Saturday, September 25, 2010

9 Habitats that are disappearing from the earth

The political news frustrates and angers me. We seem to be a people determined to undo everything that the geniuses who founded this country set out to bequeath to us. But it takes news of what we are doing to the environment to really put me in a blue funk for days at a time.

Like this article that I read on Huffington Post this week about nine types of habitats that are seriously endangered.

1. Mangroves: The mangrove is not a plant, it is a habitat that can contain a great diversity of individual species of plants - like holly, plumbago, hibiscus, legumes, acanthus, and myrtle. These complex habitats do the important work of capturing carbon and provide shelter for many species of animals. Unfortunately, they exist on valuable real estate along coasts and we know what happens when the needs of the planet collide with man's greed. Greed wins. From 1980 to 2000, 35% of mangrove habitats disappeared under the developers' earthmovers.

2. Coral reefs: These are beautiful hot spots of diversity in the sea that have been estimated to have benefits to the environment of at least $30 billion a year. They are being destroyed by pollution, fishing, acidification of the ocean, and most especially by increased heat from global warming which bleaches them. This continues in coral reefs around the world while our elected representatives in Washington dither and squabble and deny that global warming even exists.

3. Rainforests: Rainforests have been dubbed the "lungs of the earth" and it is not wrong to call them that. They help to regulate the temperatures and weather on earth as well as producing fresh water for us to drink. And we are destroying a football-field-sized plot of them every single second.

4. Tallgrass prairie: These prairies once covered 140 million acres of our great Midwest. Home of the bison, as well as a great diversity of animals and plants that depended on their yearly cycles, they were regularly ravaged by prairie fires that were a part of that cycle, a part that kept trees out. Then European settlers came and stopped the cycle of fire and put the earth to the plow. In time trees took over. Today, for all practical purposes, the tallgrass prairie has ceased to exist except in small, unsustainable patches as museum exibits.

5. Longleaf pines: Forests of these pines once reached, without a break, from Virginia to Texas and an entire ecology depended upon them. Today they have been stripped from the land and exist only in widely separated patches. Many of the birds and other animals that depended on them have vanished. Birds like the Red-cockaded Woodpecker teeter on the brink of extinction in spite of our belated attempts at protecting it.

6. Glaciers: Global warming is the great culprit here. The glaciers are disappearing at an alarming rate. It is a vicious cycle, because, intact, they help to reflect heat back away from the earth and keep the earth in a temperate climate phase. When they are gone, one more key to humans' survival on earth will have been lost.

7. Wetlands: I spent much of my day yesterday tramping around a part of the great wetland areas that exist along the coast of Texas and I was reminded again of the great diversity of life here - both animal and vegetative. These areas exist as protective barriers along our coasts, helping to mitigate the effects of natural disasters like hurricanes and even man-made catastrophes like oil spills. And, of course, we are destroying them just as fast as we possibly can.

8. Maldives: These are low-lying islands that are disappearing under the ocean as sea levels rise. The people who live there are the victims of our ignorance and stubborn refusal to do what we can - to do anything, really - to mitigate global warming. They know that global warming is happening. They see its effects every day, but they are too small and powerless to do anything to stop it or even slow it down. That is up to us, and we refuse to act.

9. Artic tundra: Like the glaciers, the permafrost which underlies the tundra is melting, endangering the habitat of the caribou, migratory songbirds that spend their summer there, waterfowl, foxes, bears, and wolves. The migratory caribou have already seen a precipitate drop in their numbers in recent years. That condition is likely to continue.

As we continue to see the damage that we are doing to our home planet, many environmentalists will raise the cry, "Save the Earth!" But, I have to admit that I am with George Carlin on this one.

I don't think the Earth needs our saving. George used to say that when we became too expensive for our planet to maintain that Earth would "shake us off like a bad case of fleas." I believe he was right. The Earth will not suffer itself to be destroyed by us. When we become unsustainable, it will shrug us off and go on with the process of repairing the damage we have done.

We might more aptly say, "Save yourself, humanity, before it is too late! Save these precious habitats that sustain you."

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