Global Education Project EARTH
Get Earth Dispatches  

Global Ecology

Population, pollution, greenhouse gases and deforestation are creating never before seen changes in Earth's living systems—including a cultural and species extinction rate that is the highest in the planet's history.
Terrestrial and Ocean Biomes Evidence is growing that the thermohaline circulation, driven by temperature and salinity, could be slowed or stopped by cold fresh water inputs to the Arctic and North Atlantic oceans, diluting the salt concentration in the ocean. This could occur if warming is sufficient to cause large scale melting of Arctic sea ice and the Greenland ice sheet. Such a change in the current may be gradual (over centuries) or very rapid (over a few years). Either would cause planet wide changes in climate. This effect may be part of what starts and stops the ice ages. The land in the Northern Hemisphere has been unfrozen for less than half of the last 400,000 years. In 2005, it was noted that the net flow of the thermohaline circulation had slowed by 30% between 1957 and 2004 (a short time frame relative to global events).
Antarctic Geography, Ice, and Currents
Human Population Growth by Region Directly or indirectly, the human species already captures nearly 40% of the total biological productivity on land and 70% of the productivity of the marine environment—the "net primary productivity" of the planet—for its exclusive use. The rate of increase in human use is about 2% per year."

The UN defines a slum household as a group of individuals living under the same roof with one or more of the following conditions: lack of access to improved water; lack of access to improved sanitation; insufficient living area; and lack of durability of housing. Although the overall proportion of the urban population living in slums worldwide fell from 28% in 2000 to 23% in 2014, in absolute terms, the number of urban residents living in slums rose from 792 million to an estimated 880 million over the same period. In Least Developed Countries, nearly two-thirds (62%) of urban dwellers live in slum conditions.

The Biotic Crisis

As a direct result of industrial civilization’s disruptive impact, planet earth has begun the 6th great biological extinction period in its 4.5 billion year history. During previous extinction events biodiversity was reduced by up to 70–90%. After past events, recovery took roughly 5 million years. However, the current depletion of biological diversity and, in particular, the prospect of severe depletion, if not virtual elimination of tropical forests, wetlands, estuaries and coral reefs that have been the “engines of biodiversity” for hundreds of millions of years, may have profound effects on the evolutionary processes that have previously fostered re-diversification. Even our largest protected areas will be far too small for the further speciation of large vertebrates. On the time scale of the human species, environmental disruption (or at least aspects of it) are permanent. [1]

"An average of around 25 per cent of species in assessed animal and plant groups are threatened, suggesting that around 1 million species already face extinction.
"The global rate of species extinction... is already at least tens to hundreds of times higher than it has averaged over the past 10 million years.
"The direct drivers of change in nature with the largest global impact have been (starting with those with most impact): changes in land and sea use; direct exploitation of organisms; climate change; pollution; and invasion of alien species." [2]
Mammals at Risk of Extinction
Birds at Risk of Extinction
Reptiles at Risk of Extinction
Amphibians at Risk of Extinction
Fishes at Risk of Extinction
Plants at Risk of Extinction
Fungi at Risk of Extinction
Insects at Risk of Extinction THE POLLINATORS: Insects play a central role in a variety of ecosystem processes, including: pollination, nutrient cycling and providing food sources for birds, mammals and amphibians. 80% of wild plants are estimated to depend on insects for pollination and 60% of birds rely on insects for food.
In 2017, a German study found that flying insect populations in Europe have declined by over 75% in just 27 years. The IUCN assesses that over 9% of European bee species face extinction. Pollinators in particular face global threats that are driving decline, including: intensive agricultural practices, loss of habitat, pesticide use, and climate change.

Pesticides and Pollinators

In April 2021, a study, using data from the USGS and the US EPA, on farmers’ self-reported use of 381 pesticides between 1992 and 2016, shows that despite the drop in their usage, the toxicity level of pesticides doubled for aquatic invertebrates such as plankton and insect larvae, and the same was true of important pollinators such as bees. This is largely a reflection of how pesticides have become stronger (therefore needing smaller applications), and newer products designed to target particular pest species-- although they do not distinguishes between pests and potentially beneficial insects.
The results challenge the claims of a decrease in the environmental impacts of with the decrease in pesticide use.
Languages at Risk of Extinction About 43% of over 7,000 of the world's languages are endangered. Just 23 languages are spoken by more than half of the world's people, inhabiting upwards of 85% of the land surface of the globe. [1] These same languages are of the cultures primarily responsible for the current global extinction crisis. [2] The extinction rate of languages, and often the people who speak them, is astounding. Up to 95% of languages may be extinct within 100 years. [3]
Language and cultural diversity is often matched by regional biodiversity—suggesting that both language and nature are a single system of diversity. “First World” societies are replacing ancient linguistic cultural diversity with vast “mono-languages.”
World Forest Area 1990 - 2015
Forest Land As Percentage of Total Land Area 1990 and 2016
Change in Forest Area by Region

