…And wishing you all the best for 2013
Update: My BBC Radio 4 programme on the Anthropocene can be heard here:
London: I recently recorded a four-part radio series for BBC World Service about the Anthropocene, called The Age We Made. I spoke to lots of great scientists about the incredible changes we’re making to our planet, and how they will be recorded in the geological record for millions of years.
You can listen to the programmes here:
Ocean acidification and warming – both caused by the release of carbon dioxide when we burn fossil fuels – are threatening coral ecosystems around the world. I interviewed climatologist Ken Caldeira about the future of reefs for the BBC radio series The Age We Made, produced by Andrew Luck-Baker, who wrote this great post.
Only a short section of our conversation made it into the programme, but Ken had some really interesting things to say, so here’s a longer version of the interview.
In around 300 years time, 75% of all mammal species on Earth will have gone extinct. That’s the startling prediction if current rates of extinction continue and the animals already threatened or endangered are wiped out this century, according to Anthony Barnosky, a palaeobiologist at the University of California, Berkeley.
Barnosky studies biodiversity changes and extinction rates that occurred in the deep past, and compares them to trends happening now. Since life first evolved, billions of years ago, flourished, diversified and made our planet truly distinct from any other we’re aware of, there have been five mass extinctions. Each was triggered by a cataclysmic event and resulted in at least 75% of all species going extinct. The last of these occurred 65 million years ago, when a meteorite slammed into Earth, throwing up persistent clouds of debris that darkened the sky for years. The climate change that followed led to the extinction of the dinosaurs and three-quarters of all other animals.
Now, Barnosky calculates, humans are creating a mass extinction on the same scale – the planet’s sixth one – through a combination of habitat encroachment and fragmentation, hunting, climate change, pollution, and the spread of disease and introduced species. Some 30% of all species may be lost over the next four decades, conservationists estimate. Read more…
London: There have been a few times in the history of mankind when we nearly died out as a species. Anthropologists call these events ‘bottlenecks’, times when the population of humans shrank – perhaps to as few as 2000 people, some 50,000 years ago. At those levels, we would be categorised as an endangered species on the IUCN Red List, existing in even fewer numbers than wild tigers do today.
What our planet would look like now, if humans had gone extinct thousands of years ago? Earth would likely still be largely forested and roamed by large creatures, like mammoths and fearsome sabre-toothed tigers, as the planet headed slowly for the next ice age.
Perhaps a better question is: to what degree has the survival and triumph of our species changed our planet? From my desk, I see an entirely human world built of fashioned materials from glass to bricks. But we are not the only species to modify our environment – termites build towering castles in the sand and beavers deforest and divert rivers with their dams, for example. Tiny microorganisms such as bacteria and algae, arguably have the most profound effect on the planet’s environment, through their production of oxygen. So how do humans compare?
The best people to answer this could well be those with the grandest perspective. Read more…
Update (26 Sept): Anni Nasheed has returned to the Maldives capital Malé and has been put on island arrest, meaning he is forbidden to leave the 2 km2 island. He’s ordered to attend court on Monday for what democracy supporters say will be an unfair trial.
London: 2012 has not been a good year for President Mohamed (Anni) Nasheed of the Maldives. Anni took office in 2008, the country’s first democratically elected president, ending Maumoon Gayoom’s 30-year oppressive dictatorship. In a little over three years, Anni had made good on his promise to invest in people, bringing about social change and democratic reforms. He introduced healthcare, pensions and education improvements.
Perhaps most famously, Anni became an international champion of the environment, protecting marine species and campaigning for action on climate change. When I visited him at home in the early months of his presidency, he talked about the urgent risks of sea level rise – Maldives is one of the world’s lowest islands – and his plan for a sovereign fund to help nationals migrate elsewhere when their country became inundated. And he discussed his ambition to make the country carbon neutral by 2020. Read more…