How rising temperatures will affect us

Antarctic6 According to the Climate and Development Knowledge Network (CDKN), atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations are now at 400 parts per million (ppm) and scientists have estimated that keeping the mean temperature rise between 2 degrees centigrade and 2.8 degrees centigrade will require the stabilisation of atmospheric carbon dioxide at between 445 ppm and 490 ppm.

Although still catastrophic for vast numbers of people, fauna and flora species and marine and terrestrial ecosystems around the world, it is hoped that this limit will keep the global climate from crossing a dangerous threshold.

Antarctic10In terms of warming, margins are very small – the difference between a warm temperate interglacial such as we are living in now and an Ice Age is only about three degrees centigrade. And an average of just nine degrees centigrade separates the mean temperature of today from the very coldest points of both the last Ice Age and the penultimate Ice Age.

What would a seemingly small increase of “degree days” mean for us, keeping in mind that the danger lies not in a 2°C increase but in the cumulative effect of 365 days at an increase of 2°C?

At 1°C of warming there will be changes in global ecology and changed weather patterns, with droughts in some parts of the world and severe winter blizzards in others. There will be changed agricultural zones and changes in vector ecologies with a recombination of microbes.

At 2°C of warming (which we are committed to regardless of current mitigation measures) we will have reached the point at which some of the larger human impacts and critical positive feedback loops are expected to begin with the crossing of thresholds or tipping points.

At 3°C of warming which is five times the warming of today climatic zones will move rapidly with species’ dislocations of connection and catastrophic weather extremes as the global weather machine adjusts to “boundary conditions”.

4 or more degrees centigrade of warming is beyond imagining …

Rethinking five erroneous paradigms

Garieb Dam South AfricaIf we are to use what the Earth is able to provide in terms of resources, more efficiently. If we are to distribute these resources in a fairer way so that everyone has their fair share, without some having too much and others too little. If we are to reduce our consumption of these resources to levels that the Earth is able to sustain now and into the future. If we are to prevent waste generated by a throwaway mentality from choking us. If we are to slow population growth to numbers that will not tip us into an overpopulated abyss – then it is vitally important that certain fundamental shifts take place in our collective thinking. These five paradigms are some of the most erroneous of our time:

There’s always more where that came from – This paradigm takes the viewpoint that nature is infinite; that nature is there to serve us; that disposability and planned obsolescence equal profitably; that constant growth and demand are positive forces; and that environmentally damaging practices are justified in order to drive the world economy. On our people-abundant but resource-scarce planet this is patently no longer the case as there is simply no longer “more where that came from!”

I’m all right, Jack – This paradigm takes the emphasis from the good of the collective and replaces it with that of the individual, a perspective which has meant that greed, corruption and short-sighted self-interest have virtually guaranteed ecological and social bankruptcy in many parts of the globe. As we progress further into the 21st Century, with inequality and ecological bankruptcy as powerful destabilizing forces, it is glaringly obvious that unless we change this thinking, none of us will be all right Jack.

Rhino2Might is Right – This paradigm maintains that power, affluence and position, once cast-iron protectors, provide entitlement for the powerful, wealthy and high-born or highly-positioned. But how will power buy clean air once the planet’s atmosphere has become too poisoned to breathe? How will wealth purchase water if all the rivers have run dry? How will position restore forests, wetlands and polar ice-sheets that have disappeared forever? How will status bring back species that have become extinct? How will might guarantee a safe future with a catastrophically changed global climate? We are part of a massively changing population on a massively changing planet, and might can never again be right.

Don’t worry we’re in control – This mindset maintains the illusion that we have control over our environment, when, in fact, planetary forces have control over us. Powerful magnetic storms that knock out global communication systems; earthquakes that crack open the Earth destroying roads, bridges and buildings; mudslides that slice off sides of mountains; avalanches that envelop everything in their downhill rush; tsunami waves that race along the surface of the ocean to crash onto the shore – these are dramatic reminders that we are but travelers in time and space, guests of the planet Earth and not its masters.

If it doesn’t work out we can always leave – This paradigm presupposes that there is somewhere else to go if things on the planet don’t work out. Well, until we have learnt how to inhabit other terrestrial bodies, the truth is that there is nowhere else to go. This is it. This is all we have for now. Earth is home. For good or bad we are all on this Earth together.

