Destruction of habitat is today's biggest problem

Destruction of habitat is the most pressing problem of today. This fact is so well known that I will offer the briefest of summaries.

In the last 150 years, over 2 billion acres of forest have been destroyed by man, and destruction continues at the rate of 200,000 acres per day. Destruction of forest has several adverse consequences: reduced rainfall, soil erosion, increased CO2 and reduced biodiversity.

During the industrial age average ocean pH has decreased from 8.2 to 8.1; it is projected to fall to 8.0 in less than 30 years and as low as 7.8 by the end of the century. This acidity is due to ocean absorption of CO2. Many marine organisms are very sensitive to pH level; very serious degradation has already been observed for creatures with calcareous shells like the ecologically important Foraminifera, and some orders of mollusk. (A pH drop from 8.2 to 8.1 may seem small, but pH is on a logarithmic scale.)

About 20% of the ocean’s coral reefs have already been destroyed by man’s activities, and destruction continues. Coral atolls play a very important role in ocean ecology.

Fresh-water and wetland habitats have also been degraded.

Much habitat destruction is done to feed man, or to feed man’s preferred food sources like cattle. In addition to ecological damage incidental to man’s industrial and agricultural activities, some derives from deliberate “man is smarter than nature” activities. Proprietary seedless plants are sold that are immune to proprietary herbicides. Artificial beehive methods have led to an unexplained honeybee disease. Like lemmings, who don’t know their numbers are excessive until they plunge off a cliff, man’s politicians often call for higher birthrates, the opposite of what’s needed.

Instead of “endangered species” we should now speak of endangered orders and classes. In addition to those already mentioned (coral, foraminifers, mollusks) other major life groups have problems, e.g. amphibians. Jurassic Park is just fiction: Lost life forms are lost forever.

I don’t want this thread to become just another AGW thread, but climate warming is both a cause and an effect of habitat destruction. Moreover, much economic activity criticized for greenhouse-gas production, could be criticized on other ecological grounds; examples include deforestation and much petroleum production.

I am not a climatologist or biologist; however it is impossible for a well-informed layman to be unaware of the problems I’ve outlined; it seems inexplicable that someone would regard these problems as unimportant, except perhaps for the Bushist or Palinist fringe who regard Man’s abuse of the Earth as a God-given right, and projections to our grandchildren’s time as irrelevant since “we’re approaching the Final Days.”

To me, climate change is just one of a group of problems that can be summarized as Habitat Destruction. Yes, I do get “snarky” when important threads get diverted by AGW quibbling. For heaven’s sake, habitat destruction is real even for those who pretend AGW isn’t!

(I hope I posted this in the right forum.
GQ seemed wrong: I’m not asking if Habitat Destruction is a real problem: I know it is.
IMHO seemed wrong: This isn’t just my opinion: I hoped it’s shared by most Dopers, even “right-wingers.”
GD may be right, the debate being about how we can address these problems before it’s too late.)

I agree. If those who never took chemistry deny global warming, it doesn’t change the real & obvious environmental issues we face. And too many now think it’s enough to be “carbon neutral.” Gag.

I’m delighted to see a post expressing concern about habitat destruction.

The single most significant underlying cause is too damn many people, a problem often overlooked and overwhelmed by the concern about AGW.

Unfortunately, population control is not politically palatable as a topic, and basically garners no interest. As I’ve pointed out elsewhere we could find a perfect energy source with no side effects and no waste and the only result would be to make it even easier to overrun the earth with…us.

Habitat destruction is inevitable and inexorable just to keep us fed. Like AGW, it’s root cause is too large of a population to sustain.

As I’ve suggested elsewhere, worrying about AGW as a hurt on the earth is like worrying about the sea lapping at the cliffshore of your ocean home while the house itself is on fire Right Now. The fire is overpopulation.

