Thursday, February 12, 2009

State Of The Planet With David Attenborough

I was watching BBC's Science and Nature documentary show State of The Planet (produced by Rupert Barrington, hosted by Sir David Attenborough) and felt compelled to blog about this very informative and educational documentary series.

In this series that I watched, David Attenborough investigates the main causes of human acitivities that cause damage to our planet and what we can do about it.

In summary, the five main causes are:

1. Over Harvesting

Human beings' overly efficient methods of gaining resources for our own survival has resulted in over harvesting of earth's precious resources, both on land and in the sea.

Trees are fell today ten times more than new ones can grow. Rare wild species are taken for luxury food. At least 70% of world's important fish stock are over-exploited already.

Just over the last 30 years, one third of the world's resources have been used up. There is an estimate that if the world's population keeps using resources the way it does today, in 50 years' time, we would need another planet Earth to sustain.

2. Introduction of Alien Species.

Animals and plants introduced to places they have never been before are called alien species. Alien species often tip the local ecological balance with excessive numbers of a particular species that can result in over-grazing as well as the extinction of local species. This problem is especially exacerbated in small oceanic islands, like Hawaii. In the present day, there are very few native birds and vegetation left in Hawaii.

One example is the introduction of giant African snails in Hawaii to satiate the demands for large snails for consumption. The alien African snails however, being larger and with a bigger appetite, soon caused vegetation to suffer. To combat the problem, yet another alien snail, the killer snails from Florida, were introduced in the hope of controlling the number of African snails. The killer snails however, prefers hunting down the smaller local snails instead and this resulted in the dwindling numbers and species of local snails in Hawaii.

3. Destruction of Habitats.

This is probably by far the most destructive of all human activities on the planet. By taking over land for the use of living and urbanisation, man is taking away the natural habitats of animals and plants.

It is human nature to source for shelter from the harsh environment and make living comfortable. The problem started however when man's destruction of habitats progressed at an unprecedented speed that leaves the animals and plants little time and room to shift habitat or reproduce.

4. Islandisation.

Islandisation refers to islands of vegetation that are often the result of destruction of habitats which breaks up large natural forests. Even national parks and nature reserves are islands.

When a large forest is fragmented, the individual plots are unable to support as many species of animals and plants as the original large area. Generally, species are lost when islandisation happens. This is especially so if the animals or plants are localised. Even for national parks and nature reserves, species could be lost over time if they remain too small.

5. Pollution.

Pollution is generally a localised problem. However, pollution of the atmosphere for instance, that is the release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, is a problem that affects the whole world.

Carbon dioxide is a green gas and traps heat. As more and more carbon dioxide is released, more and more heat is trapped in the atmosphere. This results in global warming that already causes sea level to rise by 10-20 cm. Low lying areas are drowned. Natural disastors like hurricanes gain intensity.

Other than human beings, species most affected by pollution are sea creatures as water spreads pollution easier than on land.

The state of our planet is in dire condition today due to the fact that destructive human activities as listed above are carried out at an unprecedent speed. If these were to continue, while the planet will not be extinct in our lifetime, our future generations will inherit a less colourful, less vibrant, biologically improverished planet.

So what are the steps that we can take to halt the pace of destruction?

Looking at the main causes of problems above, we have to be more conscientious in conservation, sensitive to biological diversity and utilise clean energy. All these can start with education.

I wish to see that Singapore's recycling program can be more robust. Children should learn and do more conservation works like recycling, much like the Japanese children in schools. Bottles and newspapers are collected regularly. Used milk packets are used to make handy stationery boxes for teachers as gifts.

Japanese children are educated from young to learn and appreciate the flora and fauna, as well as insects and animals in their natural environment. It is not uncommon to find teachers and children planting and sharing sweet potatoes in schools, and students making excursions and sketching trips in nature parks.

For more facts and figures on the above environmental causes, please view the BBC website on State of The planet: