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Marginalising an exceptional planet of life
Published on: Sunday, June 13, 2021
By: Kan Yaw Chong
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Location of Earth in the Solar System – located precisely at 149.6km from the Sun – not too hot, not too cold.
LAST Sunday’s Special Report entitled “A dead planet on World environment Day” was actually a deliberate cynical spin on a grandiose delusion that one species – the human race – towers over and dominate the rest of some 11.3 million different species of known life on Earth called biodiversity.   

Earth sustains an incredible diversity of life that live and teem in the environment called ecosystems. 

But the biggest paradox is, instead of a deep recognition and understanding that the other 11 million living species are actually the “lord” of their survival, the human race play power, play domination, play exceptionalism and are trampling the only planet of life to its steady decline.

Every time we google on the subject, we read on the one hand astonishing new species turn up daily as new roads and new technologies penetrate formerly remote habitats but on the other hand, species also vanish for ever at what scientists estimate at 100 to 1,000 times the normal extinction rate.

In Sabah, for instance, we watched in despair the charismatic, probably the most ancient Sumatran rhino go extinct in 2019.  At sea, veteran underwater stalwarts Simon Christopher and Monica Chin, founder and co-founder of Blu Hope Sabah reported the gorgeous dugongs that once thrived in Pulau Mantanani had disappeared – no more!

Bad news on the pygmy elephants from Sabah is regular fodder in the papers and internet.   Decline, killing and extinction move on in Sabah and worldwide.

All over the world, species and ecosystems are being taken out and removed thoughtlessly from their ecosystems on a daily basis.   

The big fall in wildlife population   

But nobody knows for sure what the tipping point is which may spark what some call eco-collapse.

World wildlife population had fallen by an average of 58pc since the 1970s, reported The Living Planet Assessment by the Zoological Society London and WWF in an analysis which looked at 3,700 species birds, fish, mammals, amphibians and reptiles – about 6pc of the total number of vertebrate species in the world.               

But worth noting is the strongest decline is in fresh water species – 81pc, due to fresh water use – the way water is taken out of fresh water systems, fragmentation of fresh water systems, pollution.

Absolute paradox – obsessive hunt for water on Mars on the one hand and life in overflowing water on Earth being snuffed out without a an objection said.   

Anecdotal comments from Lower Kinabatangan river folks since the 1990s that I know of all shared a common thread – great drop in udang galah and fish catches, very little now compared to the old days.  

Yet one of the focal search in Mars mission is sign of water and what they found is just trace amounts of water vapours that is impossible to sustain life. 

The assault on oceans and land 

Here we are on earth where 75pc of the planet’s surface is covered with water teeming with life but the human race is busy flooding the oceans with gargantuan of plastic waste that the prediction is by 2050, there will be more plastic than fish.

Land covers only 29pc of Earth’s surface but according to a latest World Environment Day report – there too, humans are busy destroying the foundation of their survival: That is, 4.7 million hectares of forests, roughly representing 58pc of Sabah’s total 73,900sq km land mass, are lost every year.             

This takes us back to last Sunday’s report on “A dead planet on World Environment Day”, a cynical suggestion that maybe a World Mars Day may mock the stupor and insensitivity out of the human race to where their interest and care should be.

That Planet Earth is confirmed the exception – the only planet that can claim life exist has been proven beyond doubt. 

But a by-and-large a forgetful and careless human race is not only threatening to extinguish this sole living planet but has also become an existential danger to himself by killing the very living world that he depends on for his future.  

For where can man live except Earth.

All planets are dead except Earth 

We noted that despite probe after probe staring with the Vikings 1 & 2 to find life on Mars since the 1970s, American and Chinese surface rovers came back empty – they did not find even one nano speck of bacteria!

In fact, all nine planets in the Solar System are dead and very hostile, except Earth.  

Mercury, 57.9 million km from the Sun the smallest and closest planet to the Sun, is 800 degrees F during the day and 290 degrees at night – far too hot liquid water and atmosphere to form.

Venus, is 870 degree F in surface temperature which can melt lead with a trace 0.1pc oxygen and atmosphere, 96pc carbon dioxide and 3pc nitrogen – impossible for life as we know it.         

Being 484 million km from the Sun, Jupita’s atmosphere has no oxygen, so if we get there, we will be like African American George Floyd who famously complained “I can’t breathe” and died after a police officer Derek Chauvin stood his knee on his neck for nine minutes. 

At average surface temperature minus 234 degree C, Jupita id frigid during the warmest weather. So it’s another dead planet.

Next Saturn, 1.4 billion km from the Sun, its  wind speed hits 1,000 miles per hour – faster than a jet liner! The other downsides include a surface temperature of minus 288 degrees F with oxygen not in the usable form in the tiny fraction of its deep atmosphere which is saturated with hydrogen.

Uranus, 2.8 billion km from the Sun with a radius of 25,362km wide, is essentially entirely a gas planet four times wider than earth with zero oxygen and also the coldest planet at minus 371 degrees F. So it is thoroughly hostile to life as we know it.

Neptune, 4.65 billion km from the Sun, reportedly has the wildest and strangest weather in the Solar System with huge storm systems whipping the planet at 1,300 to 2,200 miles per hour at temperature minus 373 degree F!

The weather alone is so extreme it offers no hope for man. Last but not least is Pluto which is 5.8  billion km  from Earth and day in Pluto takes 153 hours!

Because it is so far from the Sun, there is very little sunlight. At a radius of 715 miles or only 1/6th of the of Earth, Pluto is not considered a planet but made up of debris of ice and rocks left over from the formation of the Solar System 4.5 billion years ago. 

So, for sure, Pluto is another dead planet – we have established all nine planets and their moons in our Solar System, are dead, except Planet Earth. 

Why life exclusive to Earth  

Why is life exclusive to Earth? Well, heard of the well-worn retail business cliché for success – location, location, location?

Similarly, Earth scientists attribute its precise orbital location to explain a planet teeming with life – the so-called “Goldilock Zone” which describes a habitable area in space in which a planet is located at just the right distance from its home star so that the surface temperature is neither too hot or too cold for water to remain liquid. 

So, lucky for us, Earth is located precisely in the Goldilocks zone.

In short, Earth is within the range where liquid water can persist – 0.99 to 1.7 AU (Astronomical Unit).

Astronomical Unit is a unit of measurement equal to 149.6 million kilometres – the mean distance from the centre of the Earth to the centre of the Sun. 

So what is the mean orbital distance of Earth to our Sun? Precisely 149.6 million km!

But even then, it is confined to certain limits – no colder than the Antarctica, no hotter than blistering red hot deserts, no higher than the clouds, no lower than few miles deep such as deep mine microbes.

In other words, the life supporting zone in our Solar System is really paper-thin, and less than paper-thin, nothing and less than nothing in context of the limitless bounds of our galaxy especially the universe.

Very precarious, actually. 

Sole Super Power of life marginalised 

But beyond a limited circle of naturalist intelligence and sensitivity –conservationists, researchers, people involved in planting trees, taking care of animals, studying animals or plants, zoo keepers, biologists, gardeners and veterinarians, who cares. 

For sure, formidable naturalists like Sir David Attenborough has made a dent, but overall, it is still a lone voice crying in the wilderness, barely heard, much less heeded. 

So this sole super power of life in the universe – Planet Earth, is still very much marginalised, not accorded the primacy and exceptionalism that that it really is.

Instead, humans everywhere have thoroughly subverted the supremacy of biodiversity as if they are the only species which counts.

So some people correctly ask: Are we the only species on Earth? Surely not.

Between where I am writing this report and say, Brazil – there are millions of different types of plants and animals, millions of different species all living together in an environment, in something we call ecosystems. 

It takes all the millions of different kinds of plants and animal species to make ecosystems healthy and successful in rendering life sustaining ecosystem services and functions – lots of different kinds of plants and animals for life to click – something we call biodiversity.       

The point of it all 

This is Earth – our world, our planet. 

All the living things that we know of live here – not Mercury, not Venus, not Mars, not Jupita, not Saturn, not Neptune, not Uranus, certainly not Pluto.

But they live in ecosystems – places like our tropical rainforests, our coastal seas, our deep seas, our rivers, our wetlands, our famous coral reefs, islands, our mountains, our mangroves forests, our flood plains like Lower Kinabatangan, our estuaries, our inter tidal zones and globally, in the tundra, savannah grasslands, even deserts, continental shelves (like Sipadan Island), deep oceans, arctic ice packs and maybe even cities. 

