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That's what scientists give the tiger. 12 years.

After that, look to textbooks and zoos to learn what a tiger was. The world our children will be inheriting will be an increasingly lonely one as we slowly (not so slowly it seems in terms of "normal" extinction rates) kill off the only planet we have.

From the AP:

Wild tigers could become extinct in 12 years if countries where they still roam fail to take quick action to protect their habitats and step up the fight against poaching, global wildlife experts told a "tiger summit" Sunday. James Leape, director general of the World Wildlife Fund, told the meeting in St. Petersburg that if the proper protective measures aren't taken, tigers may disappear by 2022, the next Chinese calendar year of the tiger.

Their habitat is being destroyed by forest cutting and construction, and they are a valuable trophy for poachers who want their skins and body parts prized in Chinese traditional medicine.

Without getting into the problems associated with Chinese traditional medicine and the demands it places on endangered species (see rhinoceroses as another example, though demand from Yemen for dagger handles also imperils this great creature), day after day, story after story, the evidence mounts to paint a dire picture of a planet going to waste and destruction at the hands of the most prolific consumer the blue planet has ever seen.

And it isn't just consumption of natural resources that marks us as the bringers of our own doom, but the despoiling of our natural resources ranks logically up there with shooting yourself in the foot. And then not seeking medical attention afterwards.

Water is the blood of the earth. Without it, there is no life as we know it. As humans we cannot survive without it. You would think we would take care of this resource as if our lives depend on it because, well, they do.

California town's drinking water contaminated by military industrial complex:

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency Saturday for San Bernardino County, where the water supply for the city of Barstow was found to be contaminated with a toxic chemical used to make explosives and rocket fuel.

A day earlier, Golden State Water Co. warned residents of the desert town that their drinking water contained high levels of perchlorate, a contaminant often associated with defense and aerospace activities.

Perchlorate, a type of salt derived from perchloric acid, has been found in drinking water in at least 35 states. It can interfere with iodine uptake in the thyroid gland. The thyroid, which releases hormones, helps with proper development in children and helps regulate metabolism.

It's one thing to have "accidental" contamination of groundwater due to industrial practices that value profit and production above all else, but it is altogether a different thing when a corporation pollutes our most precious resource on purpose:

After 16 years, several judges, accusations of espionage, and more twists and turns than a spy novel, the case of Amazon peasants versus the mighty Chevron may soon be coming to an end. If you're unfamiliar with the case, Chevron stands accused of dumping more than 18 billion gallons of toxic wastewater into the Amazon rainforest, which left local people stricken by cancer, miscarriages and birth defects.

And this was all to save $3 per barrel off the bottom line:

Chevron dumped (intentionally) almost 19 billion gallons of toxic waste sludge into northern Ecuador's Amazon rainforest in 1992—it was one of the worst environmental disasters in history, yet the corporation has never taken responsibility for the damage or its cleanup.

People who depend on local water supplies for drinking and bathing have suffered ill health effects from the chemicals, including benzene, that were dumped so that Chevron would save about $3 per barrel of oil.

If it isn't enough to be warned about the dangers of chemical pollutants to our drinking water and their possible ill health effects to us, then certainly two headed fish should wake us up to the fact that something isn't quite right. Right?

Thousands of bass larve spawned in northern Australia with a significant problem - they had two heads. The fatal mutation is believed to be due to toxic water contamination.

Tests have cut out the possibility of a virus or bacteria and instead point towards pesticides coming from macadamia nut farm nearby. The connection seems clear since the occurrence of deformities rose along with the expansion of the farm.

Pesticides entering our water supplies is resulting in alarming and surprising effects beyond two headed fish. Just this month in the journal Pediatrics scientists have found a troubling link between pesticides and ADHD:

Led by Maryse Bouchard in Montreal, researchers based at the University of Montreal and Harvard University examined the potential relationship between ADHD and exposure to certain toxic pesticides called organophosphates. The team analyzed the levels of pesticide residue in the urine of more than 1,100 children ages 8 to 15 and found that those with the highest levels of dialkyl phosphates, which are the breakdown products of organophosphate pesticides, had the highest incidence of ADHD. Overall, they found a 35% increase in the odds of developing ADHD with every tenfold increase in urinary concentration of the pesticide residue.