Ozone

Ozone gas in the upper atmosphere filters out the sun's ultraviolet rays and protects life forms from overexposure. This layer has been polluted by human activities and has developed thin areas or "holes" which let in more damaging levels of UV radiation. This in turn adversely affects many life forms—plants, animals and humans. Since 1989, the Montreal Protocol led to reductions in the atmospheric concentration of many ozone-depleting gases, such as CFCs, and ozone is projected to return to levels observed pre-1980 later this century. However, recent observations show the atmospheric concentration of dichloromethane—an ozone-depleting gas not controlled by the Montreal Protocol—is increasing rapidly and could delay the recovery of the ozone layer by up to 30 years.
Space Debris SPACE DEBRIS

Before 1961, the entire Earth satellite population was just over 50 objects. Since 1957, about 9,600 satellites have been launched and about 5500 are still in space—and 2300 of these are still functioning. The total mass of all space objects in Earth's is more than 8800 tonnes.

Earth's orbit is now cluttered and dangerous with: ~34,000 objects bigger than 10 cm; ~ 900,000 objects from 1cm to 10 cm; and 128,000,000 objects from greater than 1 mm — 1 cm. However, the vast majority of space junk is too small to be tracked, and millions of tiny flecks zoom around Earth unseen by tracking instruments. "At 250 miles (400 km) up—the altitude of the International Space Station, which has had to maneuver away from three potential space-junk collisions in 2020 alone—objects barrel along at a blistering 17,500 mph (28,160 kph)."

What is it? Jettisoned mission junk, rocket fuel, space station garbage, abandoned rocket parts, used nuclear reactors, leaked radioactive coolant and exploded bits. To date, an estimated 500 break-ups, explosions, collisions, or anomalous events have occurred, making more debris.

As costs decrease the number of satellite launches increases—by 2025 as many as 1,100 satellites could be launched each year; up from 365 in 2018, and from 75 per year in 2005—and the chance of collisions increases.
In 2007, space debris mitigation guidelines were drawn up by the Inter-Agency Space Debris Coordination Committee and the UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space. In September 2019, the newly established Space Station Coalition, a group of space-industry stakeholders, has recommended updated, voluntary guidelines of best practices. The US is responsible for the most debris in space, followed closely by Russia and China.

The commercial exploitation, militarization and weaponization of space around the earth is ongoing. Tourism is just getting started.

Sources

Terrestrial and Ocean Biomes Map:
Goddard Space Flight Center SeaWIFS data, gsfc.nasa.gov/topstory/20020801plankton.html;
Gaia, An Atlas of Planet Management; globalchange.umich.edu/globalchange2/current/ lectures/fisheries/fisheries.htm; Ecosystem and Biodiversity
Text Source: Environmental Research Foundation, ejnet.org/rachel/rhwn256.htm
Christian Science Monitor, “Tiniest Creatures in the World Reveal Health of Oceans”
Slowing of the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation at 25° N. Nature 438, 655–657 (2005), Bryden, H., Longworth, H. & Cunningham, S. https://doi.org/10.1038/nature04385

Antarctic Geography, Ice, and Currents Map:
"Antarctic Region"; Perry Castaneda Map Library, www.lib.utexas.edu/maps/; National Snow and Ice Data Center, http://nsidc.org; National Geographic Maps, "Antarctica", Feb. 2002

Human Population Growth by Region Chart:
Environmental Research Foundation, www.ejnet.org/rachel/rhwn256.htm
Map Data Source: Center for International Earth Science Information Network, Columbia University, “Grided Population of the World”
Text: UNESCO World Water Assessment Programme, Office for Global Water Assessment; www.unesco.org/water/wwap

The Biotic Crisis Text:
1. The Biotic Crisis and the Future of Evolution, PNAS - pnas.org/cgi/content/full/98/10/5389
2. Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), 2019 Global Assessment Report; http://www.ipbes.net/

