Last Updated 21 Dec 2022

The Destruction of Rainforests and Coral Reefs as Contributors to the Extinction of Species in Humanity’s Footprint, a Book by Walter Dodds

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Due to rising rates in human population and consumption over the past centuries, there has been a significant amount of biodiversity loss and species extinction. In Walter Dodds‘ Humanitys Footprint, he estimated that since 1950, about 300,000 species have gone extinct. Cutting and burning of rainforests and the destruction of coral reefs are, among others, major causes of species extinction, Deforestation contributes to species extinction as well as carbon dioxide, C0,), emissions. The ocean absorbs CO; emissions, which is of the causes of the deterioration of coral reefs. The problem of species extinction is not completely solvable, though the causes can be reduced and the affects can be slowed down. A method to reducing the destruction of rainforests and consequently C02 emissions would be to remove meat from the diet.

A vegetarian diet can be attributed with a significantly smaller carbon footprint. Vegetarianism does not jeopardize the poorer quarter of the world’s chance to attain a higher quality of life; all sufficient nutrients can be obtained through a vegetarian diet, Rainforests are known to be the most diverse ecosystems; however, estimating the amount of species within a rainforest is difficult. The amount of undetermined species must be estimated in order to more accurately assess the amount of species. To do so, biologists visit various areas in a rainforest and count the unique species, which gives them an estimate of undetermined species per type of area. Similarly, extinction rates can be estimated by assessing the rate of rainforest destruction; the rate of habitat loss is multiplied by the average of undetermined species per area (Dodds).

Rainforest destruction accounts for the largest amount of species extinctionr “Current estimates are that 14,000 to 40,000 tropical forest species become extinct each year” (Dodds 76). In Stuart Pimm’s The World According to Pimm, he estimated that “humid tropical forests have shrunk by 7 million km!” in addition to the destruction of other types of rainforests (Pimm 73) Pimm estimated that about 2 million km2 are used for cropland and the remaining 5 million km2 are used for raising cattle and goats. In addition to the destruction of habitats for rainforest species, “9 billion tons of production go into the atmosphere each year as a consequence of forest clearing and burning” (Pimm 103). It is estimated that 1.5 billion tons of that pollution is carbon dioxide, The pollution that enters the atmosphere as a result of deforestation also affects other ecosystems and their biodiversity.

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Similar to rainforests, coral reefs are considered one of the most diverse ecosystems in terms of species, For example, “an Australian researcher once broke apart a volleyball-sized chunk of coral and found, living inside of it, more than fourteen hundred polychaete worms belonging to 103 different species" (Kolbert 139), Coral reefs are part animal, vegetable, and mineral, and are both living and dead It is estimated that thousands, possibly even millions, of species have come to rely on coral reefs for protection or a resource for food. A study published in Science in 2008 found about one third of coral reefs to be in danger of extinction (Kolbert). The destruction of coral reefs is due to affects of climate change and carbon dioxide emissions. Coral reefs need tropical temperatures; however, when the temperature increases past homeostasis, equilibrium is lost and species are affected.

As the result of an increase in the water‘s temperature, algae leave the reef causing the coral to lose color, “bleaching“ the coral, and eventually malnutrition and death Coral reef destruction is also largely due to the increase of carbon dioxide emissions, which cause the ocean to acidify, first discovered in an experiment in Arizona called Biosphere 2 (Kolbert) A high amount of CO: content in the air directly correlates to a low pH of the ocean. Another manner for measuring the affects of ocean acidification is the saturation state of the water, which is essentially a measure of the concentration of calcium and carbonate ions within the ocean. “when C02 dissolves in water, it forms carbonic acid --H2CO;-- which effectively ‘eats’ carbonate ions, thus lowering the saturation state”.

The Biosphere 2 experiment confirmed the hypothesis that the growth rate of corals and the saturation state of water are directly correlated; the higher the saturation state, the higher the growth rate of corals. An increase in carbon dioxide emissions lowers the saturation state of water, resulting in a lower rate of growth for coral reefs. National Geographic estimated that “around half of all carbon dioxide produced by humans since the industrial revolution has been dissolved into the world’s oceans” (Pickrell) Before the industrial revolution, the world’s major reefs held a saturation state between four and five; however, currently most reefs hold a saturation state below four and it is projected that by 2060, no region will be above 35 (Kolbert). Therefore, it is clear that the saturation state of oceans is a direct result of industrialization and consumption.

Furthermore, the affects of deforestation and the destruction of coral reefs on biodiversity are nearly irreversible; the only solution is to slow destruction down. Dodds estimated that it would take millions of years for new species to evolve to replace the species humans have caused to go extinct. Only with changes in consumption driven by environmental values can destruction of rainforests and coral reefs be hindered, A change in consumption that would not inhibit the poorest in the world from attaining a higher quality of living would be to adopt a vegetarian diet. Much of the destruction of rainforests is done to create farms for raising animals for slaughter. Forest destruction and cattle grazing contribute to C01 emissions, which lower the saturation state of coral reefs and cause the ecosystem to die. In Brazil, it was estimated that 80% of forest destruction was due to an increase in raising cattle for consumption (Felsinger).

The emissions as a result of various livestock (and their byproducts) account for at least 32,000 million tons of C02 per year (Anhang). After much research Lindsay Wilson found that a vegetarian diet has a carbon footprint of 1.7 t C028, significantly smaller than the average diet with meat, which had a carbon footprint of 2.5 t COle. It is worth noting that simply removing beef from the diet reduces the carbon footprint to 1,9 t C029 (Wilson) It is clear that incorporating vegetarianism into one‘s lifestyle would benefit the ecosystem; fewer cattle would be raised, resulting in less carbon dioxide emissions, less deforestation for cattle grazing land, and consequently less carbon dioxide absorbed by the ocean and coral reefs.

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