the monsoon crosses India, it loses moisture on the eastern slopes of the Aravalli Range. The Rajasthan Desert of India and the Thar Desert of Pakistan are parts of a monsoon desert region west of the range.
Polar deserts are areas with annual precipitation less than 250 millimeters and a mean temperature during the warmest month of less than 10° C. Polar deserts on the Earth cover nearly 5 million square kilometers and are mostly bedrock or gravel plains. Sand dunes are not prominent features in these deserts, but snow dunes occur commonly in areas where precipitation is locally more abundant. Temperature changes in polar deserts frequently cross the freezing point of water. This "freezethaw" alternation forms patterned textures on the ground, as much as 5 meters in diameter.
Wilderness or wildlands are natural places on our planet that have not been significantly modified by humans. These last, truly wild places that have not been developed with industry, roads, buildings and houses are critical for the survival of many plant and animal species. They also provide humans with educational and recreational opportunities, and are deeply valued for aesthetic, cultural, moral and spiritual reasons.
Some wildlands are protected, preserving natural areas for humans, animals, flora and fauna. Others are dissapearing at alarming rates, and simply drawing lines around specific areas is not enough. All of our planet is intricately connected. What happens outside a specific wilderness area affects what happens inside it.
Many wildlife habitats have become fragmented due to human development. Without the protection of vast expanses of wildlands to meet the minimum requirements of the largest, most widely roaming members of the ecosystem, they may dwindle or vanish forever. The loss of any species effects the entire ecosystem.
Biomes, or ecosystems, are large regions of the planet with shared characteristics such as climate, soils, plants and animals. Climate is an important factor that shapes the nature of an ecosystem, as well as precipitation, humidity, elevation, topography and latitude.
The five major biomes include aquatic, desert, forest, grassland and tundra biomes. Each biome also includes numerous types of sub-habitats.
By protecting and preserving ecosystems, we protect and preserve plant and animal species...including our own species.
Widely hailed as a renewable natural resource, tropical timber from old-growth
tropical forests is selectively logged worldwide at an unprecedented scale. But
research now reveals that these sources of timber are far from sustainable and
Studies reveal that once prime tropical hardwoods – such as Brazilian cedars, ipe
(Brazilian walnut), and rosewood – have been logged, they do not grow back to
commercial levels and are at risk from disappearing altogether.
Slow growing and "commercially valuable" species of all kinds have been overexploited
over the course of human history – just look at the whaling industry or fisheries.
Yet many tropical timber species are still thought of as a renewable resource.
We are only beginning to see over-exploitation parallels in tree species. Many
high-value timber species are logged until their populations collapse altogether.
Timber harvests in Pará equate to almost half of all native forest roundlog production
in Brazilian Amazonia – the largest old-growth tropical timber reserve controlled
by any country. Brazil accounts for 85 percent of all native neotropical forest
roundlog production. Researchers have found that loggers can no longer depend
on areas where high-value species were formerly abundant to fetch high economic
returns. This means that logging operations are continuously forced to extract
timber trees from new areas of unlogged primary forests.
Even so-called ‘reduced-impact logging’ in tropical forests can rarely be defined
as sustainable in terms of forest composition and dynamics in the aftermath of
logging – never mind the greater susceptibility of logged forests to catastrophic
fires. Environmental licensing and market certification of logging concessions
need to take this into account, and review minimum preconditions in terms of
volumetric quotas of roundlogs harvested per species and regeneration standards
over multi-decade logging cycles.
After selective logging, there is no evidence that the composition of timber species
and total forest value recovers beyond the first-cut. The most commercially-valuable
timber species become predictably rare or economically extinct in old logging
Only recent logging operations, which are furthest away from heavy-traffic roads,
are the most selective, concentrating gross revenues on a few high-value species.
Managing yields of selectively-logged forests is crucial for the long-term integrity
of forest biodiversity and financial viability of local industries.
Current commercial agreements could lead to ‘peak timber’ and then widespread economic
extinctions across other tropical regions. We can already see a market shift,
in which loggers in old depleted logging Amazonian frontiers are forced to depend
on fast growing, soft-wood timber species.
They're called fossil fuels because the fuel in your gas tank comes from the chemical remains of prehistoric plants and animals. All living things on Earth contain carbon. Even you contain carbon. Lots of it. If you weigh 100 pounds, 18 pounds of you is pure carbon. And plants are almost half carbon. You are 18 percent carbon. Plants are 45 percent carbon.