And if pesticides and other chemicals entering our drinking water doesn't send off alarm bells and create a common cause to save ourselves from ourselves, and two headed fish won't do it, and developmental disorders associated with the toxic and damaging soup we continue to brew won't do it, well then surely radioactive rabbits should do the trick:

A radioactive rabbit caught at Hanford just north of Richland had Washington State Department of Health workers looking for contaminated droppings Thursday.

Contaminated animals occasionally are found at the nuclear reservation, but more often they are in the center of Hanford, far from town.

The rabbit trapped at the 300 Area caught the Department of Health's attention because it was close enough to the site's boundaries to potentially come in contact with the public -- such as if it had been caught by a dog or if its droppings were deposited in an area open to the public.

Radioactive rabbits. Two headed fish. No tigers in 12 years. Though these examples seem disconnected from each other when looked at specifically, from a broad perspective they seem to paint a very dire, interconnected picture for our future where the pieces of evidence from disparate fields of research and from far reaches of the planet all come together to form a unifying theme: We will most probably be looked upon, if there is anyone left to look back on us, as an unusually illogical creature that knew no better than to poison itself and the very planet upon which it depended.

From hydrofracking and its turning whole towns' drinking water into flammable, brown sludge, to the waste pools of factory farms that overspill their damns and enter groundwater systems, to industrial chemical wastewater floods that drown entire villages in toxic, lethal rivers, we need no more canaries in this coal mine to show us we are in deep, deep trouble.

But if there is one canary that should erase doubt that something unique, though startling, is happening and ties the connection between how we treat land and water and what it means to species extinction, it is probably amphibians:

Lots of amphibians (a third to a half of all species) are dying, and their deaths are the breaking-edge of what many scientists are calling the first mass extinction since the dinosaurs checked out 65 million years ago, researchers say in a new paper published online in the Journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The threat to amphibians is significant because many scientist see amphibians as being the first signal of a planet in decline as amphibians have survived past mass extinctions but seem to be succumbing to what is being termed "The 6th Extinction":

Amphibians, reigning survivors of past mass extinctions, are sending a clear, unequivocal signal that something is wrong, as their extinction rates rise to unprecedented levels, according to a paper published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS)

[...]

Amphibians are among the oldest organisms on earth, having survived the last four mass extinctions. The current extinction rate of amphibians is cause for alarm, according to biologists.

"An ancient organism, which has survived past extinctions, is telling us that something is wrong right now" Vredenburg said. "We -- humans -- may be doing fine right now, but they are doing poorly. The question, really, is whether we'll listen before it's too late."

Mammals, amphibians, and even plants are telling us something is wrong:

Scientific warnings that the world is in the midst of a mass extinction were bolstered today by the release of a new study that shows just over a fifth of the world's known plants are threatened with extinction—levels comparable to the Earth's mammals and greater than birds. Conducted by the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew; the Natural History Museum, London; and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the study is the first time researchers have outlined the full threat level to the world's plant species.

This diary started with the shocking prediction by researchers about tigers and their 12 year death sentence and worked its way through polluted waters, to two headed fish, to radioactive rabbits, down to signals that we may in fact be in the midst of the next mass extinction. Although the examples of a possible mass extinction already being underway should be alarming enough, it is the tiger's extinction I see as a wake up call for our own extinction. As we begin to see species become extinct due to our own negligence, I think it is mammalian species (think polar bears as well) that provide a most obvious sign that things are not well in the biosphere. Plants, amphibians, and even birds are sending us signs of a planet in trouble but their numbers and their scale make them abstract and removed from our conscience. It would seem there must come a time when, with the passing of those species closest to us and with such iconic importance as tigers and polar bears, we will have to ponder how long it is we, as a species, have left. The disappearance of the tiger from the wild should be an obvious and clarifying messenger to our collective psyche that wakes us from our perpetually-entertained sleep that does little but distract us from facing up to the reality around us, and leaves us miserable and unhappy anyway in the end.

Scientists have begun to project when other specific species may go extinct and the tiger's prognosis is a sad but revealing prediction. The imminence of it should shock us to the core. It is an It Has Begun moment, one with little time to respond. The rate at which current species extinction is taking place exceeds the "normal" background rate for species extinction by as much as 7,000 to 13,000 times according to Stanford biologist Paul Ehrlich. Which means many species don't have much time at all, others have already disappeared.

12 years for the tiger.

Will there come a time when we have a projection for ourselves? And will this projection finally goad us into action?

Or will we just continue along, whistling past the graveyard?

Originally posted to Ramblings Over Earth on Tue Nov 23, 2010 at 03:14 PM PST.

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