Our challenge this century will be to replace these erroneous paradigms with thinking that is appropriate to our current circumstances and burgeoning numbers on an increasingly constrained planet. Are we up to this challenge? I believe we are.

Why a turtle release is a victory for us all

Living as I do in South Africa with its horrendous daily statistics of rhino, elephant and other wildlife slaughter, it has become very clear to me that there is a mighty tussle going on for the planet’s last remaining wildlife.

On the one hand there are those with no compunction about slaughtering different species, and I am not necessarily referring to hungry villagers or shady gangs of poachers here, but (dammit!!) educated people who should know better. And on the other hand there are those who are trying their utmost to conserve the little wildlife there still is. This, for me, represents both the worst and best of the human race. So why should a turtle release be a victory for us all?turtle release 2

Life on land is dependent on life in the ocean, yet only in our time have we begun to understand its importance or to extrapolate that what happens in the ocean directly affects us on land. This awareness, however, has done little to prevent “sea blindness” which has meant that submerged, out-of-sight marine habitats have largely been out of the public’s mind. Also, a “charisma gap” has meant that many marine creatures, lacking the appeal of their terrestrial counterparts, have been overexploited to the point of extinction – extinction having reached an unprecedented rate with barely a whisper of public outrage.

#marine #conservationRehabilitating a tiny sea turtle hatchling, a sub-adult like Bob, or an adult turtle found stranded or washed up on a Cape Town beach, weak, cold, hurt and dehydrated, represents months of intensive care and careful monitoring.

Their release at the end of this lengthy process also represents a major commitment as the turtles have to be transported and released in the warm Indian Ocean on the other side of South Africa, which requires a coordinated effort between the Two Oceans Aquarium in Cape Town and the uShaka Marine World in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal.

That so much care and effort is expended on taking care of and releasing a shy, gentle marine species verging on the edge of extinction, speaks volumes about the tussle that is consuming our planet. As a demonstration of hope and the best of humankind, it represents a victory for us all!!

(Photographs by courtesy of the Two Oceans Aquarium, Cape Town)

How I met sea turtle Bob

DSC_0698I had never seen a sea turtle up close before as they swim in warm, temperate waters like the Indian Ocean off the eastern seaboard of South Africa and I live in the Western Cape with its cold, stormy Atlantic Ocean. Sea turtles are also not a showy marine species like the mighty whales that visit our area, so my experience of them was nil and my understanding limited at best.

However, when I met gentle Bob, a green turtle being rehabilitated at the Two Oceans Aquarium at the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town, I felt an instant empathy for him and others of his species. His plight touched me deeply as his story seemed symbolic of so much of the world’s marine and terrestrial life.

Bob was found washed up on a Cape beach, cold, weak and dehydrated. He had been badly hurt on his bottom shell. He seemed to be blind. And he had ingested a quantity of deflated balloons and other bits of plastic. In fact Bob was on the point of being euthanased.

He has required months of intensive care from the Two Oceans’ dedicated team of aquarists and veterinary surgeon in the form of tube feeding, antibiotics, daily wound care and fluid intake and his recovery has been an up and down process. But he has now gained weight and has been moved into a pool permanently. Things are looking up for Bob and the day I met him he seemed to have almost fully recovered.

DSC_0736 As living dinosaurs, sea turtles have been swimming in the planet’s ocean for some 100 million years, having survived at least one mass extinction. Now, however, all seven sea turtle species are threatened with extinction. How unbelievably wonderful it would be if through a massive worldwide conservation effort we could once again have turtles swimming freely and numerously in the global ocean?

How to turn the tide on ocean trash

DSC_0905Did you know that 5.25 trillion pieces of trash, 269 000 tonnes, are distributed across the global ocean? Much of this marine debris is composed of everyday items like flip-flops, bottles, caps, cigarette lighters, yogurt cups, food trays, cling foil, plastic bags, tin foil, bits of beach ball, deflated balloons, fruit and veg carrier bags, strapping and old fishing gear – unfortunately a lot of what makes up beach litter is also what makes a picnic, day at the beach or fishing trip so enjoyable. However, a day’s garbage needn’t stay on the beach after we have left it! With just a little bit of thought and a whole LOT of caring we can leave the beach as clean as we hopefully found it!!

