Did you know?

(Plagiarism alert! I’ve mostly just copied and pasted bits from articles, and arranged things so they’re not in random order. What I want to get across is the speed of change. Most of this stuff has happened over just the past 50 years or so. It’s pretty obvious things can’t continue this way, whether we’d like them to or not, and regardless of political leanings.)

Last updated: December 2019


Biodiversity is the infrastructure that supports all life on Earth, a prerequisite for human society to exist. (WWF)

  • Extinctions are now about 1,000 times more frequent than the natural background rate. The main causes are habitat loss and over-exploitation. (Brown University, WWF)
  • The years 1970 to 2014 saw an overall decline of 60 percent in the population sizes of vertebrates: mammals, birds, fish, reptiles, and amphibians. That's an average drop of well over half in less than 50 years. (WWF, Condé Nast)
  • By weight, 96 percent of Earth's mammal biomass consists of humans and livestock; just 4 percent is wild. (NY Times)
  • Only 25 percent of land on Earth is substantively free of the impacts of human activities; this is projected to decline to 10 percent by 2050. (Condé Nast)
  • Insect numbers are declining worldwide. A 2018 study in Puerto Rico reported a decline in arthropod biomass of between 98 percent and 78 percent for ground-foraging and canopy-dwelling arthropods over a 36-year period. Meanwhile, the overall abundance of flying insects in German nature reserves has decreased by 75 percent over 27 years. (The Guardian, BBC, Wikipedia, NY Times)
  • The majority of flowering plants are pollinated by insects and other animals. The proportion of animal-pollinated wild plant species rises from an average of 78 percent in temperate zones to 94 percent in tropical regions. (WWF)
  • Due to the insect decline, half of all farmland birds in Europe have disappeared over the past three decades. (NY Times)
  • In North America there's been a 30 percent drop in bird numbers over the past 50 years. (CBC)
  • Phytoplankton serve as a major carbon sink, and are responsible for at least half of the Earth's oxygen production. Phytoplankton are also the base of the food web; all sea life depends on it. The global population of phytoplankton has fallen by about 40 percent since 1950, due to rising sea temperatures. (Scientific American)
  • Over the past 50 years, oxygen levels in the ocean have declined by 2 percent. (NY Times)
  • As the ocean warms, its oxygen levels will continue to drop. The consequences for life — especially marine life in the cooler parts of the ocean — will be disastrous. (NY Times)
  • Fertilizer runoff and fossil-fuel use have led to massive areas in the ocean with scant or no oxygen. (Scientific American)
  • The pH of the oceans is declining due to uptake of atmospheric CO2. As a result, structures made of calcium carbonate are vulnerable to dissolution. Sea creatures rely on calcium for shells, bones, and other structures. (Wikipedia, Scientific American)
  • The Earth has lost an estimated 50 percent of its shallow water corals in the past 30 years. Nearly 200 million people depend on coral reefs for protection against storm surge and waves. (Condé Nast, WWF)
  • Here in New Zealand, 72 percent of native fish are currently at risk of, or threatened with, extinction. (Stuff)

Scientists have begun to speak of functional extinction. Functionally extinct animals and plants are still present but no longer prevalent enough to affect how an ecosystem works. The more interactions are lost, the more disordered the ecosystem becomes. A 2013 paper in Nature suggested that a loss of even 30 percent of a species' abundance can be so destabilizing that other species start going fully, numerically extinct — in fact, 80 percent of the time it was a secondarily affected creature that was the first to disappear. (NY Times)

Water and food security

  • More than 75 percent of leading global food crops are pollinated by insects and other animals. Their populations are in sharp decline. (WWF)
  • Although research has shown that increased levels of CO2 could boost some vegetable and legume yields, research also shows that any benefits would be offset by the negative effects of increased ozone, less water availability, and increased salinity. (insideclimatenews)
  • Without efforts to reduce emissions, lack of water and increased ozone could cut yields of vegetables by about 35 percent in the second half of this century. (insideclimatenews)
  • Higher CO2 also results in less pest-resistant, less nutritious crops. In the second half of the century, 2 billion people could be at risk of zinc, iron, and protein deficiency. (National Geographic, NY Times)
  • Melting glaciers mean — eventually — drying rivers, leaving a significant portion of humanity with less water, less food, and more conflict by mid-century. This is already contributing to tension between nuclear-armed India and Pakistan. (Foreign Policy)
  • Climate change is increasing the frequency of significant crop failures around the world. The chances of the top-producing regions suffering extreme yield losses at the same time is rising, too. (insideclimatenews)
  • Several Northern European countries suffered losses of up to 50 percent in some crops in 2018. Germany is the biggest European producer of potatoes — its harvest was down a quarter in 2018. A major UN report warned that climate breakdown and exploitation of land and water resources are putting dire pressure on the ability of humanity to feed itself. NASA senior research scientist Cynthia Rosenzweig says that “the potential risk of multi-breadbasket failure is increasing”, and that food crises could develop on several continents at once. 17 countries around the world — home to a quarter of the Earth's population and growing many of our crops — are already using almost all the water they have. Shrinking water supplies will tip areas supporting millions of people over the edge. (Extinction Rebellion, NY Times)
  • 77 percent of the UK's fruit and vegetables are imported, but the UK government has no contingency plan. (Wicked Leeks, Extinction Rebellion, parliament.uk)
  • A third of the planet's land is severely degraded, and fertile soil is being lost at the rate of 24 billion tonnes a year. Heavy tilling, multiple harvests, agrochemicals, and industrial farming have increased yields at the expense of long-term sustainability. These practices diminish fertility, and can lead to abandonment and desertification. (The Guardian)