With so much carbon, why isn't everything black and sooty? How can dogs be white and trees green? Because carbon, an element, combines easily with other elements to form new materials. The new stuff, called compounds, are quite different from pure carbon.
An atom is the tiniest possible particle of any element, like carbon or oxygen. A carbon atom combines easily with two oxygen atoms to make the compound carbon dioxide. "C" stands for carbon, "O" stands for oxygen, so carbon dioxide is often called "C-O-2, and written "CO2." CO2 is a gas. It is invisible. CO2 is really important.
How does carbon get into living things? Plants take in CO2. They keep the carbon and give away the oxygen. Animals breathe in the oxygen and breathe out carbon dioxide. Plants and animals depend on each other. It works out well. For hundreds of millions of years, plants and animals have lived and died. Their remains have gotten buried deep beneath Earth's surface. So for hundreds of millions of years, this material has been getting squished and cooked by lots of pressure and heat.
For hundreds of millions of years, dead plants and animals were buried under water and dirt. Heat and pressure turned the dead plants and animals into oil, coal, and natural gas.
So what happens to all this dead plant and animal stuff? It turns into what we call fossil fuels: oil, coal, and natural gas. This is the stuff we now use to energize our world. We burn these carbon-rich materials in cars, trucks, planes, trains, power plants, heaters, speed boats, barbecues, and many other things that require energy.
How does the carbon get out of living things? When fossil fuels burn, we mostly get three things: heat, water, and CO2. We also get some solid forms of carbon, like soot and grease. So that's where all the old carbon goes. All that carbon stored in all those plants and animals over hundreds of millions of years is getting pumped back into the atmosphere over just one or two hundred years.
Is carbon in the air good, bad, or just ugly? Here's the big, important thing about CO2: It's a greenhouse gas. That means CO2 in the atmosphere works to trap heat close to Earth. It helps Earth to hold on to some of the energy it gets from the sun so the energy doesn't all leak back out into space. If it weren't for this greenhouse effect, Earth's oceans would be frozen solid. Earth would not be the beautiful blue and green planet of life that it is. If not for the greenhouse effect, Earth would be an ice ball.
So, CO2 and other greenhouse gases are good—up to a point. But CO2 is so good at holding in heat from the Sun, that even a small increase in CO2 in the atmosphere can cause Earth to get even warmer.
Throughout Earth's history, whenever the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere has gone up, the temperature of Earth has also gone up. And when the temperature goes up, the CO2 in the atmosphere goes up even more.
Even though American consumers throw away about 80 billion pounds of food a year, only about half are aware that food waste is a problem. Even more, researchers have identified that most people perceive benefits to throwing food away, some of which have limited basis in fact.
A recent study found that 53 percent of respondents said they were aware that food waste is a problem. This is about 10 percent higher than a previous study, which indicates awareness of the problem could be growing.
But it is still amazingly low. If we can increase awareness of the problem, consumers are more likely to increase purposeful action to reduce food waste. You don’t change your behavior if you don’t realize there’s a problem in the first place.
Generally, people consider three things regarding food waste. They perceive there are practical benefits, such as a reduced risk of foodborne illness, but at the same time they feel guilty about wasting food. They also know that their behaviors and how they manage their household influences how much food they waste.
How Americans Think About Food Waste:
Perceived benefits: 68 percent believe that throwing away food after the package date has passed reduces the chance of foodborne illness, and 59 percent believe some food waste is necessary to be sure meals are fresh and flavorful.
Feelings of guilt: 77 percent feel a general sense of guilt when throwing away food. At the same time, only 58 percent understand that throwing away food is bad for the environment, and only 42 percent believe wasted food is a major source of wasted money.
Control: 51 percent believe it would be difficult to reduce household food waste and 42 percent say they don’t have enough time to worry about it. Still, 53 percent admit they waste more food when they buy in bulk or purchase large quantities during sales. At the same time, 87 percent think they waste less food than similar households.
Many people feel they derive some type of benefit by throwing food away, but many of those benefits are not real. For example, they misunderstand “Sell by” and “Use by” dates on food packages. Only in rare circumstances is that date about food safety.
Food waste is the largest source of municipal solid waste in the U.S. and the most destructive type of household waste in terms of greenhouse gas emissions. Consumers can help by reducing food waste.