According to your 200,000 acres per day figure, a forested land mass the size of Texas is destroyed ever 2.35 years. Sorry, I’m calling BS on those figures

It was an exchange with you that prompted me to start the thread. My frustration over this issue led to my getting “snarky;” was then surprised to see we were in fundamental agreement. I avoided emphasizing overpopulation in this thread to avoid “derailment.”

I did double-check the figure, but should perhaps have triple-checked. From a site on deforestation one sees 7.3 Mha per year net; that’s 18.1 M acres per year, or “only” 50,000 acres per day. So it will take 9.4 years to lose forest the size of Texas. (Sorry, but I did not intend to deceive. At the cite above one sees China with huge positive forest growth; perhaps the higher figure arose when reforestation was not included to offset.)

I agree with the OP. Unfortunately, for some reason, a lot of people get irrationally angry at the slightest suggestion that there being too many of us on this rock is causing any problem whatsoever. At our current population, food production is already unsustainable. Think about that for a minute. Think about the the word unsustainable (“can’t go on forever”), and the fact that it’s not a state that some people think we’ll reach at some abstract future date. It’s a state we’re already in. Something will give eventually, and the more people there are when it does, the more suffering and untimely deaths there will be.

Now imagine an additional two or three billion humans in the coming decades. Those new humans will need food, shelter, energy, healthcare. All of those many billions of humans will want things above sustenance, such as vehicles, communication devices, other luxuries. If you think habitats are stressed now, add a few billion humans seeking a Western lifestyle.

What are we at now, 6.8 billion humans? With current technology, there would be plenty of everything for 2 to 3 billion humans.

It’s not even the coming peeps, projected (probably optimistically) to top out around 9+ Billion later in the century.

It’s the underdeveloped current masses, working hard to get developed now. So depending on what numbers you like, consider the problem even from an AGW perspective: I, as an American, produce 20 tons of CO2/yr. Mr Gore, a bit more. The Tanzanian, a few hundred pounds. To get his country developed, there’s no way we can get him Stuff without radically bumping his CO2 per capita–far in excess of any ability to get me and Al Gore to diminish ours. Tata Nanos for every Indian household, and so on…

Oh yeah–one more point: The general theory on the part of yer average liberal-re-population-control is that we get the developing world rich so they’ll stop reproducing, the way the Western world has stopped reproducing now that we are rich. But uh…“rich” is just a nice way of saying “I have lots of stuff and I live good.” And that’s another way of saying “My carbon footprint is Huge.” So we are going to get them to a point of population control by further consuming the earth.

Too many peeps. And probably too late to do much about it. Just because I see the problem doesn’t mean I have a good solution. It appears to me that we as a species have won the invasiveness and pervasiveness contest, and until the Big Catastrophe shows up to bump back our numbers significantly, habitat and the ecosystem as it used to be are going to lose.

But, alas: AGW is the News of the Day. Any practical threads about ecosystems and overpopulation and so on never get anywhere. And won’t unless we can get them to Great Cause status somehow.

I completely agree. Focusing on individual species is losing sight of the big picture. We need to look at establishing an “endangered ecosystem” status. Too much has been irretrievably lost already.

I have known otherwise intelligent and well-read people say things to the effect that “we can’t afford to be sustainable” – they don’t seem to be thinking these things through. What’s the alternative to being sustainable? "Unsustainable" means “not able to be sustained”. That is what we truly cannot afford. People who say “the planet won’t be destroyed, nature will always bounce back, evolution will go on”, etc. (things I’ve also heard ad nauseum) don’t seem to realise (or care about?) the vast amount of suffering and death and the end of the world as we now know it that nevertheless occurs from our way of life not being sustainable - literally not able to be sustained.

Sure, humanity will likely go on in some form or other, we’re a very adaptable generalist species, but I doubt anybody currently living, especially in Western culture, would want to face the kind of lives and environmental and societal conditions these future (near-future in many cases) people will have to deal with. But then, I think most people don’t look beyond “getting while the getting’s good”… we are kind of hardwired that way, biologically, but as a species we seem to pride ourselves so much on overcoming or sidestepping so many of our other biological imperatives, why cling so tightly to that particular one when the potential (and existing) damage to the very things we want to “get” is so great?