Climate change

  • The global climate is now experiencing disruption caused by fossil fuel use up until around 1990. Due to thermal inertia, there's a lag-time of 30 to 40 years before effects are felt. (Skeptical Science)
  • It follows that if we stop burning fossil fuels tomorrow, we still have 30 to 40 more years of additional heating and climate disruption before things stop worsening. (That's without taking geoengineering or possible tipping points into account.)
  • As an example of climate disruption, stalled weather systems due to jet stream changes have already resulted in floods, heat-waves, droughts, and crop-losses. (National Geographic)
  • Most of humanity's greenhouse gas emissions have occurred recently — about 85 percent since World War II, and over half since 1989. (Stuff)
  • CO2 released into the atmosphere can remain there for thousands of years. (Wikipedia)
  • Global energy growth is outpacing decarbonization. That is, greenhouse gas emissions are increasing, not decreasing. The amount of CO2 going into the atmosphere between 2015 and 2019 grew by 20 percent compared with the previous five years. (BBC, Stanford Professor Rob Jackson, The Hindu, The Guardian)
  • The conservative and “politically acceptable” IPCC reports, which governments base climate policy on, depend on large-scale geoengineering. To meet Paris Agreement targets of 1.5°C and 2°C, IPCC calculations assume practical Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) technologies will be developed in time, able to extract tens of gigatonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere each year and store it underground. (The Bulletin)
  • There is no guarantee, and no solid evidence, that this technology will be successfully developed and implemented at the required scale. Such an undertaking would be triple the size of the entire current fossil fuel industry, with at least one new CCS plant having to be completed each working day for the next 70 years. (The Bulletin)
  • Without CCS (but with other emission mitigation policies in place — i.e., not “Business As Usual”), we have a 50 percent chance of exceeding 3.2°C and a 5 percent chance of exceeding 4.9°C by 2100. There's a 5 percent chance of keeping below the 2°C Paris target. (Nature, climatetippingpoints)
  • If we add the most likely tipping points, we have a 50 percent chance of exceeding 4.1°C, and a 5 percent chance of exceeding 6.5°C. (PNAS, EnergyMix)
  • A temperature rise of 1.5°C and up has been described as dangerous; 3°C and up as catastrophic; and 5°C and over as unknown, implying beyond catastrophic. Professor Kevin Anderson describes a rise of 4°C as “incompatible with an organized global community, […] likely to be beyond 'adaptation', […] devastating to the majority of ecosystems, and [as having] a high probability of not being stable”. (PNAS, Grist)

Unless it's focused on rapid de-growth, a “Green New Deal” will exacerbate an already existing crisis of over-extraction. Mining has become one of the biggest single drivers of deforestation, ecosystem collapse, and biodiversity loss around the world. Ecologists estimate that even at present rates of global material use, we are overshooting sustainable levels by 82 percent. (Foreign Policy)

Tipping points

  • As the Amazon jungle (an important carbon-sink) shrinks, it will eventually be unable to maintain its rainforest climate. Degrading to drier savannah, it will release billions of tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere. (The Guardian)
  • Melting Arctic permafrost releases methane. Current research suggests a gradual release rather than a sudden one, with up to around 160 gigatonnes released by 2100 on our current trajectory. This would add up to about 0.25°C of heating. (climatetippingpoints)
  • FIXME: Seafloor warming = methane release (uncertain amount, hopefully slow) (phys.org)
  • The Arctic summer will likely be ice-free not long after 2030. Dark water in place of reflective ice will result in increased regional warming. (Earth and Space Science News, climatetippingpoints)
  • Rising sea levels could become overwhelming sooner than previously believed. Run-off from accelerating ice melt in Greenland is increasing exponentially. (The Guardian)
  • A 2019 study suggests that if atmospheric CO2 reaches around 1,200 ppm, stratocumulus clouds will no longer be able to form. These clouds help radiate heat back out into space. Their loss could result in an 8°C jump. (Washington Post)

Miscellaneous annoyances

  • Unless it's focused on rapid de-growth, a “Green New Deal” will exacerbate an already existing crisis of over-extraction. (Foreign Policy)
  • In other words, the benefits of technology are outweighed by how much the gains reinforce the existing, over-burdened system — making collapse even more likely. (SESYNC)
  • Half of all plastics ever manufactured were made in the last 13 years. (The Atlantic)
  • It's projected that we'll be manufacturing four times as much plastic waste in 2050 as we did in 2017. (Science Mag)
  • Electric cars are only about 18 percent better in terms of their total carbon footprint than fossil fuel powered cars. (The Conversation)

What to do?

Why is the impending end of most life on Earth almost ignored in the news media? And what should we do? - Stuart Scott

  • Decades of placards and marches haven’t been enough to turn things around. It’s time for civil disobedience and Non-Violent Direct Action (NVDA). Watch this Roger Hallam workshop on NVDA.
  • Work to empower local indigenous people. Colonialism (past and present) is a huge part of what’s gone wrong.
  • Read XR co-founder Stuart Basden's article, Extinction Rebellion isn't about the Climate.
  • Get out and actively support groups like Extinction Rebellion, School Strike 4 Climate, the Sunrise Movement, and Earth Strike.
  • Get involved with local wildlife restoration projects.
  • Vote in local elections. (Whether you're an anarchist or not. Anarchism is about acting responsibly with the hand you're dealt.) Don't vote for politicians or parties who put short-term profit over long-term wellbeing.
  • If you're a Westerner: Since we use vastly/unfairly more resources than anyone else, please consider having fewer kids, or adopting or fostering someone who needs someone. (I’ve decided not to ever be a biological dad, but I am lucky enough to be a step-dad.)

One may well ask: How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others? The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that an unjust law is no law at all. — Martin Luther King, Jr.


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