Descendants of monkeys found in Africa and Arabia, gorillas are herbivorous apes found only in the African continent. There are two broad species of this African animal. One is the Eastern gorilla and the other the Western gorilla. The Eastern gorilla has two subspecies. The Western gorilla also has two subspecies. All gorilla species are listed as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
Gorilla populations have been greatly reduced by habitat loss, disease and poaching. Protecting gorilla populations has proved difficult due to the vast dense areas in which they live. Conservation efforts by governmental and non governmental organizations are desperately trying to save gorillas from extinction.
The Eastern Lowland gorilla, or Grauer's gorilla, is mostly found on the plains and lower slopes of the Virunga volcanic mountains of Central Africa. This habitat area of the ape entirely falls in the Eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). This huge, hairy ape, with a shiny black coat, can measure up to 5 feet-6 inches while standing to its full height. They weigh as much as 550 lbs or 250 kilograms. The population of this subspecies has been reduced from around 5,000 in 2004 to only 3,800 .
The mountain gorillas are an endangered species exclusively dwelling in the Rwandan half of the Virunga volcanic mountains at altitudes of 7,000 to 14,000 feet. Like their Eastern lowland cousins, they have jet black hair but with a slight bluish tinge. While standing totally erect, the mountain gorilla is an impressive sight. Reaching a height of 6 feet-2 inches, it has an enormous arm span of 8 feet-6 inches and can weigh almost 500 lbs. There are only 880 of this sub-species left. Mountain gorillas were popularized by the film "Gorillas of the Mist" that portrayed the life of Diane Fossey, who spent two intrepid decades in the Rwandan mountains studying and fighting for the preservation of the apes.
For the mountain gorillas, major threats come from forest clearance and degradation as poor Rwandans desperately try to eke out a living. Clearing out land for agriculture and deforestation for firewood also puts a lot of pressure on the natural resources of the region and eventually on the habitat of these rare apes.
The Western lowland gorilla's habitat spans plains, forests and swamps of countries like Angola, Cameroon, Central African Republic, DRC, Equatorial Guinea and Gabon. They are smaller in size to the Eastern gorillas and have longer black hair covering almost their entire body. They number almost 125,000 and are inhumanely kept captive in zoos all over the world for human entertainment and profit.
The Cross River gorilla is a species found essentially in the Cross-Niger transition forests on the western half of the Cross River flowing into South-western Nigeria. Most of these hilly forests fall in Cameroon. They are a distinctive sub-species with short body hair and shorter skulls, smaller palates and smaller cranial vaults compared to the Western lowland gorillas.
The Western gorillas, that inhabit as many as 11 countries of Western Africa, are under threat from logging, hunting, disease and even trigger-happy militia. They often come into direct confrontation with man. Many of them are killed for their meat by impoverished and hungry tribesmen. Apes can be seen as a nuisance, too. Forced to move away from a shrinking habitat, the animals raid crops. A single group of gorillas can easily destroy an entire harvest. Villagers feel they have no recourse but to kill the animals. Only 250 to 300 of these creatures are left, making them one of the most endangered animals on the planet.
Threats To Gorillas
The greatest threat to gorillas is human poverty. They inhabit countries which are among the poorest in the world but with a high density of human population.
Being closely related to the humans anatomically, apes are susceptible to disease as much as man. Not just from poachers and militia groups, but exposure to well-meaning humans like tourists, conservationists, scientists, rangers and local communities poses a threat. Gorillas have been known to succumb to skin diseases and respiratory disorders. Outbreaks of Ebola can take many more gorilla lives than humans.
Poaching of infant mountain gorillas to cater to the illicit animal trade became a common threat in the early 2000s. Civil unrest also took a toll on the apes. The Rwandan genocide of the 1990s, and the Angolan wars of the 1980s, had an unsettling effect on the movement and habitat of gorillas. Large movements of refugees fleeing unrest, debris left behind by them, and warring militias posed major threats.
Weak local governments, virtual absence of forest regulations or conservation policies, and impoverished and disenchanted local communities all pose serious challenges to the survival of the apes.
The only ray of hope for saving gorillas from extinction is conservation. A gradual rise in the population of mountain gorillas has taken place thanks to conservation programs. From the lowest point in 1980 when its numbers were just 254, it has now grown to 880.
Similar efforts in the Campo Ma’an National Park in Cameroon and Cross River National Park of Nigeria has held some hope for the tiny population of Cross-river gorillas dwelling there. Recent surveys show that the counts for these apes have not gone below the 300 mark.