Mammals at Risk of Extinction Chart:
Charts: International Union for the Conservation of Nature: Red List of Threatened Species; https://www.iucn.org/resources/conservation-tools/iucn-red-list-threatened-species

Birds at Risk of Extinction Chart:
Charts: International Union for the Conservation of Nature: Red List of Threatened Species; https://www.iucn.org/resources/conservation-tools/iucn-red-list-threatened-species

Reptiles at Risk of Extinction Chart:
Charts: International Union for the Conservation of Nature: Red List of Threatened Species; https://www.iucn.org/resources/conservation-tools/iucn-red-list-threatened-species

Amphibians at Risk of Extinction Chart:
Charts: International Union for the Conservation of Nature: Red List of Threatened Species; https://www.iucn.org/resources/conservation-tools/iucn-red-list-threatened-species

Fishes at Risk of Extinction Chart:
Charts: International Union for the Conservation of Nature: Red List of Threatened Species; https://www.iucn.org/resources/conservation-tools/iucn-red-list-threatened-species

Plants at Risk of Extinction Chart:
Charts: International Union for the Conservation of Nature: Red List of Threatened Species; https://www.iucn.org/resources/conservation-tools/iucn-red-list-threatened-species

Fungi at Risk of Extinction Chart:
Charts: International Union for the Conservation of Nature: Red List of Threatened Species; https://www.iucn.org/resources/conservation-tools/iucn-red-list-threatened-species

Insects at Risk of Extinction Chart:
Charts: International Union for the Conservation of Nature: Red List of Threatened Species; https://www.iucn.org/resources/conservation-tools/iucn-red-list-threatened-species;
Text:"Pollinators in Europe"; iucn.org/regions/europe/our-work/pollinators-europe; "More than 75 percent decline over 27 years in total flying insect biomass in protected areas"; PLoS ONE. 12. 1-21. 10.1371/journal.pone.0185809.

Pesticides and Pollinators Text:
"Applied pesticide toxicity shifts toward plants and invertebrates, even in GM crops",
Schulz, Ralf, et al.; Science 02 Apr 2021, DOI: 10.1126/science.abe1148
"US Pesticide Use Is Down, but Damage to Pollinators Is Rising", The Scientist, April 5, 2021, www.the-scientist.com/news-opinion/us-pesticide-use-is-down-but-damage-to-pollinators-is-rising-68635

Languages at Risk of Extinction Chart:
[1] UNESCO Atlas of the World's Languages in Danger; unesco.org
[2] "A House on Fire: Connecting the Biological and Linguistic Diversity Crises”, K. Suckling, www.animana.org/tab2/23suckling-ahouseonfire.shtml
[3] “The Conservation of Endangered Languages”, Univ. of Bristol, www.bris.ac.uk/Depts/Philosophy/CTLL/report.txt

World Forest Area 1990 - 2015 Chart:
UN FAO, Forest Area km2; data.worldbank.org

Forest Land As Percentage of Total Land Area 1990 and 2016 Chart:
UN FAOSTAT; data.worldbank.org/data-catalog/world-development-indicators

Change in Forest Area by Region Chart:
UN FAO, Forest Area km2; data.worldbank.org

Ozone Text:
"The increasing threat to stratospheric ozone from dichloromethane", Hossaini, R., Chipperfield, M., Montzka, S. et al, (2017); https://doi.org/10.1038/ncomms15962

Space Debris Image:
Image: NASA Orbital Debris Program Office, orbitaldebris.jsc.nasa.gov
*Approximately 95% of the objects in this computer generated illustration are orbital debris, i.e., not functional satellites. The dots represent the current location of each item and are scaled to optimize their visibility and are not scaled to Earth.
Text: European Space Agency, www.esa.int/Safety_Security/Space_Debris/Space_debris_by_the_numbers; Space.com, www.space.com/space-junk; "MIT Technology Review", www.technologyreview.com/2019/06/26/755/satellite-constellations-orbiting-earth-quintuple/; "Best Practices for the Sustainability of Space Operations." https://spacesafety.org/


Tags: global ecology

Sign up for EARTH Dispatches

Enter you email below to get jaw dropping charts and maps delivered straight to your inbox.

Get the EARTH presentation

A 150 page high-resolution PDF containing all maps, charts and data on EARTH website; use as an information-packed educational slide show, printed booklet or a set of single-page handouts.

Learn More

Test your EARTH Savvy

What country has the largest proven reserve of natural gas?