Nature under siege as a million species face extinction, UN warns

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In this June 7, 2017, file photo, two wild elephants, part of a herd that arrived at a wetland near the Thakurkuchi railway station engage in a tussle on the outskirts of Gauhati, Assam, India. (AP)
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In this Dec. 4, 2018, file photo, birds fly past a smoking chimney in Ludwigshafen, Germany. (AP)
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In this Aug. 30, 2008, file photo, fish swim next to a coral reef at Cayo de Agua in archipelago Los Roques, Venezuela. (AP)
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Relentless pursuit of economic growth, twinned with the impact of climate change, has put an "unprecedented" one million species at risk of extinction, scientists said on Monday in a landmark report on the damage done by modern civilisation to the natural world. Mia Womersley reports. (REUTERS)
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In this March 20, 2018, file photo, giraffes and zebras congregate under the shade of a tree in the afternoon in Mikumi National Park, Tanzania. (AP)
Updated 07 May 2019
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Nature under siege as a million species face extinction, UN warns

  • Scientists have only examined a small fraction of the estimated 8 million species on Earth
  • Many of the worst effects can be prevented by changing the way we grow food, produce energy, deal with climate change and dispose of waste

WASHINGTON: People are putting nature in more trouble now than at any other time in human history, with extinction looming over 1 million species of plants and animals, scientists said Monday.
But it’s not too late to fix the problem, according to the United Nations’ first comprehensive report on biodiversity.
“We have reconfigured dramatically life on the planet,” report co-chairman Eduardo Brondizio of Indiana University said at a press conference.
Species loss is accelerating to a rate tens or hundreds of times faster than in the past, the report said. More than half a million species on land “have insufficient habitat for long-term survival” and are likely to go extinct, many within decades, unless their habitats are restored. The oceans are not any better off.
“Humanity unwittingly is attempting to throttle the living planet and humanity’s own future,” said George Mason University biologist Thomas Lovejoy, who has been called the godfather of biodiversity for his research. He was not part of the report.
“The biological diversity of this planet has been really hammered, and this is really our last chance to address all of that,” Lovejoy said.
Conservation scientists convened in Paris to issue the report, which exceeded 1,000 pages. The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) included more than 450 researchers who used 15,000 scientific and government reports. The report’s summary had to be approved by representatives of all 109 nations.
Some nations hit harder by the losses, like small island countries, wanted more in the report. Others, such as the United States, were cautious in the language they sought, but they agreed “we’re in trouble,” said Rebecca Shaw, chief scientist for the World Wildlife Fund, who observed the final negotiations.
“This is the strongest call we’ve seen for reversing the trends on the loss of nature,” Shaw said.
The findings are not just about saving plants and animals, but about preserving a world that’s becoming harder for humans to live in, said Robert Watson, a former top NASA and British scientist who headed the report.
“We are indeed threatening the potential food security, water security, human health and social fabric” of humanity, Watson told The Associated Press.
It’s also an economic and security issue as countries fight over scarcer resources. Watson said the poor in less developed countries bear the greatest burden.
The report’s 39-page summary highlighted five ways people are reducing biodiversity:
— Turning forests, grasslands and other areas into farms, cities and other developments. The habitat loss leaves plants and animals homeless. About three-quarters of Earth’s land, two-thirds of its oceans and 85% of crucial wetlands have been severely altered or lost, making it harder for species to survive, the report said.
— Overfishing the world’s oceans. A third of the world’s fish stocks are overfished.
— Permitting climate change from the burning of fossil fuels to make it too hot, wet or dry for some species to survive. Almost half of the world’s land mammals — not including bats — and nearly a quarter of the birds have already had their habitats hit hard by global warming.
— Polluting land and water. Every year, 300 to 400 million tons of heavy metals, solvents and toxic sludge are dumped into the world’s waters.
— Allowing invasive species to crowd out native plants and animals. The number of invasive alien species per country has risen 70% since 1970, with one species of bacteria threatening nearly 400 amphibian species.
“The key to remember is, it’s not a terminal diagnosis,” said report co-author Andrew Purvis of the Natural History Museum in London.
