The disk of the Earth as seen by NASA satellite. CREDIT: NASA
2013 is here, and everyone is busy making (or already breaking) their
New Year's resolutions. Mother Nature took a few minutes out of her busy
schedule to share a few thoughts on how to improve the situation here
on our planet with some New Year's resolutions that should be taken up
Here are the top seven resolutions for the Earth in the New Year. Take it away, Mother Nature:
1. Prevent species from going extinct
Earth is in the midst of an enormous extinction crisis, the biggest
spate of die-offs since the disappearance of the dinosaurs 65 million
years ago, according to several studies. The world's level of biodiversity is also down by 30 percent
since the 1970s, according to a report by the World Wildlife Fund, a
conservation group. The United Nations Environment Program estimates
that 150 to 200 species go extinct every day, which is about 10 to 100
times the "background," or natural, rate of extinction.
One problem facing endangered species, particularly in developing
countries, is poaching. Driven in part by the demand for animal parts in
traditional medicine cures in parts of Asia, poaching (and capture of
animals for the pet trade) has only increased — dramatically — in the
past decade. A total of 633 rhinos were killed in South Africa in 2012,
for example, according to Reuters.
Compare that with 448 killed in 2011 and 13 killed in 2007. Poaching is
largely to blame for the extinction of many creatures, including a subspecies of Javan rhino in Vietnam in 2010.
It's hard to focus on other animals and plants all the time. But humans
are animals who come from a world replete with other creatures and
forms of life. Even now, surrounded as many of you are by urban centers,
devoid of forests and most wildlife, people depend on plants and
animals for survival. Ultimately the loss of biodiversity will hurt you,
as you, dear humans, are part of the web of life. Each species serves a
specific function that can't be wholly replaced if one goes extinct,
leading to a less productive ecosystem which ultimately provides fewer
benefits for humans.
VIDEO: Monitoring Climate Change
2. Preserve the rainforests
Rainforests are vital reservoirs of plants, animals and microbes. Most
terrestrial animals aren't the big, charismatic species like elephants
and tigers often associated with the jungles, but rainforest-dwelling arthropods
(a group that includes insects, arachnids and crustaceans, all of which
have hard exoskeletons). Arthropods are the most diverse group of
animals in the world and perform all kinds of vital roles in their
environments, from eating fecal matter to pollinating flowers.
Rainforests also contain plants than can help humans; compounds derived
from these plants have been used to create many medicines, including the
anti-malarial drug quinine, originally found in the Amazon's cinchona
tree. It'd be a shame to lose such wealth before even discovering it.
The forests also supply the planet with an enormous supply of oxygen.
Even so, from 2000 to 2010, for example, about 93,000 square miles
(240,000 square kilometers) of the Amazon rainforest were razed,
covering an area roughly the size of the United Kingdom.
3. Protect areas with high biodiversity
Not all areas are created equal. Certain places should be left alone,
such as those that are home to endangered species, species found nowhere
else, particularly high varieties of species and those that provide
other important ecological benefits.
Examples of areas that need your special attention include Madagascar,
which is like no other place in the world — it is the only spot where
lemurs and many other unique life-forms dwell. But forest and grassland
habitat on this island off the coast of Africa is being destroyed
rapidly; Madagascar has lost at least 90 percent of its original forest
Another jewel would be the Philippines, which has one of the highest
levels of biodiversity on the planet, but is threatened by deforestation
and development. A single recent expedition found more than 300 species
that are likely new to science, including a deep-sea shark that can inflate itself
when frightened. But these species are potentially in danger from human
activities, while other species could go extinct there and in other
spots before they are even discovered.
4. Reduce greenhouse gases and limit climate change
Humans are a gassy bunch, burning fossil fuels and increasing the
concentration of carbon dioxide, methane and other heat-trapping gases
in the atmosphere. Many climate scientists have estimated that the
concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere must be limited to 350
parts per million (ppm) to avoid the worst effects of a human-altered
climate, such as warmer temperatures, more frequent heat waves and
droughts, sea level rise and even more extinction of animals that can't
quickly adapt to climate change. The current concentration is nearly 393
ppm and rising about 2 ppm annually, according to the Mauna Loa
Observatory in Hawaii. To avert the worst effects of global warming,
humans would need to quickly find alternative fuel sources — look back
to what's been provided to you and harness the sun or the wind or heat
from the Earth.
The worst effects of warming can be seen in the Arctic and Antarctic, due to a phenomenon called polar amplification.
Many areas throughout the Arctic have already warmed by 3 degrees
Fahrenheit (1.7 degrees Celsius) over the last 30 years, heating up much
more quickly than the rest of the world and acting as harbingers of
things to come. The poles are also home to magnificent animals like
polar bears and penguins,which are sensitive to environmental changes.
And that's not to mention the fact these areas store enough frozen water
that, if melted, would put most of the world's current urban areas
under water. And even if these areas don't completely melt, they could
still cause significant sea-level rise.
5. Curb water pollution
Humans are really shooting themselves in the foot with this one.
Although big strides have been taken in the United States, Europe and
elsewhere, it remains an enormous and growing problem throughout many
parts of the world, including China, parts of south Asia and Africa.
Besides the obvious detriments of polluting one's own drinking water,
pollution from agricultural runoff, when it reaches the oceans, also
creates so-called dead zones — algae blooms develop and consume all the
oxygen in the area and other species that need oxygen die off. The dead
zone in the Gulf of Mexico has been steadily growing and recently
covered an area roughly the size of New Jersey.
Pollution also contributes to coral disease, which is a major
unrecognized factor in the decline of coral reefs — top spots for
biodiversity (see Resolution #3).
6. Better manage fisheries and curb shark finning
Commercial-fishing techniques are leading to the deaths of too many
fish, sea turtles and marine mammals, often when these creatures aren't
targeted by fishermen. The worst of these techniques is the use of large
nets (including dragnets, seines and driftnets, which catch just about
everything in their path) and longline fishing, wherein hundreds or
thousands of hooks are suspended up to many miles behind boats. The
average longline in the Gulf of Mexico stretches for 30 miles (48
kilometers), and more than half of the tuna and swordfish caught are
thrown back, most of which die, according to the Pew Environment group.
The hunting of sharks has also increased dramatically, primarily due to
increased demand for shark fin soup in China, a substance that has
repeatedly been shown to be high in toxins.
Up to 73 million sharks are killed each year to quench this demand.
Ocean ecosystems depend upon these predators to keep the web of life
7. Consume less
This one is pretty simple: consume less. Especially Americans, who
could still survive using less energy and water; most of the world gets
by on a fraction. Reuse of materials may be another good practice. This
could mean simple changes like reusing shopping bags, alleviating the
need for more plastic and paper. Many items also needn't be thrown away
merely because they are out of fashion. A recent study found that a
large percentage of appliances that are thrown away still function
properly. In addition, boost energy efficiency by making and buying
better cars, like hybrids or electric vehicles powered by renewable
sources. You can also do simple things like turning off lights and
appliances, using programmable thermostats and replacing air filters in
Using less plastic would be another good place to start. Now, plastic
is found in just about every corner of the globe, for example in
thegreat Pacific garbage patch, known to scientists as the North Pacific Subtropial Gyreand even on the floor of the Arctic Ocean.
The Earth's resources are not unlimited, and if humans are not more careful, this will become increasingly obvious.
More from OurAmazingPlanet:
50 Interesting Facts About The Earth
The Reality of Climate Change: 10 Myths Busted
Image Gallery: One-of-a-Kind Places on Earth
Copyright 2013 OurAmazingPlanet, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.