Those numbers on oceanic pH, if true, BLOW MY MIND. I can’t believe how such a massive shift in pH like that can occur on such a short time frame. If only people would take a hint, and focus on having fewer, higher quality children, then all of these problems would disappear. We need to change our role from that of a usurper to that of a caretaker if humanity is to have any meaningful future.

Or go to the stars!!!

Seriously. It’s a long shot, and who the hell knows if we will make it - it’s not a certainty by any stretch of the imagination - but if we can do it, we need to expand off this rock. Hopefully after we get a little better at managing it and the ecosystem. It makes me think of that Calvin and Hobbes series of strips where they go to Mars because we have been polluting the earth so much. They realize they are polluting Mars as well, so they go home.

One of them says something along the lines of: “Why would you invite a dog that hasn’t been housebroken into your house?”

Do you have a cite for our current state of unsustainability? I’m not trying to call BS; I’m just legitimately curious how reliably we know that we are currently in unsustainable territory. Because if we are definitely, say, 4 billion people over the sustainable carrying capacity of the planet at current levels of technology, that is HUGE, and more people should know about it.

I don’t have a concrete numbers at the moment because I loaned my copy out, but I was really disturbed by the exploration of the food industry in The Omnivore’s Dilemma. It’s amazing how much fossil fuel goes into our food system, not just in things like refrigeration and transporting out of season fruit here from far off countries but in the fertilizer, for example-- the runoff of which is causing a massive dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico. The consequences of that alone could be devastating, and that’s just a small piece of the puzzle. I’m not a doomsayer who thinks science cannot possibly solve this problem-- maybe it can-- but the problem has to be acknowledged long before it can be solved, and hardly anyone of importance has done that yet. We will reach a tipping point eventually and if that happens before the right countermeasures are put into place, well, all bets are off.

Sure. if we destroy the vast majority of the terrestrial habitat that is capable of supporting anything but us. Personally, I don’t want to live in a world like that or be counted amongst the members of such a selfish but supposedly intelligent species.

A glimmer.

That’s primarily because most people don’t approach a decision as personal and individual as having children, much less their own existence, from the perspective of its advantages and disadvantages for the planet as a whole. Even the people who deplore the dangers of overpopulation have in many cases already reproduced, and almost none of them would seriously consider draconian measures like prematurely ending their own lives, or even advising their own children not to reproduce, out of concern for the population burden on the planet.

Worries about overpopulation seem to be largely a way for people in the developed world to feel good about their environmental awareness without actually having to make any personal sacrifices for it. That’s not intended to disparage the concerned people who have made personal sacrifices, just pointing out that there are comparatively few of them.

For many of the rest, it seems that overpopulation primarily serves as a usefully intractable problem: one that we can’t really do anything about, but that makes it comfortably futile to try to do anything about other serious problems confronting us. It allows us to continue the business-as-usual of our globally extravagant lifestyles without feeling guilty about it, because hey, all those developing nations with their burgeoning material riches are eventually going to make our extravagance irrelevant anyway, so party on.

More generally, most people do not (and arguably should not) follow the “Golden Rule.” Hoping people will be altruistic is absurd public policy (one reason I despised Cheney’s hypocrisy).

Some countries have tax policies that encourage having children. Those policies should be reversed, although the details require cleverness to avoid turning the extra children into victims.

It is noted that rich countries have little to no population growth. What is the cause of the low birthrates in developed countries? My guess is that in developed countries women are not dependent upon men for food and protection. Greater rights for women result in lower birthrates. Women and women alone determine the size of the future population. If we want to control the population we need to concentrate on empowering women. Maybe we should pressure all countries to grant equal rights to women. We should also give women complete control of their reproductive system.