But applying conservation measures to the lowland gorillas will be far more challenging given their wider habitat coverage. Efforts must be made to save the apes before it's too late.
5,500 animals a day, 228 an hour, 4 every minute - red-tailed hawks, Arctic foxes and river otters, some of America's most magnificent wildlife....By the time you finish reading this, 8 more of these wild animals will have been gunned down, crushed in traps, or poisoned by an exploding cyanide landmine laid down by the USDA's rogue animal-killing program, Wildlife Services.
This little-known agency, a unit of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is secretive for a reason: Its actions are incredibly, unacceptably and illegally brutal and inhumane to animals, from familiar wildlife to endangered species - and even people’s companion animals.
This agency has been killing as many as 3 million native animals every year - including coyotes, bears, beavers, wolves, otters, foxes, prairie dogs, mountain lions, birds and other animals - without any oversight, accountability or requirement to disclose its activities to the public. The agency contributed to the decline of gray wolves, Mexican wolves, black-footed ferrets, black-tailed prairie dogs, and other imperiled species during the first half of the 1900s, and continues to impede their recovery today.
No other government program does more every day to annihilate America’s wildlife than Wildlife Services. This rogue program does much of its dirty work far from the public’s view, so millions of animals disappear from our landscapes every year with little accountability.
Most of Wildlife Services’ killing is done on behalf of the livestock and agriculture industries, along with other powerful interests. The methods are gruesome, including aerial gunning, traps and exploding cyanide caps. Companion animals have also been inadvertently harmed.
Many of these animals are carnivores at the top of the food chain and have a tremendous benefit to overall ecosystem health. They include endangered species and, largely, animals that agribusiness interests consider undesirable - as well as many animals that aren’t intended targets of the agency.
The century-old Wildlife Services - which has reportedly killed 32 million native animals since 1996 - destroys these creatures on behalf of such interests without explaining to the public what it’s doing or where, the methods it’s using, on whose behalf it’s acting, or why. It frequently doesn’t even attempt to use nonlethal methods before shooting coyotes and wolves from airplanes, or laying out traps and exploding poison caps indiscriminately - including in public areas - without any rules.
Stories about Wildlife Services consistently emerge describing an agency that routinely commits extreme cruelty against animals, leaving them to die in traps from exposure or starvation, attacking trapped coyotes, and brutalizing domestic dogs. Many people who know about the agency have criticized this dark, secretive entity as a subsidy for livestock interests.
As the actions of Wildlife Services continue to be exposed, organizations and individuals across the country continue to join together in an effort to end the inhumane slaughter of millions of animals each year by the federal government with taxpayers' money.
If you're a Bowhead whale and you spend summers in the Arctic—congratulations! Life is good. Your food supply is growing and your waters are warming. Your summer "vacation" lasts a few weeks longer now than it used to (say, back in 1980). That's because there isn't as much sea ice and it doesn't form as early in the fall as it used to.
The sea ice is thinner, too. That's why there's more food for you. The tiny plants you eat, called phytoplankton, grow in the top layer of the ocean. Like all plants, they need sunlight to grow. Since there's less ice, the sunlight can shine through the water better. So, more phytoplankton for you.
Also, you are discovering some of your long-lost relatives. Bowhead whales who live on the Atlantic Ocean side of the Arctic are meeting up with Bowhead whales who live on the Pacific side of the Arctic. You guys have been separated by Arctic ice for eons, but now that a lot of it is melted, you are free to mingle.
You, dear whales, are definitely winners in the warming of the Arctic. But, alas, where there are winners, there are often losers.
Condolences to the polar bears, though. You guys are having a tough time of it with the shrinking ice. Where are you supposed to sit while you eat the meal you have caught in the water? Where can you rest if all the ice chunks are melted? After all, you are not fish that can just live in the water all the time. You are not whales either. You need sea ice to get around, to hunt, to find a mate and, in some areas, to make a den and have cubs.
Of 19 groups of Arctic polar bears, seven are losing members. Scientists don't have enough data yet on several of these groups. However, at the rate the Arctic ice is melting, it's likely that the polar bears will continue to struggle.
Why do we talk so much about the Arctic?
While the overall temperature of Earth is rising, temperatures in the Arctic are rising 2 to 3 times faster than temperatures farther south. This situation is called "Arctic amplification."