So what can we do to turn the tide on ocean trash? For starters after spending a day at the beach we can use refuse bins to deposit our litter or take every single piece of garbage home with us, no matter how small. This includes bits of deflated balloon; broken fishing line or fishing reels; bits of food containers; cigarette butts etc. Remember to leave only footprints and take only photographs!!

DSC_0459A great idea is to start an Adopt-a-Beach programme at a local school or in your community with regular beach clean-ups. Organise educational programmes that involve school children so they can learn the importance of not littering and create or support art initiatives that use recycled plastic items. These are just some ideas to start with. I’m sure you have others. The ocean and wonderful sea creatures like sea turtle, Bob, will thank you! I will too!!

Why saving sea turtle Bob is so important

DSC_0703Last week I attended the Second African Marine Debris Summit, which although focused primarily on the African pollution problem, provided valuable insights into waste on a global scale. Serious and sobering statistics were bandied about such as the 30 to 40 billion tonnes (one million tonnes every 15 minutes) of waste produced annually on a worldwide scale, beaches being major plastics and other waste sinks.

But what particularly struck me (and brought tears to my eyes), was a presentation about the rehabilitation of turtles like gentle Bob, a green turtle rescued by the Two Oceans Aquarium in Cape Town, who had ingested a large amount of plastic and deflated balloons, as Bob’s story “humanised” the whole awful garbage debacle.

Of the world’s seven sea turtle species, two are vulnerable, two are endangered, two are critically endangered and one is data deficient, which means that there is not enough data to provide an accurate picture of its status.

baby turtleWithin just three generations there has been an overall decline of over 80% in sea turtle populations due to factors like beach pollution and the catching of turtles as by-catch. According to Helen Lockhart, Communications and Sustainability Manager of the Two Oceans Aquarium, only one in 1000 hatchlings will survive to adulthood, which makes each one of these little chaps incredibly important.

Sea turtles play a valuable role in two important ecosystems, the beach or dune system and the marine system, wherein they maintain the health of sea-grass beds and coral reefs, benefiting commercial fisheries like shrimp, lobster and tuna. Because turtle nestings deliver nutrients to beaches, they also help terrestrial vegetation growth, limiting erosion.

For the sake of gentle Bob and other marine creatures we must take better care of our marine environment, for without a healthy ocean there will be no life on land.

What you can do for the ocean on World Oceans Day

On World Oceans Day, this is what you can do to help preserve the marine environment:

