Saturday, December 20, 2014

Are We Riding Out The Sixth Mass Extinction?

The oceans are rising up
A message is being generated from many, many different origins of information.

The message now being generated is that the Sixth Mass Extinction is strongly under way, furthermore, we are all on the ship of petroleum-civilization that is currently going down.

Regular readers know that the Ecocosmology Blog and Dredd Blog have mentioned that particular species of scientific data for years now (e.g. The Damage Cannot Be Undone?-2009, Shadow of Time Governs The Earth-2009, What Do You Mean - World Civilization?-2009, Confusing "Civilization" With "Species"-2010, Embryonic Look At Civilization's Future-2010, Civilization Is Now On Suicide Watch, 2, 3, 4).

This debate and discussion is spreading around the Internet:
The point is simply this: you are welcome to analyse the scientific evidence for yourself and make your own assessment of the timeframe and the degree of severity of the threat. Perhaps human extinction will not occur until next century. But whether we define ‘near term’ as 2030, 2040 or even next century, human extinction is now a distinct possibility. And after 200,000 years of our species, calling this ‘near term’ seems reasonable.

So is near term human extinction inevitable?

In my view, human extinction is the most likely outcome. But not simply because we are inflicting too many insults on the planetary environment. Extinction is inevitable because of human fear and, specifically, unconscious fear: The fear in ourselves and others that is not experienced consciously but which often drives three capacities that are vitally important in any context: the focus of our attention, our capacity to adequately analyse the evidence (if we get our attention focused on it) and our behaviour in response to this analysis. For example, if you do not know that your fear is making you screen out unpalatable information, then you won’t even notice that you have turned your attention elsewhere and have now forgotten what you just read. Or your fear might prevent you adequately analysing the evidence and/or responding intelligently to it. See ‘Why Violence?’ and ‘Fearless Psychology and Fearful Psychology: Principles and Practice’.

So, if you are one of the people still reading this article, you are probably less frightened than most people. The others gave up before they got to this paragraph. So let me now tell you the primary problem with the fear. It distorts the mental focus, capacity for analysis and the behaviour of national elites, that is, corporate owners and their political, military, media, bureaucratic, academic and judicial lackeys.
(Why is Near Term Human Extinction Inevitable?). There are scores of papers and books that inform us of the dangers we face:
The Current Mass Extinction:

Human beings are currently causing the greatest mass extinction of species since the extinction of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. If present trends continue one half of all species of life on earth will be extinct in less than 100 years, as a result of habitat destruction, pollution, invasive species, and climate change. (For details see links below.)

Scroll Down For Hundreds Of Links:

This website began on April 22, 1998 with the posting of the article below. (The article is still here to provide historical context.) Following the article are more than 300 links to recent authoritative reports and updates about the current mass extinction. New articles are added regularly. (Most recent update December 13, 2014.)
(Mass Extinction Under way, emphasis added). There is no doubt in the consensus of scientists that human civilization faces what all others before it have faced:
Historically, self-destruction is the common denominator for past human civilization, culture, and society:
"In other words, a society does not ever die 'from natural causes', but always dies from suicide or murder --- and nearly always from the former, as this chapter has shown."
(A Study of History, by Arnold J. Toynbee). As regular readers know, I have posted Sigmund Freud's writings where he indicated that psychoanalysis of groups, including civilization itself, would not prove unproductive ...
(Civilization Is Now On Suicide Watch - 4). The difference is that we humans ourselves are causing this the Sixth Mass Extinction.

The tenets of Ecocosmology would have us avoid this predicament by our always having carefully taken care of the Earth (Tenet Three Basics).

Saturday, November 1, 2014

The Real Dangers With Microbes & Viruses

Earth's Most Abundant Entities
Let's begin with the question not often asked:

"What are the estimated 1 x 1031 viruses and estimated 9.2 - 31.7 × 1029 microbes on Earth doing as their ecosystem is being destroyed around them?"

We have some clues around us with which to explore a very necessary answer --necessary because this epoch which we call the Anthropocene is the epoch of an ongoing Sixth Mass Extinction, killing things all around us.

A mass extinction which may not be like any of the past five mass extinctions, at least in the sense that it is happening slow enough for human observation - at least so far.

This gives more time for us to observe microbes, viruses, and even the macroscopic flora and fauna reacting to their changing environment.