Fighting climate change and saving species are equally important, the report said, and working on both environmental problems should go hand in hand. Both problems exacerbate each other because a warmer world means fewer species, and a less biodiverse world means fewer trees and plants to remove heat-trapping carbon dioxide from the air, Lovejoy said.
The world’s coral reefs are a perfect example of where climate change and species loss intersect. If the world warms another 0.9 degrees (0.5 degrees Celsius), which other reports say is likely, coral reefs will probably dwindle by 70% to 90%, the report said. At 1.8 degrees (1 degree Celsius), the report said, 99% of the world’s coral will be in trouble.
“Business as usual is a disaster,” Watson said.
At least 680 species with backbones have already gone extinct since 1600. The report said 559 domesticated breeds of mammals used for food have disappeared. More than 40% of the world’s amphibian species, more than one-third of the marine mammals and nearly one-third of sharks and fish are threatened with extinction.
The report relies heavily on research by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, or IUCN, which is composed of biologists who maintain a list of threatened species.
The IUCN calculated in March that 27,159 species are threatened, endangered or extinct in the wild out of nearly 100,000 species biologists examined in depth. That includes 1,223 mammal species, 1,492 bird species and 2,341 fish species. Nearly half the threatened species are plants.
Scientists have only examined a small fraction of the estimated 8 million species on Earth.
The report comes up with 1 million species in trouble by extrapolating the IUCN’s 25% threatened rate to the rest of the world’s species and using a lower rate for the estimated 5.5 million species of insects, Watson said.
Outside scientists, such as Lovejoy and others, said that’s a reasonable assessment.
The report gives only a generic “within decades” time frame for species loss because it is dependent on many variables, including taking the problem seriously, which can reduce the severity of the projections, Watson said.
“We’re in the middle of the sixth great extinction crisis, but it’s happening in slow motion,” said Conservation International and University of California Santa Barbara ecologist Lee Hannah, who was not part of the report.
Five times in the past, Earth has undergone mass extinctions where much of life on Earth blinked out, like the one that killed the dinosaurs. Watson said the report was careful not to call what’s going on now as a sixth big die-off because current levels don’t come close to the 75% level in past mass extinctions.
The report goes beyond species. Of the 18 measured ways nature helps humans, the report said 14 are declining, with food and energy production noticeable exceptions. The report found downward trends in nature’s ability to provide clean air and water, good soil and other essentials.
Habitat loss is one of the biggest threats, and it’s happening worldwide, Watson said. The report projects 15.5 million miles (25 million kilometers) of new roads will be paved over nature between now and 2050, most in the developing world.
Many of the worst effects can be prevented by changing the way we grow food, produce energy, deal with climate change and dispose of waste, the report said. That involves concerted action by governments, companies and people.
Individuals can help with simple changes to the way they eat and use energy, said the co-chairman of the report, ecological scientist Josef Settele of the Helmholtz Center for Environmental Research in Germany. That doesn’t mean becoming a vegetarian or vegan, but balancing meat, vegetables and fruit, and walking and biking more, Watson said.
“We can actually feed all the coming billions of people without destroying another inch of nature,” Lovejoy said. Much of that can be done by eliminating food waste and being more efficient, he said.


Detroit’s Islamic Center organizes ‘Iftar tent’ to offer free meals

Updated 4 min 17 sec ago
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Detroit’s Islamic Center organizes ‘Iftar tent’ to offer free meals

  • Initiative aims to strengthen bonds between American Muslims and non-Muslims
  • Madeleine Moytuzu, a documentary filmmaker and freelance journalist, is working on a documentary series that focuses on Muslim immigrants in America

DETROIT, US: For many American Muslims, iftar is more than just the breaking of the fast at sunset each evening during the holy month of Ramadan. It is an opportunity for them to build bonds by gathering with non-Muslims to convey a better understanding of Islam.

Throughout the country, Muslims are inviting non-Muslims, including public officials, to join them during iftar. The non-Muslims are leaving the gathering with stronger ties and a better understanding of Islam and America’s growing Muslim community.

The Islamic Center in Detroit (ICD), the largest mosque in the Midwest, launched an initiative to establish the “Ramadan tent,” which provides free iftar meals for Muslims and non-Muslims, as well as offering free sahoor during the last 10 days of the holy month. The mosque has also organized breakfast events for a variety of public figures in the American community to strengthen cooperation between the ICD and American institutions.

