The People’s Republic of China suffered a horrible famine from 1958 through 1961 that is estimated to have killed 20 to 43 million people. Bad weather, including droughts and floods, contributed to this disaster, but most of the problems were caused by bad decisions from the ruling Communist Party.
One of the contributing factors was Chairman Mao Zedong’s Four Pests campaign, wherein he tried to get the Chinese people to exterminate rats, flies, mosquitoes, and sparrows. The sparrows were included because they were considered pests for eating too much grain in the fields. The Chinese people were mobilized to harass all sparrows until they fell from the sky due to exhaustion. The birds were killed in other ways too, and the result was their near extinction in China.
The Chinese soon discovered, however, that the removal of the sparrows had produced an unexpected result. Instead of increasing grain yields, the yields actually decreased because the sparrows had eaten lots of insects. Without sparrows to control them, insect populations exploded and ate more than the sparrows had ever eaten.
An important lesson to be learned from what happened in China is that Earth’s ecosystem is an enormous web of life with many complex interrelationships, and as we alter it, the outcomes are difficult to predict. But that’s not to say that we shouldn’t try to forecast what’s going to happen. In fact, many scientists say our impact on the planet has become so great that we’ve entered a new age in our planet’s history, the Anthropocene Epoch, wherein the primary characteristic is the global environmental changes caused by humans. So trying to predict the results of changes we’re making to the Earth’s ecosystem is more important than ever, and its importance will continue to grow.
The federal government’s National Research Council, for example, recently released a report that analyzed the ecological changes we face due to human caused climate change from the greenhouse gases we’re adding to the atmosphere. The report explained that the amount of Arctic ice has already significantly decreased, and many plant and animal species are going extinct because their habitats are changing too rapidly for them to adapt or migrate. (Perhaps we’ll find out too late that some of these species were as important as the Chinese sparrows?)
The report said some other changes will probably take longer than originally anticipated, but it warned that the Earth’s ecosystem is too complicated to accurately predict all of the changes that will occur, and we will inevitably encounter “tipping points” wherein the climate quickly crosses over unexpected thresholds beyond which there will be rapid and irreversible changes. The report’s authors encouraged the world’s governments to begin creating a warning system before these events happen.
This report should be alarming to everybody. But we still continue to have noisy people that are determined to continue the fake debate about whether or not human caused climate change is real. And too many of our politicians are sympathetic to their unjustified claims. Instead of trying to prevent a worldwide ecological catastrophe, they willingly repeat Orwellian fossil fuel industry political slogans like the “War on Coal.”
I don’t know if these obstructionist politicians are motivated by large campaign contributions from industry lobbyists, or if they really believe there’s no human caused global warming. But I think they will be judged very harshly by history. When their grandchildren ask them why they didn’t do anything to prevent the disaster, the only honest answers they’ll have will be greed and ignorance.
On June 29, 2018, the periodical High Country News reported that climate change was making it more difficult to do ecological restoration in Arizona.
On December 1, 2008, the Associated Press reported on the myriad of environment changes that are being caused by climate change, including whales changing their songs in Antarctica to better cut through the noise of melting icebergs.
On December 11, 2018, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) annual Arctic Report Card announced that during the past three decades of global warming, the oldest and thickest ice in the Arctic had declined by a stunning 95 percent.
On December 18, 2018, the NOAA Fisheries’ Northwest Fisheries Science Center and the University of Washington (UW) issued a report that warned that salmon may lose the ability to smell danger or find their way to their spawning streams as carbon emissions rise.
On January 29, 2019, The New York Times reported how simultaneous extreme weather events are a consequence of global warming.
On January 31, 2019, the BBC reported on research which showed the colonization of the Americas by Europeans resulted in significant vegetative changes that altered the Earth’s climate.
On February 10, 2019, it was reported that an analysis scheduled to be published in the journal Biological Conservation found that many of the world’s insects are on a path to extinction, which threatens to destroy the Earth’s ecosystem. Specifically, more than 40% of insect species are declining and a third are endangered. The primary cause of this ecological holocaust was found to be the widespread use of pesticides.
On April 8, 2019, an article published in the journal Nature, Ecology & Evolution estimated that it will take the Earth about 10 million years to replace all of the plant and animal species that humans are currently driving to extinction.