Extinctions, etc.

This being the start of a new year, Auntie Ruth thought she’d consult the experts and make a list of the planet’s worst ongoing environmental disasters. Nearly everyone is aware that anthropogenic global warming is near the top of the list, but what else ails us? Plenty, it turns out. Perhaps the most frightening thing your Ruthness encountered is what’s called the Holocene extinction event, which enviro-journalist Curtis Spring at www.rapingmothernature.com ranks above climate change in terms of the threat it presents. Says Spring: “If you wept for the noble dodo, you’ll appreciate knowing that up to 140,000 different species are now going extinct every year—a rate 100 to 1,000 times greater than the average extinction rates throughout Earth’s history.” Put another way, that’s one species every three hours. Kind of makes Auntie wonder when our number is gonna be up.

It’ll probably be pretty soon, if the condition of the planet’s oceans are any indication. The Natural Resources Defense Council notes that due to overfishing, “90 percent of large fish such as tuna and swordfish are already gone.” There are six species of sea turtle in U.S. waters, and all of them are endangered. Nor is overfishing the only thing threatening our oceans. Thanks to those same industrial emissions that are believed to cause global warming, seawater has become more acidic, reducing the amount of calcium available for coral, crustaceans and mollusks to form protective coverings. This in turn threatens the ecosystem’s entire food chain.

With all the focus on climate change in recent years, it’s been easy to overlook the many challenges facing us on the environmental front. Remember that hole in the ozone layer caused by the unlimited use of chlorofluorocarbons? Not good, considering ozone absorbs 95 percent of the sun’s high-frequency ultraviolet light. The 1987 Montreal Protocol, which initiated a worldwide phase-out of CFCs worldwide, was supposed to plug the hole, right? Wrong! It turns out there’s still a hole growing in the ozone layer, it’s just not growing as fast. The list goes on: soil contamination, groundwater pollution, radioactive waste. Considering the world can’t come to an agreement about carbon emissions, the knowledge that we have so many other major problems to address is a cold comfort.