Agricultural and industrial impacts on global ecosystems are now so severe that scientists have given it nomenclature, the Anthropocene Epoch.
One of the distinguishing markers of this new epoch is human-caused extinction rates 10,000 times faster than evolution.
Overhunting, overfishing, deforestation, climate change, pollution, habitat destruction and the introduction of competitive non-native species drive these extinctions.
It was not long ago that our oceans and rivers were so full of fish it was inconceivable that humanity could ever exhaust their numbers. Whales were so plentiful history recorded them as hazards to navigation; cod so bountiful the English referred to them as “British gold”, and rivers so swollen with salmon their biomass seemed unending.
Today industrial fishing has decimated 90 per cent of the large fish from our oceans and more than 50 per cent of our global fish come from aquaculture farms where anemic fish ingest antibiotics to survive disease and parasites.
Reflective of our throwaway culture is the annual killing of 75 million sharks, a critical apex species that writhes under the mutilator’s knife as callous hands remove their fins and toss their defunct bodies overboard, all to supply an Asian soup niche.
Massive draggers scour and destroy seabed communities only to discard most of the dead and dying catch as non-target. We dump trillions of gallons of untreated domestic, industrial, agricultural and pharmaceutical waste into our oceans and rivers because we refuse to pay for tertiary treatment or hold obscenely rich corporations accountable for their toxic discharges.
Bearing witness to our indifference to ecosystems is a Pacific Ocean that contains 48 times more plastic than life supporting phytoplankton.
The list of land-based species at risk is so incomprehensibly long (estimated at 200 species driven extinct daily), that we have had to compartmentalize them.
Biologists quantify and prioritize species into schedules, red-listed, blue-listed, at risk, endangered or extinct so they can focus inadequate funding on which species will live or die, like some kind of god squad triaging in the midst of an economic versus environmental battle where 50 per cent of the world’s animals are in decline and 25 per cent of the world’s mammals face extinction.
The tragic irony of human beings is that we introduced the concept of ethical conduct into how we should live with other species, yet we perpetrate disgraceful ecocidal behavior on them. Then we rationalize our behavior with delusional arrogance by creating tenets that presume all species are here for our use and then requisition science to predict, control and maintain it all.
We live in a paradox culture where economics exists on the destruction of ecologies, and ecologies allow economics to exist. We honour self-interest and exploitive short-term profit, pay lip service to natural justice, sustainability, and environmental ethics, and then anesthetize ourselves by disassociating from the present natural world, ignoring the future one, and focusing on what money can buy.
Evolution is subtle, conservative, brings cumulative change where selections such as extinctions occur over millennium; humankind is assertive, maladaptive, and brings extinctions within generations.
We have so rapidly overrun the planet we never took time to develop or engage a global environmental ethic, and that oversight is the legacy of loss we bequeath our descendants.
Retired Nanaimo resident Ron Heusen writes every second week. He can be reached through the News Bulletin at editor@nanaimo