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Ecological catastrophes: what’s here, what’s next?

Posted on Jan 2, 2014

For my first blog post of 2014 I wanted to talk about something I ponder frequently in this line of work – apart from the ongoing environmental disasters we acknowledge and in some cases are working to correct, what silent or invisible calamities are occurring right now that we should be detecting, analyzing and stopping? Climate change is the number one global nightmare that is finally being accepted by the average person, something that is long overdue. However, we are nowhere near addressing it and it may already be too late in many regards.

Smaller scale disasters like the spread of pathogens, diseases and viruses by possibly ourselves (white-nose fungus, West Nile virus, etc.) or organisms we have allowed to thrive beyond natural levels (ticks, many mammals, select plants, etc.) are currently being studied and rarely being reversed. Active biological management and practices will be needed to repair (some of) the damage. I often find that in talking to people about problems like deer management or removing invasive plants that they underestimate how much we have modified the planet, taking out precious minerals, metals and other resources needed for human development and proliferation while encouraging destruction in this process and managing the Earth solely to best suit our wants and needs until the last few decades. Even now we’re only partially correcting previous problems while ignoring or missing others like the tiny plastic balls we’re filling Lake Erie with.

Lake Erie

If we’re filling Lake Erie with tiny plastic balls that we essentially cannot remove what else are we unknowingly putting in our waters right now?

There is absolutely nothing “natural” left on this world. There is no possible way we can allow “nature to take its course” because we have entirely modified the playing field. If we chose to do this we would exacerbate the problems we have now. Even in the most pristine and remote areas with unmodified habitats you will find trash, pollutants, or the impact of a changing climate. It is time to accept this and move forward with this ideal in mind.

With that said, what else is happening thanks to us that we don’t even know about yet? Are there other major threats on the horizon because of another chemical we’re pumping into our air or soil? How about the (otherwise positive) spread of wind energy and the increasing evidence that situating these turbines incorrectly leads to the death of birds and bats at very high rates? Is hydraulic fracturing going to rip apart the very earth underneath us while destroying our water supply? Are neonicotinoids killing butterflies, bees, dragonflies and billions of other insects every year? At least we’re thinking about some of these and learning about them right now because in all of those cases the answer seems to be even worse than we think.

Monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus)

Monarch populations plummeted across the continent in the last year alone. Are we decimating the species annually now?

I hope in 2014 everyone considers what else could be going on out there to put humans, plants and wildlife in future peril on an individual basis. Whether it is in your chosen career or in your own yard or home it is time to think outside the box to identify current and future disasters while treating and amending some of the wrongs we’ve made over the centuries. This can be as simple as not using deadly chemicals in your garden. One thing is certain – if we do not change this will be the last century in human history with our species completely controlling and spreading across the planet. Every year we tick off the calendar is one more closer to the brink for the end of our existence as we currently enjoy it.

Scott Kruitbosch
Conservation & Outreach Coordinator

Photos © Scott Kruitbosch