Why does this happen?
As you may know, light colors reflect more sunlight than dark colors. That's why people are more comfortable in light-colored clothing in the summer. In the same way, sea ice reflects more sunlight than does the darker ocean. As the sea ice melts, there's less "white" to reflect the sunlight and more "dark" to absorb it. So the ocean gets a little warmer. And more sea ice melts, and the darker water absorbs even more sunlight and heat.
And so it goes, in what scientists call a positive feedback loop, or "vicious circle."
What other living things will be winners or losers in the Arctic?
Scientists are keeping a close watch on conditions in the Arctic. It is a clear indicator of how rapidly Earth's climate is changing.
In general, oil spills can affect animals and plants in two ways: from the oil itself and from the response or cleanup operations. Understanding both types of impacts can help spill responders minimize overall impacts to ecological communities and help them to recover much more quickly.
Spilled oil can harm living things because its chemical constituents are poisonous. This can affect organisms both from internal exposure to oil through ingestion or inhalation and from external exposure through skin and eye irritation. Oil can also smother some small species of fish or invertebrates and coat feathers and fur, reducing birds' and mammals' ability to maintain their body temperatures.
What Creatures Are Most Affected by Oil Spills?
Since most oils float, the creatures most affected by oil are animals like sea otters and seabirds that are found on the sea surface or on shorelines if the oil comes ashore. During most oil spills, seabirds are harmed and killed in greater numbers than other kinds of creatures. Sea otters can easily be harmed by oil, since their ability to stay warm depends on their fur remaining clean. If oil remains on a beach for a while, other creatures, such as snails, clams, and terrestrial animals may suffer.
What Measures Are Taken When an Animal Comes in Contact with Oil?
Most states have regulations about the specific procedures to follow. Untrained people should not try to capture any oiled bird or animal. At most U.S. spills, a bird and/or mammal rehabilitation center is set up to care for oiled animals.
What Type of Spilled Oil Causes the Most Harm?
The type of oil spilled matters because different types of oil behave differently in the environment, and animals and birds are affected differently by different types of oil. However, it's not so easy to say which kind is worst.
First, we should distinguish between "light" and "heavy" oils. Fuel oils, such as gasoline and diesel fuel, are very "light" oils. Light oils are very volatile (they evaporate relatively quickly), so they usually don't remain for long in the aquatic or marine environment (typically no longer than a few days). If they spread out on the water, as they do when they are accidentally spilled, they will evaporate relatively quickly.
However, while they are present, light oils present two significant hazards. First, some can ignite or explode. Second, many light oils, such as gasoline and diesel, are also considered to be toxic. They can kill animals or plants that they touch, and they also are dangerous to humans who breathe their fumes or get them on their skin.
In contrast, very "heavy" oils (like bunker oils, which are used to fuel ships) look black and may be sticky for a time until they weather sufficiently, but even then they can persist in the environment for months or even years if not removed. While these oils can be very persistent, they are generally significantly less acutely toxic than lighter oils. Instead, the short-term threat from heavy oils comes from their ability to smother organisms. Over the long-term, some chronic health effects like tumors may result in some organisms.
Also, if heavy oils get onto the feathers of birds, the birds may die of hypothermia (they lose the ability to keep themselves warm). We observe this same effect if sea otters become oiled. After days or weeks, some heavy oils will harden, becoming very similar to an asphalt road surface. In this hardened state, heavy oils will probably not harm animals or plants that come in contact with them.
In between light and heavy oils are many different kinds of medium oils, which will last for some amount of time in the environment and will have different degrees of toxicity. Ultimately, the effects of any oil depend on where it is spilled, where it goes, and what animals and plants, or people, it affects.
When massive volumes of toxic chemicals are pumped deep underground at extreme pressure to fracture ancient rock formations, what could go wrong?
The technique used to extract shale gas from its underground deposits is called hydraulic fracturing or "fracking". Huge amounts of water, sand and thickening agents are injected underground to crack open the rocks beneath which the shale gas is trapped.
Shale is fast replacing oil as a cheaper energy source. Shale is oil and gas found in rock formations. Shale gas output, which was 9.7 trillion cubic feet annually a few years ago, could potentially grow to almost 40 trillion cubic feet by 2040, with the US far surpassing Saudi Arabia as the largest fossil fuels producer of the world. In fact, shale will account for as much as 60 percent of America's total oil and gas output.
