In the News
September 2018

First Comprehensive Global Biomass Study Stuns Science Community

A research team from the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel and the California Institute of Technology published a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) in June that calculated the breakdown of the approximately 550 gigatons of carbon (GtC) of biomass among Earth’s broad kingdoms of life. The breakdown is reported as follows:

  • Plants: 450 GtC
  • Bacteria: 70 GtC
  • Fungi: 12 GtC
  • Archaea: 7 GtC
  • Protists: 4 GtC
  • Animals: 2 GtC
    • Livestock: 0.1 GtC
    • Humans: 0.06 GtC
    • Wild Mammals: 0.007 GtC
  • Viruses: 0.2 GtC

The study’s authors comment on the impact humans have had on the planet’s biomass:

Human activity contributed to the Quaternary Megafauna Extinction between ≈50,000 and ≈3,000 y ago, which claimed around half of the large (>40 kg) land mammal species… Intense whaling and exploitation of other marine mammals have resulted in an approximately fivefold decrease in marine mammal global biomass… While the total biomass of wild mammals (both marine and terrestrial) decreased by a factor of ≈6, the total mass of mammals increased approximately fourfold… due to the vast increase of the biomass of humanity and its associated livestock. Human activity has also impacted global vertebrate stocks, with a decrease of ≈0.1 GtC in total fish biomass, an amount similar to the remaining total biomass in fisheries and to the gain in the total mammalian biomass due to livestock husbandry. The impact of human civilization on global biomass has not been limited to mammals but has also profoundly reshaped the total quantity of carbon sequestered by plants. A worldwide census of the total number of trees, as well as a comparison of actual and potential plant biomass, has suggested that the total plant biomass (and, by proxy, the total biomass on Earth) has declined approximately twofold relative to its value before the start of human civilization.

In other words, although humans make up only 0.01 percent of the total global biomass, we have contributed to an 83-percent decline in wild mammal biomass since pre-human times and a 50-percent decline in plant matter.

The editor of the study, Paul Falkowski, of Rutgers, told The Guardian, “There are two major takeaways from this paper. First, humans are extremely efficient in exploiting natural resources. Humans have culled, and in some cases eradicated, wild mammals for food or pleasure in virtually all continents. Second, the biomass of terrestrial plants overwhelmingly dominates on a global scale — and most of that biomass is in the form of wood.”

Ron Milo, head of the study, told The Guardian, “It is definitely striking, our disproportionate place on Earth.”

Title X Funding Changes Underway

The Trump administration released new funding regulations for Title X family planning grant recipients in May. They amount to a domestic gag rule.

Page 119 of the proposed rule states, “A Title X project may not perform, promote, refer for, or support, abortion as a method of family planning, nor take any other affirmative action to assist a patient to secure such an abortion.”

Any clinic that provides the above services will no longer be eligible for Title X grants — grants that are used for family planning only, and that allow low-income patients to receive services at reduced cost.

The new regulations also prioritize funding to clinics that engage in abstinence-only education and promote natural family planning (the rhythm method). U.S. District Court Judge Trevor McFadden ruled in July against three Planned Parenthood affiliates and the National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association when he decided that HHS is not violating federal law by changing funding priorities without a public comment period.

California Crisis Pregnancy Centers Win Supreme Court Case

The Supreme Court ruled, 5-4, in favor of California’s crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) in June, in NIFLA v. Becerra.

The case revolved around a 2015 law (the Reproductive FACT Act) requiring that CPCs post notices in their waiting rooms explaining that comprehensive reproductive health services, including abortion, are available at subsidized costs from publicly funded clinics. Notices were also required to inform patients when centers were not licensed medical facilities and did not employ licensed medical staff.

The Court decided that forcing anti-abortion CPCs to direct women to services they oppose on religious grounds was in violation of their free speech, and that notifying women — who believed themselves to be patients of real health clinics — that they were not in a place that could provide licensed healthcare was too burdensome.

This was the first Supreme Court case related to abortion since Trump-nominated Justice Neil Gorsuch was confirmed. Gorsuch, predictably, joined the majority in supporting the CPCs.

Missouri Ends Medicaid Reimbursements To Planned Parenthood

Missouri ended Medicaid reimbursements to Planned Parenthood for healthcare services rendered, as of July 1. The change is due to the state’s 2018 budget, which cut funding for providers of abortion.

About 7,000 Medicaid patients rely on the 11 Planned Parenthood clinics in the state.

The budget bill passed on May 9 and clinics received letters notifying them of the changes on June 8, even though Gov. Mike Parson (who took office on June 1) didn’t sign the budget until later in the month. The new fiscal year began in July, and was the start of the enforcement of the new policy.

Iowa Abortion Restrictions Facing Court Challenges

Iowa’s ban on abortions once a fetal heartbeat is detected (as early as six weeks) was set to go into effect on July 1. Thanks to a temporary injunction issued by Polk County District Court Judge Michael Huppert, the ban is on hold.

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds signed the bill (SF 359) into law in May; Planned Parenthood and the ACLU of Iowa quickly filed suit to challenge its constitutionality.

Iowa’s Supreme Court struck down a 72-hour waiting period in late June, in a 5-2 ruling. Planned Parenthood of Iowa and the ACLU of Iowa filed the suit after the law was approved last year. The justices wrote, “Autonomy and dominion over one’s body go to the very heart of what it means to be free. At stake in this case is the right to shape, for oneself, without unwarranted governmental intrusion, one’s own identity, destiny, and place in the world. Nothing could be more fundamental to the notion of liberty.”

Ireland Votes to End Decades-Long Abortion Ban

Irish citizens — including expatriates living all over the world who traveled home — voted in May to reverse the country’s abortion ban. The “yes” vote won by more than 66 percent; voter turnout was about 64 percent.

The Eighth Amendment of the Constitution, voted into law in 1983, gave fetuses equal rights to women and consequently banned abortion in the country, without exception. Women who violated the law were subject to up to 14 years in jail.

After 35 years of traveling abroad for abortion care, ordering pills online, and carrying unwanted pregnancies to term, women will now be able to obtain abortions up to 12 weeks into pregnancy for any reason.

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