Monday, May 14, 2012

Biodiversity news - it's not good

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has issued its 2012 Living Planet Report, and it's bleak. The report is a broad one, but its biodiversity section says the the average Earth environment has lost 30 percent of its diversity of animals, plants, etc. The decline is acute in  tropical species, with tropical biodiversity down by 60 percent since the 1970s.  (As to the overall report, Jim Leape, WWF International director general, summed it up by saying, "We are living as if we have an extra planet at our disposal." ) Some  13 million hectares of forest are lost each year: much of this land is is still plant-covered, bu the diversity of any forest replace with agriculture or tree farms is clearly going to drop off a cliff.
COMMENT: This doesn't mean we've lost 30% of our species: it means the diversity in any given area is down, which is bad enough.  Documented species extinctions average one species a year, although we're doubtless losing many more given the still-uncounted number of tropical insects occupying very small ranges. The WWF report recommends the usual - have rich countries reduce their footprints - but someone needs to take note of the fact that this has been recommended for decades, never adopted, and thus never going to be adopted, at least not as a stand-alone measure.  There's not enough attention given here to the need for specific technologies that let people make the best use of the resources they have  - Dean Kamen's combination Stirling-cycle heat engine/evaporator for producing electricity and water from cattle manure is an example.  (I was at a speech a couple months ago where Kamen described how he's planting these in developing nations using the infrastructure developed by Coca-Cola bottlers.  )
As C.P. Snow states in Two Cultures:

"The only weapon we have to oppose the bad effects of technology is technology itself. There is no other. We can't retreat into a nontechnological Eden which never existed... It is only by the rational use of technology -- to control and guide what technology is doing --that we can keep any hopes of a social life more desirable than our own; or in face of a social life which is not appalling to imagine." - C.P. Snow

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