And more to the point, it gives us an opportunity to observe those reactions to the ongoing extinctions:
"Geographers have projected temperature increases due to greenhouse gas emissions to reach a not-so-chilling conclusion: climate zones will shift and some climates will disappear completely by 2100. Tropical highlands and polar regions may be the first to disappear, and large swaths of the tropics and subtropics will reach even hotter temperatures. The study anticipates large climate changes worldwide." (Completely New Climates)
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"Vegetation around the world is on the move, and climate change is the culprit, according to a new analysis of global vegetation shifts led by a University of California, Berkeley, ecologist in collaboration with researchers from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service.

In a paper published June 7 in the journal Global Ecology and Biogeography, researchers present evidence that over the past century, vegetation has been gradually moving toward the poles and up mountain slopes, where temperatures are cooler, as well as toward the equator, where rainfall is greater."(Major Vegetation Shifts, emphasis added)
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"Narsaq’s largest employer, a shrimp factory, closed a few years ago after the crustaceans fled north to cooler water. Where once there were eight commercial fishing vessels, there is now one.

As a result, the population here, one of southern Greenland’s major towns, has been halved to 1,500 in just a decade. Suicides are up." (Greenland Changing Due To Warming, emphasis added)
Not too long ago I wondered what impact the ancient mass extinctions had on microbes and viruses (What Did The Mass Extinctions Do To Viruses and Microbes?).

Today, let's hypothesize, based on actual scientific observations, what the viruses and microbes might begin to do en masse.

First off, note that the flora and fauna of our planet are being diminished dramatically:
This latest edition of the Living Planet Report is not for the faint-hearted. One key point that jumps out and captures the overall picture is that the
Living Planet Index (LPI), which measures more than 10,000 representative populations of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish, has declined by 52 per cent since 1970. Put another way, in less than two human generations, population sizes of vertebrate species have dropped by half. These are the living forms that constitute the fabric of the ecosystems which sustain life on Earth – and the barometer of what we are doing to our own planet, our only home. We ignore their decline at our peril.
(Civilization Is Now On Suicide Watch - 4; cf. this PDF). That is like when half the canaries in the mine have died in a short span of time.

If we consider that certain types of viruses and microbes require or are naturally inclined to operate in or on specific plants and specific animals but not in or on others, we can hypothesize that as times get desperate for them, and then become catastrophic for them, they will radically morph (genetically and behaviourally).

And we can further hypothesize that they will have to attempt to migrate to different species that have not become extinct yet.

There are examples of that happening now:
"Maybe you take a Toxo-infected human and they start having a proclivity towards doing dumb-ass things that we should be innately averse to, like having your body hurdle through space at high G-forces. Maybe this is the same neurobiology. This is not to say that Toxo has evolved the need to get humans into cat stomachs. It's just sheer convergence. It's the same nuts and bolts neurobiology in us and in a rodent, and does the same thing.

On a certain level, this is a protozoan parasite that knows more about the neurobiology of anxiety and fear than 25,000 neuroscientists standing on each other's shoulders, and this is not a rare pattern. Look at the rabies virus; rabies knows more about aggression than we neuroscientists do. It knows how to make you rabid. It knows how to make you want to bite someone, and that saliva of yours contains rabies virus particles, passed on to another person.

The Toxo story is, for me, completely new terrain — totally cool, interesting stuff, just in terms of this individual problem. And maybe it's got something to do with treatments for phobias down the line or whatever it is to make it seem like anything more than just the coolest gee whiz thing possible. But no doubt it's also a tip of the iceberg of God knows what other parasitic stuff is going on out there. Even in the larger sense, God knows what other unseen realms of biology make our behavior far less autonomous than lots of folks would like to think." (The Germ Theory - of Government - 9, quoting Dr. Sapolsky)
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"Chloroviruses (family Phycodnaviridae) are large DNA viruses known to infect certain eukaryotic green algae and have not been previously shown to infect humans or to be part of the human virome. We unexpectedly found sequences ... in ... DNA extracted from human ... samples. These samples were obtained by throat swabs of adults without a psychiatric disorder or serious physical illness who were participating in a study that included measures of cognitive functioning. The presence of ATCV-1 DNA was ... associated with a modest but statistically significant decrease in the performance on cognitive assessments of visual processing and visual motor speed." (Chlorovirus ATCV-1, emphasis added).
As Dr. Sapolsky pointed out, the viral and microbial ability to alter brain circuits is well beyond the ability of human brain surgeons.

