The Depletion of Earth's Resources

The fight for Earth's resource takes a violent turn when depletion strikes.


| September 2016



Deforestation

Deforestation is only one of the environmental crises that is forcing the Earth towards a critical shift.

Photo by Fotolia/kaidanovych

Tipping Point for Planet Earth (Thomas Dunne Books, 2016) by Anthony D. Barnosky and Elizabeth A. Hadly critically  explores the Earth looking for ways to save the planet and provide a better future. The authors synthesize all of the environmental crises we face and explain that the combination is why we have to worry about a catastrophic, planetary-scale tipping point. This excerpt comes from chapter 1, "Past or Future?" and examines the effects of dwindling resources on less advanced countries.

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It all happened pretty fast. One minute, I was sitting outside sipping my tea. The next, I was hunkered down in a cold, smoky hut, patching up a Tamang woman’s bloody scalp, which she was lucky to have at all, given the machetes that were swinging around. Like most activities around sundown in that part of the world, it was a race against time, because darkness was coming on fast, and candlelight just wasn’t going to be up to the task.

When I had boarded the plane for Nepal a few days before, that kind of adventure was the last thing on my mind. I had set out with one of my Ph.D students, Katie Solari, to meet up with my Indian colleague, Uma, and her Nepali student, Nishma Dahal, in Kathmandu. Our four-woman crew was then going to head into the Himalayas to figure out which species of pika, a fluffy but short-eared cousin of rabbits, occupied which elevations in the world’s highest mountain range. We wanted that information in order to learn how the pikas are responding to the rampant climatic warming that is now heating up that part of the world, as a kind of bellwether for predicting how global warming will change wildlife in general. Pikas, it turns out, are the perfect natural experiment in that regard, because their physiology prevents them from tolerating warm temperatures. As warming climate causes mountain environments to heat up, the pikas move upslope, taking advantage of the fact that for every hundred meters of rise in elevation, temperature falls by a little less than 1 degree C. Our thought was that by tracking their upslope movement over a series of years, and performing genetic tests on them to see how the animals we trapped were related to each other, we could use the pikas as the proverbial canaries in the coalmine to help forecast Earth’s ecological future.

Since we left Kathmandu, we’d been moving upslope at a much faster rate than the pikas, and we were glad of it. After hiking for two days we were above three thousand meters. The high mountain air felt fresh, if a little thin, after our time in the valley, where brick kilns and fires thickened and darkened the air with a blanket of dense smog. That was far behind and below us now, and we reveled in being in one of the world’s treasured landscapes, ascending through hillsides covered with startlingly vivid arrays of red, pink, white and purple rhododendrons. I scanned the forests for signs of the red panda, since we were in one of the last strongholds of the species. What caught my eye instead, though, was that there was no real forest understorey, and although the trees were straight and tall, all but the highest branches were gone, leaving no cover for birds, much less for red pandas.

So I sipped my tea outside, reflecting on the day, waiting for the daily dinner of dal bhat (Nepali lentils and rice). That’s when the shrieks jerked me out of my reverie.

JWTM
12/1/2017 7:13:39 PM

What a surprise! The author has only just noticed that deforestation, desertification, aquifer depletion, overfishing and soil degradation are real occurrences and have real effects in the real world. They are effects of human overpopulation and yes, they are going to get worse.