Our Fragile Planet

Here is an article that appeared in the latest KZN Wildlife Rhino Club Newsletter that is worth reading, it certainly is thought provoking and should be foremost in our minds. Not all is doom and gloom though, and their newsletters are action packed with positive impacts along with the negative, so why not apply for your own Green Card for regular updates and special offers as well.

“There are two fundamental truths we need to understand before we can properly grasp why natural systems work the way they do.

The first of these is the first law of thermodynamics. This states that matter/energy cannot be created nor can it be destroyed. The quantity of matter/energy remains the same. It can change from solid to liquid to gas to plasma and back again, but the total amount of matter/energy in the universe remains constant. However the second law of thermodynamics states while quantity remains the same, the quality of matter/energy deteriorates gradually over time. Usable energy is converted through productivity, growth and repair to unusable energy, usually in the form of heat which is no longer available to the system. The second truth is that the Earths resources are finite. The planet and its biosphere, which supports life, is composed mostly of iron (32.1%), oxygen (30.1%), silicon (15.1%), magnesium (13.9%), sulphur (2.9%), nickel (1.8%), calcium (1.5%), and aluminium (1.4%); with the remaining 1.2% consisting of trace amounts of other elements. Once we have used up these non-renewable resources, that’s it as far as we are concerned!

As far as renewable resources are concerned, consider the following facts. Although about 50% of all the solar energy captured by photosynthesis worldwide is used by humans, it is still inadequate to meet all of the planet’s needs for food worldwide. To make up for this shortfall, a huge amount of fossil energy (oil, gas, and coal) is utilized worldwide each year. The world supply of oil is projected to last approximately 50 years at current production rates. Worldwide, the natural gas supply is adequate for about 50 years and coal for about 100.These estimates, however, are based on current consumption rates and current population numbers. If all people in the world enjoyed a standard of living and energy consumption rate similar to that of the average American, and the world population continued to grow at a rate of 1.5%, the world’s fossil fuel reserves would last about 15 years.

The present and future availability of adequate supplies of freshwater for human and agricultural needs is already critical in many regions. Currently, 65% of the water removed from all sources worldwide is used solely for irrigation. The minimum amount of water required per capita for food is about 400,000 litres per year. Water resources and population densities are unevenly distributed worldwide. Even though the total amount of water made available by the hydrologic cycle is enough to provide the world’s current population with adequate fresh water, at the minimum requirements cited above, most of this total water is concentrated in specific regions, leaving other areas water-deficient. Water demands already far exceed supplies in nearly 80 nations of the world.

Desalinisation of ocean water is not a viable source of the freshwater needed by agriculture, because the process is energy intensive and, hence, economically impractical. The amount of desalinised water required by 1 hectare of mealies would cost R98000, while all other inputs, like fertilizers, cost only R3500. This figure does not even include the additional cost of moving large amounts of water from the ocean to agricultural fields.

These are just two instances of the short-sightedness of our human society. Add climate change and we are in for a rough ride!

All species are hardwired to maximise the use of available energy at any trophic level, whether fleeing wildebeest or the rotting remains of plants or animals. This competitive drive for the survival of the species in the natural world is counter balanced because all species do it and this is what forms the food web. It`s eat and be eaten. Humans have out competed all other species and now compete with each other for diminishing energy resources. Can we change our essential nature from competitiveness to co-operation? Looking at the worlds current state it does not look like it!”

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