DSC_0708• Join environmental groups that will give voice to your particular concerns.
• Consider the environmental impact of each of your lifestyle choices.
• Do everything possible to reduce your carbon footprint.
• Try and limit your car journeys and/or join a car pool.
• Switch to cleaner technologies such as hybrid vehicles and solar energy.
• Products don’t litter, people do. Beach litter spoils beaches and finds its way into the sea to kill sea creatures. Use litterbins or take litter home with you.
• Don’t carelessly discard cigarette butts. Besides potentially starting fires they are not biodegradable as the filters are made of a type of acetate that never fully breaks down.
• The largest component of waste is organic matter. Start a compost heap.
• Plant trees to improve air quality and reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which would otherwise be taken up by the ocean, the planet’s carbon sink.
• Help in the restoration of wetlands as they act as natural traps for nutrients like nitrogen, which they sponge up before it can damage aquatic systems.
• Use environmentally sensitive cleaning products, buy in bulk, use concentrates and opt for refill packs that use up to 70% less packaging material.
DSC_0731• Between 500 billion and a trillion plastic bags are consumed worldwide each year with less than 1% of the bags being recycled. Plastic bags are made from both high-density (HDPE) and low-density (LDPE) polyethylene, a thermoplastic made from oil that photodegrades over time breaking down into smaller, more toxic petro-polymers that eventually contaminate soils and waterways and find their way into the ocean. One cloth bag saves six plastic bags a week, 24 a month, 288 bags and year and 22 176 bags in an average lifetime. By using cloth shopping bags you will help to reduce foreign oil dependency, while reducing litter and the amount of plastic bags in our landfills. Ingested plastic causes bowel obstructions, leading to fatalities in whales, birds and sea turtles.
• 35% of the world’s food ends up in landfills which is a shocking waste. Buy what you need and use what you buy.
• Throw less away by re-using household items e.g. plastic bags can be used as bin liners, plastic food containers as seed trays, plastic ice-cream containers as freezer and/or storage containers and soft drink bottles as portable water bottles for the car or at the beach.
DSC_0752• By recycling just one plastic bottle you can save enough energy to power a 60W light bulb for six hours. By recycling one soft drinks can you can save enough energy to run a television set for three hours and by producing glass from recycled glass, air pollution can be reduced by 20% and related water pollution by 50%. Drop recyclable items like soft drink cans, plastic bottles, glass bottles and waste paper off at supermarket collection points, municipal garden drop-off sites and charities’ paper banks. Also make use of kerbside collection services.
• When buying personal or corporate gifts support waste art initiatives and waste craft outlets. And avoid buying non-essential party items like balloons, drinking straws etc as these plastic items find their way into the ocean, causing blockages in the digestive systems of sea creatures, killing them – one 66g sea turtle hatchling was found with 1 gram of plastic in its gut!
• Become creative when wrapping gifts by making use of outdated calendars, discarded magazines, brown paper and read newspapers. Tie parcels with biodegradable string.
• Substitute reusable items for single use products. By using washable cotton swabs in the kitchen for example, instead of paper towels, some 27 million trees can be saved each year.
• Start an office recycling initiative by providing staff members with separate containers for office paper, cardboard, glass, cans and plastics bottles, as well as cartridges and electronic waste. Make use of office paper pick-up programmes.
DSC_0968• In the office make double-sided copies, use email for memos and other inter-office communications and use shredded paper for packing material.
• In terms of e-Waste buy electronics that are rechargeable.
• Buy energy-saving electronic devices e.g. LCD television sets use less energy than plasmas.
• When electronic devices are not in use pull plugs out or put electronics and chargers on a power strip, simply flipping the power strip off when the electronics are not in use.
• Make use of collection points for items like compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) as they contain an average of 4mg of mercury sealed within the glass tubing that would be released to the environment in a landfill or find its way into the ocean.
• Make use of supplier take-back programmes for unwanted equipment.
• Donate old electronics to organisations and charities that will recycle and reuse them.

How our urban footprint is changing the planet

DSC_0525We all know that there have never been as many people on the planet as there are now, but here are some mind-boggling statistics to put our numbers into perspective:

In the 17th Century there were half-a-billion people. By the beginning of the 19th Century this figure had doubled to one billion. By 1940 there were three billion people and at the end of the last century, despite the attrition of a world war and a number of regional conflicts, there were six billion people. Every year we are adding 80 million people to the global population, the equivalent of 10 New York cities, which by 2030 is likely to take us to almost eight-and-a-half billion people. And by the half-century, within just two generations, there could be nearly 10 billion people on the planet.

DSC_0418Until the modern era, less than 3% of the world’s population lived in communities of 5000 people. However, in 2008 the global urban population exceeded the rural one for the first time in history and today half of the world’s people live in urban areas with nearly one-quarter living within 100 km of the coast and 13% living less than 10 metres above sea level.

By 2025 the number of urban dwellers is expected to increase to 60% or five billion people and by 2050, 70% of the global population will be urbanised, most of the urban demographic transformation taking place in Asia and Africa (by 2050 one-third of all urban dwellers will be concentrated in Asia.) An estimated 62% of new development will consist of slums. Such wholesale urbanisation will drastically alter the world’s physical landscape, with new cities being spawned and older ones abandoned. Urban land-use and land-cover changes will also have considerable impacts on climate brought about through phenomena such as the urban heat island effect.

DSC_0999Unless we take care to preserve terrestrial and marine environments our children’s children could have an “extinction of experience”, meaning that tomorrow’s children could be denied the wonder of connecting to and interacting with the natural world. This disconnection would render future generations increasingly out of touch with what is wild and free.