Biomass

I think I figured it out.  Figured out why some people do not understand the concept of climate change.  But before I can get there, I have to diverge a bit.

Let’s take a little romp down a pathway that breaks us out of our little bubbles.  That puts numbers on the impact we humans have had on the planet – collectively.  The high-altitude view . . .

For it’s truly difficult for people to see much beyond their physical reach.  The limits of our senses.  And that’s totally understandable.

I’ve been reading the book Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow, written by Yuval Noah Harari.  I might add that I became interested in this work after reading a book review by my blogging friend Victoria Ray.

Yep, I actually do read book reviews.

Harari examines, logically, the current trends for humanity’s future, and what basically amounts to human beings’ desire, and goal, to upgrade to the status of being gods.  Now that might sound like a bit much, but he’s not examining humankind’s advancements in the terms of becoming omnipotent, per se.  Not like we can snap our fingers and create new worlds from cosmic dust.  But rather humans’ desire to conquer famine, plague, and war.  Or stated differently, vanquish starvation, epidemics and violence.

To extend life indefinitely.

But, as you might know from recounting my hiking experiences, it’s common for me to wander off the beaten trail.  And I’m doing that now by picking up on some of the side concepts.  The ones that really aren’t the feature or main thrust of the book, but they are the ones that often interest me the most.

What’s interesting about this book, so far, to me, is how we humans have dramatically changed the existing biomass of our planet.

Biomass?  What’s that?

Strictly defined, it is “the amount of living matter in a given habitat, expressed either as the weight of organisms per unit area or as the volume of organisms per unit volume of habitat.”

You have to look at this concept in relative terms.  And I’m not sure we can totally quantify humanity’s early years since the statisticians weren’t around then, but, to begin with, there were very few of us people around compared to the total number of other organisms in the wilderness.  Keep in mind, you have to include plant life too.

So many wild species, too numerous to count, that many species remain un-named by us, and because of that we tend to think there is still a wild world out there and that it is inexhaustible.  But that’s not true.  The wild, untamed, and unpolluted world that balances and stabilizes all life is shrinking.  And shrinking fast.

Harari looks mainly at large animals, because that’s an easy subject to both quantify and understand.  But he also makes some broader points.  Lawns, for example, in ancient times marked the social status of kings and queens, but now grass, sod for lawns, is the most widespread crop in the U.S. after corn and wheat.  That’s staggering when you think about how much natural biomass is replaced with this type of monocropping.

Destroying diversity destroys the protections of diversity.

Even more staggering is how humankind impacted the planet before modern times.  It seems our stone age counterparts, us early homo sapiens, not only drove all other species of humans to extinction, but had killed off 90% of the large animals of Australia, 75% of the large animals of America, and 50% of the large animals on the entire planet before they had even planted the first wheat field, shaped the first metal tool, or had stuck the first coin for monetary exchange.

Looking at just a few animals and their replacements more specifically: there are approximately 200,000 wolves left in the wild worldwide versus 400,000,000 (yes that’s millions) domesticated dogs; 40,000 lions worldwide versus 600,000,000 domesticated cats; 900,000 African Buffalo versus 1.5 Billion (with a “B”) domestic cows; and 50 Million penguins versus 20 Billion chickens.

I think you’re getting the idea.  Since 1970, all wildlife populations have been cut in half, and more than 90% of all large animals in today’s world are composed of humans and their domesticated favorites.  In terms of total planetary biomass there are 300 Million tons of us humans, 700 Million tons of our domesticated animals, while only 100 Million tons of large wild animals.

This replacement of biomass is staggering.  Hard to even conceptualize.

And totally out of balance.

Now back to our bubbles and climate change.

It’s hard to imagine this type of massive change taking place when we inhabit such a small field of view.  Our homes, our communities, even our travels are minuscule when compared to the world at large.  Yet we seem to think we have a total world view.

Climate change is similarly hard to grasp.  Climate change is not the immediate weather that our senses can detect in our tiny bubble of existence.  Climate change is a global phenomenon measured over a long period of time.

It does not refer to a shift in temperature when a storm front moves through, but rather the temperature of the entire planet and the global effects this can have on weather patterns.

People can have their own opinions, but the vast majority of scientists agree that humans have impacted the global climate in such a dramatic way as to be devastating to the entire planet and our very existence.  But we are still only talking a few degrees in global temperature.  And that’s where I think it’s a difficult concept to grasp.

So, look at the global impact we, as a species, have had on all other species here on Earth.  It’s not some tiny insignificant speck on the periphery of vision.  It’s a massive effect worldwide, and it’s not for the better.

I’m only a third of the way through Harari’s book, but I don’t see humankind reaching any definition of divinity when it is on such a path of planetary and self-destruction.

In Metta

LOGOz

Photo: I remember reading a comment on Instagram once that if you don’t like your pictures, then you aren’t close enough.  From a distance this is a cactus flower, about six inches in diameter.  Up close, the feature pic, it’s a different world, perhaps a sea creature with its moving tentacles.  Closer still, it’s atoms, then subatomic particles.  Stepping back again, the flower.  But perhaps a rare one planetary-speaking.

I bet you didn’t think cactus when you first saw it.  All views, all perspectives, are limited by our ability to sense, analyze, perceive, conceptualize, relate to our past knowledge and experience.   In a sense, all views are equal, and can be equally distorted or just plain wrong.  Sometimes it’s best to have the broader view before applying the microscope 🙂

Tohono Chul with Heather 4+C2

Tohono Chul with 4+C2+Enamel

Tohono Chul with 4+C2+Solarize

8 thoughts on “Biomass”

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