“As the holy month of Ramadan is taking place, Muslims all over the world use this month to focus on their spirituality,” ICD Executive Director Sufian Nabhan said.

“We find many ways to increase our service to God. One of the most satisfying rewards is feeding the less fortunate in our community. Each night during Ramadan, over 200 families are our guests at this most worthy demonstration of man’s love and caring for other fellow human beings.”

 

Special hours 

Often in communities with sizable Muslim populations within Greater Detroit, such as Dearborn, Hamtramck, and increasingly suburbs like Canton and Troy, you will see restaurants set up special Ramadan hours to accommodate their practicing customers, with some staying open 24/7. Dearborn, which is one of the largest communities of American Muslims, is sometimes known as the Muslims’ Plymouth Rock, a reference to the spot where European explorers on the Mayflower first set foot in the “New World” in 1620.

The ICD invited several major mainstream news media representatives to share iftar in recognition of the role they play in educating the community on important issues, including on the Muslim community.

Veteran journalist Walter Middlebrook, a former assistant manager at Detroit News, said the gathering was “an important step to learn about the cultures and issues of Arab communities” as part of American society.

“Every media outlet in the city has an open door for your concerns, and it is up to you to come and make us accountable,” Middlebrook said. “You are who make us responsible, so we need you as much as we hopefully wish you realize that you need us. We can all work together to make our city a better place.”

Journalist Priya Mann of Detroit’s Channel 4 TV news station also spoke, adding that the iftar allows the mainstream news media to convey accurate images and understandings of Islam to non-Muslims in America.

“This event is a great opportunity to connect the components of American society and to identify unique stories from the community and to express them through the media,” Mann said.

“It is so important that we build bridges and to talk to one another and discuss how to cover certain stories. I think the more all of us get around the table together, the greater the opportunity to deliver fair and valuable journalism.”

Having people from various parts of community attend is important. But to have a dialogue is what makes the gathering more valuable.

Khalil Hachem, a host on the US Arab Radio morning program in Michigan, said that the focus on news media personalities and the media is important.

“We want our community to understand what is going on,” he said. “There are two kinds of media: Streaming media and community news which is very important these days because most newspapers and TV stations do not have the staff to focus on every community as well as they should. We need to tell our story because no one knows it better than us and we are going to tell it to everybody.”

He also highlighted the role of journalism in supporting members of the community to render achievements, whether they are in the form of appointments or people who won elections.

Mark Hawkes, a Detroit News columnist and religious affairs writer, also expressed his desire to get in touch with Islamic religious centers to learn more about the Muslim community’s culture.

Madeleine Moytuzu, a documentary filmmaker and freelance journalist, is working on a documentary series that focuses on Muslim immigrants in America. 

“I am learning so much about your community this evening, there is so much misunderstanding, so having this kind of conversation would change our community.”

One of the ICD iftars was attended by Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan and various key officials. The mayor of Detroit said he has been attending iftar banquets with Muslims for three years. 

He added that despite the attacks led by some politicians against the Muslim community, the community is continuing to build bridges of communication with other parts of American society.

Michigan Congresswoman Debbie Dingell also hosted an iftar reception, preserving a tradition started by her late husband, former Congressman John Dingell. He was one of the first non-Muslims to host iftars to bring Muslims and non-Muslims together to recognize the issues, concerns and traits they all shared.

She stressed the importance of standing up to the discourse of fear, hatred and discrimination. She said it was important to hold such an event annually, both to honor the holy month of Ramadan and to commemorate her husband, who died earlier this year.

In his speech, Sam Beydoun, a member of the provincial financial committee, highlighted the philosophy behind fasting.

Dr. James Zogby, the president of the Arab American Institute, joined from Washington to talk to audiences about the problems Arabs and Muslims face in confronting Islamophobia in the West.

“We are witnessing a leap in the community members holding governmental, executive and legislative positions through the nomination and election process,” Zogby said, stressing that time is the most appropriate to work and protect the community’s rights.

The observance of Ramadan traditions, along with the gathering of Muslims and non-Muslims, will culminate after the last day of Ramadan in the celebration of Eid Al-Fitr. 

The final three-day commemoration will underscore many of the understandings that have been shared during the past month of Ramadan.