We are also finding out that viruses and microbes are essential for human and other life forms:
Today, we are at the edge of a main turning point in understanding biological processes. The prevailing central dogma of molecular biology of the last 50 years is no more than a subordinate clause, relevant only to a small fraction of reality.
...
Now, the new renaissance of viruses is taking centre stage. Research data from the last decade indicate the important roles of viruses, both in the evolution of all life and as symbionts or co-evolutionary partners of host organisms. There is increasing evidence that all cellular life is colonized by exogenous and/or endogenous viruses in a non-lytic but persistent lifestyle. Viruses and viral parts form the most numerous genetic matter on this planet.
...
To understand their competence in natural genome editing, we have to look not only at their linguistic competence in editing and regulating correct nucleotide sequences, but also at their communicative competence, that is, how they interact with each other, how they compete within host organisms, how they symbiotically interact with host organisms to ward off
competing parasites, how they generate de novo sequences and what life strategies they share. Exactly these features are presented in this volume. Persistent infection lifestyles that do not harm hosts, and symbiotic, cooperating viral swarms, may be more successful in evolutionary terms for integrating advantageous phenotypes into host organisms than are “selfish” agents. Increasing empirical data about the abundance of viruses and virus-derived parts in the ecosphere of this planet, and their roles in the evolution and developmental processes of cellular life forms at the level of the microscopic processes of replication, transcription, translation, alternative splicing, RNA-editing, epigenetics and repair, raise a fundamental question concerning a crucial decision about how to define and explain life ...
(Viruses: Essential Agents of Life, at viii-ix; see also this). This we find out at a time when we are so paranoid about them that all we want to do is make war on them and quarantine those of us we think are the only ones exposed to them (Obola: Art Thou Dying Properly?).

They have existed on this planet for billions of years prior to humans, but we have yet to even figure out where the hell we are (You Are Here).

If we drive the virus and microbe world insane, as previous mass extinctions have done, there will be hell to pay.

It will take them a long time to recover from us, but they have the ability to do so (In Space or Buried Alive).

We won't make it without them ... but they will make it without us.

UC Berkeley professor discusses the adaptability / resistance of microbes to anti-biotics:


Saturday, June 21, 2014

Will We Destroy Food - The Bees? - 2

The destruction of American bee colonies is a threat to the American food supply.

It is a national security concern.

This blog has considered the issue since 2009 (Will We Destroy Food - The Bees?, Will We Destroy Food - The Salmon?, Ice & Bees Gone, Rain, & Ocean Rivers).

Now, the President has issued an official memo directing quick and ongoing response to the threat and the crisis:

MEMORANDUM FOR HEADS OF EXECUTIVE DEPARTMENTS AND AGENCIES SUBJECT: Creating a Federal Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators

Pollinators contribute substantially to the economy of the United States and are vital to keeping fruits, nuts, and vegetables in our diets. Honey bee pollination alone adds more than $15 billion in value to agricultural crops each year in the United States. Over the past few decades, there has been a significant loss of pollinators, including honey bees, native bees, birds, bats, and butterflies, from the environment. The problem is serious and requires immediate attention to ensure the sustainability of our food production systems, avoid additional economic impact on the agricultural sector, and protect the health of the environment.

Pollinator losses have been severe. The number of migrating Monarch butterflies sank to the lowest recorded population level in 2013-14, and there is an imminent risk of failed migration. The continued loss of commercial honey bee colonies poses a threat to the economic stability of commercial beekeeping and pollination operations in the United States, which could have profound implications for agriculture and food. Severe yearly declines create concern that bee colony losses could reach a point from which the commercial pollination industry would not be able to adequately recover. The loss of native bees, which also play a key role in pollination of crops, is much less studied, but many native bee species are believed to be in decline. Scientists believe that bee losses are likely caused by a combination of stressors, including poor bee nutrition, loss of forage lands, parasites, pathogens, lack of genetic diversity, and exposure to pesticides.

Given the breadth, severity, and persistence of pollinator losses, it is critical to expand Federal efforts and take new steps to reverse pollinator losses and help restore populations to healthy levels. These steps should include the development of new public-private partnerships and increased citizen engagement. Therefore, by the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, I hereby direct the following ...

(The White House Press Secretary, emphasis added). The memo goes on to name members of a task force to get cracking within 180 days.

Good move (hope it is not too late).

The previous post in this series is here.