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May 7, 2019

Our Human Impact on the Rich Biodiversity of Nature

And simple tips to reduce plastic use.

A Series on the Environment from the Question Line Duo

sea turtle and coral

Yesterday, the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, convened by the United Nations, released a devastating, though not surprising report on what we're doing to our planet's ecosystems, what impact our behavior is having on the species of the world, and the consequences of our collective actions.

If you know someone who thinks this "climate change stuff" is blown out of proportion, perhaps this new report will help them to see the bigger picture.

At least a million species are at risk of extinction because of human actions. The abundance of native species in most major land habitats has fallen by a fifth since 1900. Frogs and other amphibians, particularly vulnerable because of their bodies and breeding habits, have suffered an astonishing 40% decline. Many scientists see amphibians as the “canary in the mine”, signalling dangers such as pollution and the spread of disease that can hit frogs and other amphibians harder at first than they do other animals.

Nearly a third of corals around the world and more than a third of marine mammals are also threatened. At least 680 vertebrate species have been driven to extinction in the last 400 years, and that is of those that can be reliably counted.

Even among the animals we value commercially, the picture is grim: about a tenth of all the domesticated breeds of mammals that we eat have been driven to extinction, as we increasingly focus on just a few breeds.

Biodiversity: What the UN has found and what it means for humanity. [The Guardian]

the frog look
scratchy cat

Cat Litter Boxes and Dog Walks

Take the plastic out of your animal care.

We'll address key points brought up by the report in future Environment Series posts. For today, we're forging ahead with an important, simple suggestion to help you eliminate (pun intended) some of the plastic you might throw away this month.

We love our dogs and cats, but they sure are poop machines. And many of us have for years been using plastic bags to clean up after them. Here are a couple of simple changes you can make to take the plastic out of the process.

dog with leash

For Your Dogs
This is the easier of the two. Use biodegradable bags to pick up your dog's business. Greenline Paper Company offers a range of biodegradable, compostable bags, and plenty of other environmentally friendly office and home supplies: Pet Waste Bags.

(Some folks also compost their dog's poo. Just make sure you do it correctly: USDA Dog Waste Composting Instructions.)

For Your Cats
If you have indoor cats and have discovered the odor-control and easy disposal of a "Litter Genie," but you're done with using plastic bags, there's an easy solution. You can use those biodegradable pet waste bags! All you need is a compatible refill adapter and a roll of biodegradable bags.

Or you can do what some staff members here have done for years:
Assign one of those old Rubbermaid containers you have floating around the house as the litter holder. You can also buy a small metal trash can with a good lid. The only time the smell escapes is when you're emptying the litter pan. And once a week, the bin can be emptied into that week's (biodegradable) bag with the rest of the trash.

And about that litter:
Clay litter is not the way to go. Neither is flushing your cat's poo into the septic or sewer system. But there are plenty of ecological, biodegradable, sustainably produced cat litter options available these days. (Beth is partial to the clumping grass seed, and so is her cat!)

loungy cat

Eco-Friendly Cat Litter Options [Paws and Pines]

Can I flush cat poop and scatter the litter? [Sierra Club]

People Are Not Giving Up

From the sublime back to the serious.

There are individuals all over this planet committed to doing everything they can to combat, mitigate or reverse the damage to our environment and the diverse life on Earth. It ain't just humans, people!

Conservationist Voahirana Randriamamonjy knows the value of biodiversity, and understands how to balance that with the human need for survival. The team of bright teenagers working with her farm and conservation group Madagasikara Voakajy know this, too. And they're doing something about it!

Biodiversity Heroes: The Teenagers Saving Madagascar's Wildlife [BBC UK]