That’s a lot of environment but Planet Earth has a lot of living things to fill them up.

The Earth’s environment is crowded with life, unlike the rest of the eight planets in the Solar System where not even one speck of life can be found. 

But on Earth, living things take hold of everywhere they can, like spiders spin webs across a space between leaves in the bush.

The point is, living things live on other living things.

“All living things depend on other living things,” noted Bill Nye.

“So the more different kinds of living things in an ecosystem, the more successful it is. We call this biodiversity. 

“The thing is life in an ecosystem depends on each other to live, they are connected.

“Once a while, a species would go extinct, will disappear form the ecosystem without much trouble but when you start losing too many, the whole thing becomes unstable, unsound, unsafe and crumble,” Nye said, using the example of a Wooden Puzzle Game. 

Spot on. Exactly what insightful climate scientists and life earth science experts worry about – all the major ecosystems are failing and life is fading. 

Sole species causing the rot

Nye singled out one species is causing this rot: Humans.

“Humans fit in everywhere, just about anywhere you can walk, you find people living and because humans are living things, they are part of the ecosystembut they remove them,” he said. 

Climate scientists are unanimous that the culprit behind climate change is anthropogenic – that is, human caused. 

Everybody knows the human species is behind habitat destruction, illegal wildlife trade where they not only remove wildlife big time but also remove and replace ecosystems big-time without even knowing how the diversity of life fit together.

The warning is if the human species is not careful but keeps on thinking he is exceptional and continue to destroy and run down the ecosystems and irreversibly destroy biodiversity, he may have nowhere to go in the end. 

When ecosystem and biodiversity is misunderstood

But why is the trail of destruction continuing despite the obvious.

Prof James Hanson, a top climate change guru has said one reason is the experts have not made the subject simple and easily understood. For instance, the simple cause of climate change is heat energy imbalance and the answer is to remove the excess heat from Earth’s atmosphere.

In the same way, biodiversity and ecosystem richness is often used to claim reputation rather than gunning for their essential meaning.

For example, is ecosystem just a place where wildlife live? The following definition in its dynamic sense is a good one to think about and expand:

Definition of ecosystem revisited    

“Ecosystems are defined as the interaction between living organisms – plants, animals, people – with their surroundings. This include nature, but also human-made systems such as cities or farms.”

The focus here is the interaction between living things and non-living things, too.

For example, every breath I inhale is actually an interaction between me and  maybe the Pacific Ocean, as remotely as it may sound, because we know the 60pc of the world oxygen are produced by the oceans. So this fresh understanding of ecosystem and biodiversity make them all very relevant personally no matter where they are. Or when we  eat a banana it  actually is an interaction with not just the farm but also the sun, the atmosphere and even the carbon cycle because the banana is really a product of photosynthesis – an interaction betwen the chlorophyll in the banana leaf, solar energy, carbondioxide and water which defines ecosystem functions. 

Clearly the humble banana plant interacts with the air in a way that help stabilise the CO2 level in the atmosphere which impacts climate  positively and seeing how these interactions benefit us greatly increase our appreciation of the environment, ecosystems and biodiversity which promotes more serious conservation . 

This is exactly what James Lovelock noticed in his famous Gaia hypothesis. 

While comparing the atmospheres of Earth, Mars and Venus he noted that the earth was chemically in a state of flux (continuous change). 

Conversely, Mars and Venus were chemically unchanging and predominantly composed of carbon dioxide.  

How is it that earth’s atmosphere which was an active mixture of gases (78pc nitrogen, 20pc oxygen, 0.04pc CO2 etc) and still retained its overall composition (stable)? His conclusion? That life regulated the atmosphere by its many processes!

There it is, life sustains life of Planet Earth.  If the human species does not understand that and continues to bludgeon ecosystems and biodiversity to death, they are digging their own graves.  

 

Graphic illustration of the Goldilocks Zoned which enables exclusive life on Earth. 

The perfect orbital distance betwen Earth and the Sun – 1AU which is 149.6 million km

Amazing showcase of life on Planet Earth in a wetland ecosystem. Classic ecosytem interaction at work – an Oriental darter catches a fish after diving into the fresh water ecosystem in a golf club pond where the fish live. (Pic: Clement Lee) 

Earth – a planet teeming with life – a typical ecosystem product from interaction between fresh water ecosytem and ‘udang galah’.





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