While vertical fracking has been around since 1949, the advent of horizontal fracking during the past decade gave shale gas output a major boost. Fracking sites have grown from around 18,000 to almost 25,000 within just a decade. That's almost a 40 percent growth.
Despite the potential economic benefits to be reaped from shale gas, the effects to the environment, wildlife and humans may be devastating. Little is known about its long-term environmental impacts, but its short term impacts are already disturbing.
The fracking process, which uses over 100 chemicals, produces massive amounts of toxic and radioactive waste. It has been known to contaminate drinking water and produce earthquakes. Hazardous pollutants are also released into the air. Fracking wells release methane gas known to trap 87 times more heat than carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
Thousands of leaks, spills and accidents related to fracking have negatively impacted water quality in rivers, streams and shallow aquifers. Since 1990, the EPA has acknowledged the link between fracking and increased earthquakes.
Fracking has been reported to cause declines in property value, damage to public roads, increased crime and a rise in demand on emergency services. The dangerous chemicals used in fracking are known to cause life-threatening illnesses, including cancer.
In 2015, an EPA draft report revealed more than 150 instances of groundwater contamination due to shale drilling and fracking. Some residents in affected areas even reported being able to light their water on fire due to gas contamination.
There have been instances of fracking water trickling into pastures and streams. In Kentucky’s Acorn Fork Creek, waste water from neighboring sites virtually wiped out almost all aquatic life in parts of the fork. The dead fish were found with lesions on their gills and their livers and spleens badly damaged. The creek was formerly one of the cleanest in the country and billed an Outstanding State Resource Water asset. It is home to an endangered species of bird, the diminutive colorful minnow called blackside dace, which is protected under the the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
A particular method of fracking, called Marcellus Shale Drilling, creates brine in the millions of gallons of water that the process needs. Brine is a solution of salt or sodium chloride in water. The brine causes the creation of TDS (totally dissolved acids) which is perfect for the breeding of golden algae. It was such algae that accounted for the deaths of thousands of fish in Dunkard Creek, Pennsylvania.
Over the past decade, more than 350,000 acres of natural land have been damaged all over America by fracking activity. Whole ecosystems have perished in these places. Each fracking operation needs anywhere between 900 to 1,200 truckloads of materials. 30 acres of forest may also be cleared to make way for a drilling station. The Ohio Environmental Council has already reported disruption to the habits of birds and nocturnal animals caused by such activity.
In California, frenetic fracking activity can pose serious threats to the habitats of creatures like the endangered California condor, the blunt-nosed leopard lizard and the San Joaquin kit fox. Domestic animals like cats and dogs and even horses could come under threat.
On the heels of the Kentucky disaster, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has set the tone for offenders by imposing a penalty of $50,000 for violation of the ESA. There have been cries for even larger fines from conservationists.
While there have been increasing pressures by the fracking companies for new licenses, conservation organizations are urging the government to act soon and ban fracking in and around all wildlife zones. It is hoped that better sense will prevail and the government will act to protect humans, wildlife and ecosystems before it is too late.
Around half of the planet's population now lives in a city. The move towards urban living has increased city sizes tremendously with an enormous impact on ecosystems. Once wild landscapes have been transformed into urban centers, changing animal habitats both inside and outside the areas.
Animals in these areas have had to adapt. They have learned to create new homes within their artificial environments. They have also discovered new food sources, including waste created by humans. Food chains of numerous species have been altered.
Urban areas range from fully urban with little green space and mostly covered by paving or buildings, to suburban areas with gardens and parks. Different types of urban areas support different kinds of wildlife. Some animals find shelter in city parks, trees and water sources. Some live inside the city; others just outside the urban habitat.
Insects, reptiles and rodents make nests inside buildings in small gaps and crevices to find shelter from the elements and protection from predators. Birds nest on buildings. Some animals live under homes and buildings. Some make homes in city sewer systems.
Animals have cleverly adapted to their changing world. Some city animals have become nocturnal, using city lights to aid in finding prey. Feral dogs have learned to use subway systems. Urban monkeys and penguins raid human homes to take food. Some steal fruit from vendors. Older deer learn to look both ways before crossing streets. Birds flock to city centers to snack on the food dropped in the streets.
Numerous threats for urban animals include traffic, litter, pollution, noise pollution, bright lighting and lack of space.
It is important to reserve space within urban environments for wildlife, and to conserve natural environments outside cities.