The Ecosystem is Breaking Down

The ecosystem is the quintessential essence of life on our planet, and this crucial life system is showing signs of breaking down. It is likely a more pressing problem than climate change. Time will tell but time is short.

The ecosystem consists of all living organisms that interact with nonliving components like air, water, and soil contained within the biosphere, which extends from the bottom of the oceans to the top of the mountains. Although unannounced by authorities or professional orgs, it is already becoming evident that the ecosystem is breaking down. Alas, it’s our only ecosystem.

The evidence is too prevalent to ignore. For example, when (1) abundance of insects plummets by 75%, and (2) tropical rainforests mysteriously emit CO2, and (3) Mt Everest’s snow is too toxic to pass EPA drinking water standards, and (4) squid at 1,000 fathoms carry toxic furniture protection chemicals, and (5) ocean oxygen production plummets, then something is wrong, horribly, horribly, horribly wrong. But, nobody has announced it. Global warming gets all of the attention.

All of which begs the question: What does it take to determine when the ecosystem is losing it? After all, it surely looks like it is doing exactly that. For example, the loss of 75% of insect abundance in a landmark study in Germany (referenced in prior articles) released only last month is enough, all by itself, to indicate an extinction event is in the works. That is a monstrous wake up call.

Equally horrifying, recent studies show tropical rainforests emitting more CO2 than automobiles, which is kinda like getting hit repeatedly in the head with a wooden two-by-four, a deadly serious wake up call that says the planet is breaking down.

As for the rainforest research: A 12-year study claims the world’s tropical rainforests have reversed gears. Instead of absorbing CO2, as they have forever and ever and ever, serving as a carbon sink, they are emitting CO2 into the atmosphere. It’s not supposed to work that way.1

“The forest is not doing what we thought it was doing,” said Alessandro Baccini, who is one of the lead authors of the research team from Woods Hole Research Center and Boston University. “As always, trees are removing carbon from the atmosphere, but the volume of the forest is no longer enough to compensate for the losses. The region is not a sink any more.”2  The “region is not a sink any more” is almost impossible to accept. How can it be true?

Rainforests competing head-to-head with automobiles for most excessive CO2 emissions is a real shocker, a haunting sign of ill-fated climate change. Who would’ve ever thought? It seems as improbable as the Sun shutting down.  It is a spine-chilling signal that the ecosystem is really, truly in trouble. What to do?

Not only is the ecosystem exhibiting undue stress, human health is under attack like never before. Using a baseline year of 1975, observed case counts of cancer are up 76.6% to 193%, depending upon race. As such, Wall Street has discovered a new growth vehicle in biotechnology companies searching for answers to cancer. Nearly 50 new cancer cases are diagnosed in the time it takes (15 minutes) to read this article. These days everybody knows somebody who has been stricken. It’s the leading cause of death worldwide, and one can only wonder and speculate that ecosystem carnage and the cancer epidemic seem to go hand in hand. Ergo, whatever’s poisoning the ecosystem is the most important issue of the 21st century.

The following quote from Julian Cribb’s Surviving the 21st Century, likely tells the story:

The evidence that we ourselves— along with our descendants, potentially for the rest of history— are at risk from the toxic flood we have unleashed is piling up in literally tens of thousands of peer-reviewed scientific research reports. Despite this mass of evidence, the public in most countries is only dimly aware, or even largely unaware of what is being done to them. The reason is twofold: First, most of these reports are buried in scientific journals, written in the arcane and inaccessible language used by specialists. The pubic may hear a little about certain chemical categories of concern, like pesticides and food additives, or the ‘dirty dozen’ (Stockholm Convention 2013) industrial super-poisons, or ‘air pollution’ in general. However, these represent only a scant few pixels in a much larger image now amassing in the scientific literature of tens of thousands of potentially harmful substances which are disseminating worldwide. Second, the proportion of chemicals which have been well-tested for human safety is quite small…3

In short, humanity is poisoning itself with a massive flood of chemicals all across the world, dripping wet with toxicity. It’s little wonder the ecosystem is breaking down under the venom of peacetime chemical warfare. Is it any wonder that insect abundance suddenly plummets by 75%, which is defined, by any book, as an extinction event? People need insects a lot more than insects need people. Eighty percent (80%) of all the world’s plants are angiosperms, dependent upon pollination. No plants, no survival.

According to a United Nations study, most chemicals are never screened for health concerns, and WWF Global claims only 14% of chemicals used in largest volume have minimum data available for initial safety assessments. Yet, the FDA carefully scrutinizes drugs that are used to combat malfunctions like cancer, like Parkinson’s that may be caused by failure to regulate chemicals in the environment in the first place. After all, the chemicals become part of the living ecosystem!

Over time as the public wises up, it’ll be surprising if people do not come to arms over the failure of government to protect life, its ultimate responsibility. The ecosystem breaking down is too serious to avoid responsibility. It does not happen on its own.

As it happens, the deadly combination of global warming, which may be beyond control, and toxic chemicals, which are all over creation in all quarters, destroys the ecosystem in a slow death march by a thousand cuts, until, similar to Rachel Carson’s idyllic American town in her landmark book Silent Spring, it suddenly experiences a “strange blight,” leaving a swathe of inexplicable illnesses, birds found dead, farm animals unable to reproduce, and fruitless apple trees, an eerie lifelessness, yet unannounced, suddenly happening out of the blue. Like General Custer’s troops, caught flat-footed, it’s over so quickly.

Ignorance of the breadth and depth and mass of our toxic chemical planet will be no excuse when Rachel Carson’s “strange blight” suddenly hits hard because ignorance is never an excuse, especially with life and death at hand.

  1. A. Baccini, et al, “Tropical Forests are a Net Carbon Source Based on Aboveground Measurements of Gain and Loss”, Science, Vol. 358, Issue 6360, pp. 230-234, October 13, 2017. []
  2. Jonathan Watts, Alarm as Study Reveals World’s Tropical Forests are Huge Carbon Emission Source, The Guardian, September 28, 2017. []
  3. Julian Cribb, Surviving the 21st Century, Springer Int’l Publishing, Switzerland 2017, p. 108. []
Robert Hunziker (MA, economic history, DePaul University) is a freelance writer and environmental journalist whose articles have been translated into foreign languages and appeared in over 50 journals, magazines, and sites worldwide. He can be contacted at: Read other articles by Robert.