Hello, potatoes!!! 🥔
Out topic of the month is extinction and invasion! The rate of extinction is increasing with climate change, and this month we’re explaining some of the causes and ways to support biodiversity. Extinctions are a terrible consequence of climate change, but conservation efforts exist and are expanding, so supporting those and doing small things can help your fungus, plant, and animal neighbors!
For some background: We are currently in the 6th mass extinction — the Anthropocene Extinction — because this time, we are the cause of the drastic change in climate. Global temperature has risen by 1° Celsius in the last 150 years — while that may not sound like a lot, it’s enough to make ecosystems shift and habitats become uninhabitable. For example, oceans are becoming more acidic as they absorb some of the excess CO2 in the atmosphere, which harms many kinds of marine life.
It’s estimated that the current rate of extinction is 1,000–10,000% higher than a natural rate, much of which has been caused by humans and the warming of the planet. At least 15,000 species have been categorized as endangered, although there are maaany that haven’t been researched and we can guess there are a lot more. Also, focus is often placed on animal species, when plants and fungi are also in danger. All of these species are important to maintaining the ecosystems on our planet.
However, climate change is not the only cause of extinction; there are some other threats:
For the first two, support laws against hunting, especially of endangered species (see our list of resources), and report poaching if you encounter it. Also avoid ivory and fur! Species have been lost to hunting, but laws like the Endangered Species Act are being put into place to prevent this from continuing. For the third, avoid pesticides in your yard (see below) or encourage the owners of the place you live to stop using them, and use homegrown or organic food if possible. In addition to killing “pests,” pesticides can be lethal to pollinators, native plants, and other species we rely on for survival, so it’s important to find alternatives. And for the last, support forest conservation (see resources) and switch to a plant-based diet (about half of deforestation is for animal agriculture).
Animal agriculture is also a big problem. When it comes to land animals, millions of hectares per year of forest are destroyed to make room for pasture; about a third of crops worldwide go to feeding those animals, taking up more land, and that’s even higher (67%) in the Midwest. Deforestation alone accounts for 20% of global greenhouse-gas emissions, and half of that is for agriculture. Unsustainable practices, such as planting a single crop over and over in one area, then lead that land to degrade and become unfarmable. The majority of animals raised for meat, however, are raised in factory farms, which is unspeakably horrible for them, and though it takes less land space, it has other environmental impacts. When it comes to seafood, aquaculture (fish factory farms) is a terrible unpotato like other factory farming, and wild-caught seafood also has problems. Sea creatures like turtles, seals, and dolphins are harmed by fishing equipment, and commercial fishing contributes to plastic pollution in the ocean. Fish are often left to suffocate instead of being killed painlessly, and some are wasted because they rot before reaching the shore. Here’s some more information and what you can do!
At least 15,000 species have been categorized as endangered, although there are maaany that haven’t been researched and we can guess there are a lot more. Also, focus is often placed on animal species, when plants and fungi are also in danger. All of these species are important to maintaining the ecosystems on our planet.
Native species are also put at risk by new species spreading to previously uninhabitable places, often known as invasive species. YourDictionary’s definition of an invasive species is “Any species that has been introduced to an environment where it is not native, and that has since become a nuisance through rapid spread and increase in numbers, often to the detriment of native species.” We are, of course, the most invasive species, so our first task must be to stop the harmful effects we’re currently having on the planet. But because of changing habitats, species are spreading to new regions and threatening the existing species. Humans also sometimes bring species to new regions, such as emerald ash borers, who demolished most of the local ash trees, and zebra mussels, who were brought into the Great Lakes on ships from southeastern Europe in the ’80s and have spread dramatically, causing habitat loss for other species (and taking over our water pipes).
You could consider planting native plants (such as these) instead of growing entirely grass and non-native species in your yard, and planting imperiled plants or food gardens instead of lawns, because lawns are not a potato. Groundcovers are a simple replacement for grass. Another potential resource is a food forest, which is a local, self-sustaining food source for communities! You can learn more about the Ann Arbor Food Forest in this video, and consider helping out with existing food forests or building one locally to you!
While the extinction rate has been drastically rising, the importance of conservation is also becoming recognized. And several species have successfully returned from the brink of extinction — there is always hope! Here are some things you can do: Plant native plants and plants for pollinators (instead of a dreadful lawn), avoid pesticides, find more sustainable sources of meat and/or reducing consumption, support permaculture initiatives, look into organizations working to help endangered species, support petitions and campaigns, and spread the word!
And now, dear humans of the world, is your time to go save the world! We may be the oncoming sixth mass extinction, but it’s not too late to turn things around. Here are this month’s checklist and resources! Make sure to check it out, and be a potato!!