14/10/2014

Welcome!

Over the course of my degree, I have spent a great deal of time focusing on a diverse range of environmental issues (no surprises there..!). However, when I began brainstorming possible topics for this blog, I realised that two issues in particular dominated my studies: biodiversity loss and climate change. 
And rightfully so! These are the two most significant environmental issues of our time.

Anthropogenic activities, such as deforestation and the burning of fossil fuels are now widely accepted as the driving force behind a number of global environmental changes. In their paper, Rockström et al. (2009) established a set of parameters for a range of earth-system processes. They proposed certain boundaries for each of these systems believed to be the "safe operating space for humanity". Unsurprisingly perhaps, climate change and biodiversity loss are two of the three systems whose boundaries have already been crossed [Figure 1] (on a side note: it is a brilliantly written paper and one of my favourites - a must read! The edited summary can be read here. Also, check out this TED talk by lead author Johan Rockström explaining concepts from the paper).


Figure 1. The Earth-system processes devised by Rockström et al. (2009).
The green area delimits the "safe operating space for humanity"; the boundaries for biodiversity loss and climate change have already been crossed.


The rate at which we are losing species is alarming - so much so that the Earth's sixth mass extinction may in fact be well underway (Barnosky et al. 2011). According to Pimm et al. (2014) "concerns about biodiversity arise because present extinction rates are exceptionally high". The authors state that current extinction rates are estimated at approximately 100 species per million species per year (E/MSY). This is around 1000 times greater than the background extinction rate (i.e. what the extinction rate would be in the absence of human actions) of 0.1 E/MSY.
Other figures are just as worrying: The Living Planet Index, which is published as part of the Living Planet Report revealed that the population sizes of vertebrate species have declined by 52% in the last four decades. Moreover, the Index, which can also be broken down into ecosystems, showed that freshwater species have declined by about three-quarters. Clearly, biodiversity loss is an issue that warrants a great deal of attention.

Climate change is perhaps the biggest environmental issue of modern times. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) stated in their Fifth Assessment Report that "warming of the climate system is unequivocal". Similar to biodiversity loss, it is the accelerated rate at which climate change is occurring that is even more troubling (Steffen et al. 2007).
Putting aside the fact that I actually study this, not a day goes by that I don't read about climate change, whether in the news or on social media. There are a number of campaigns committed to raising awareness on the effects of climate change. Recent examples include the People's Climate March and Greenpeace's Save The Arctic campaign. Even national treasure Emma Thompson has got on board with Greenpeace to campaign against the destruction of the Arctic.

So, with this in mind, I have decided to tackle an environmental issue that is perhaps a little less topical but no less interesting or important (at least to me!): marine pollution.

The reason for this choice is a video I came across a few years ago, which struck me and has stuck with me ever since (see below). I was aware that marine pollution was "a thing" but not to that extent, and I realised that I actually knew very little on the subject.

Over the next few months I will be investigating marine pollution, identifying its sources and exploring its impact on the ocean and its inhabitants, as well as further afield.

So, without further ado, I welcome you to An Ocean of Waste!







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