NASA offers a neat subsription service that will send you a weekly bulletin of news stories and satellite images of Earth. It’s fascinating and exciting, except when it’s bone-crushingly painful. I received this week’s issue on Tuesday, and I’ve been trying to suppress my reaction ever since.
I can’t do it. The environmental changes are devastating. We resist doing anything at our peril. The mountains of data show that survival of the human species will be questionable if we continue living the way we are today. Further complicating the matter, we have to understand environmental changes and potential remedies along with needs of people in less developed countries. People in less developed countries have survival issues that sometimes conflict with environmental concerns.
Poor people always get the short end of the stick. How many nuclear plants or toxic waste incinerators are located in wealthy neighborhoods? People in western countries complain that we don’t want to make changes because they’re too hard. Let’s cut the crap. People in more developed areas get to live in relative comfort. Most of us don’t have to survive on ants.
In the current newsletter from NASA, I found several photos that made me despair. The first set of photographs shows deforestation that occurred between 1974 and 1999 in Guinea.
According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the unique forests of the region have dramatically diminished over the past few decades as civil war in Sierra Leone and Liberia have pushed tens and possibly hundreds of thousands of refugees into the Parrot’s Beak. People have cut down the forests for housing materials, wood for charcoal, and space to grow crops. Some commercial logging also played a role.
So this terrible result comes from people fleeing for their lives and trying to find a way to survive as refugees. You can’t ask that people in these situations consider environmental impact of their behavior. For more, go to this link.
The second set of images show a dust storm spreading out of the Gobi Desert earlier this month.
The storms can be hazardous to public health both in terms of air quality and visibility. In addition, the dust storms can devastate croplands and contaminate sensitive electronic equipment. Dust storms in China are on the rise, probably as a result of land degradation, such as deforestation and overgrazing, and drought. The Chinese government has undertaken a large reforestation effort to combat the spread of deserts and to mitigate the effects of dust storms, particularly around urban areas such as Beijing.
This dust storm is just a prelude to what’s in store for us. But we sit back and say, “Well, that’s just how things are.” How bad does it have to get before real action is taken? The biggest problem is that ecosystems are tricky things to understand. Small changes build up and interact until changes become irreversible.
In the third set of photos,the effects of warmer temperatures on the Great Barrier Reef are shown. This past summer was the hottest recorded summer for Australia. What are the implications? Briefly:warm weather = warm water
warm water = stress on coral
stress = coral expels symbiotic algae
loss of symbiotic algae = coral death
Warm pink and yellow tones show where sea surface temperatures were warm in the top image. The warmest waters are the shallow waters over the reef near the coast, where coral bleaching was most severe this summer.
The lower image shows chlorophyll concentrations, where high concentrations (yellow) generally point to a high concentration of phytoplankton in surface waters of the ocean. In this image, the bright yellow dots actually represent the coral reefs, and not surface phytoplankton.
I can’t write about this anymore. It makes me too angry, too scared, and too frustrated. Here’s a picture of the Great Barrier Reef. It’s so massive it can be seen from space, and it’s the foundation for a massive and diverse ecosystem. It also happens to be incredibly beautiful. Enjoy it before it’s gone.