Earth’s Sixth Mass Extinction
We did it
It is nearly unbelievable – In only two generations did we manage to damage the Earth’s ecosystems so badly that we are facing the biggest mass extinction since the dinosaurs were removed from the face of our planet about 66 million years ago.
Even though, our ancestors loved fire so much, that they fire cleansed whole continents like Africa and Australia into deserts to create farmland, the most recent human impacts take our planet the last chance to sustain itself – and us.
Since our appearance on earth, we removed approximately three trillion trees globally, this was the staggering amount 50% of all existing trees, and managed to kill unimaginable 50%-75% of all ocean-life, including the reefs, the forests of the oceans and huge part of the food chain. This impact and the fact that we pollute our environment in a tremendous way, takes not only the possibility for Nature to recover, but also poisons it. This is a – in planetary time- never seen before, rapid trend.
“You don’t need a scientist to know what’s causing the sixth mass extinction”
That we are in the midst of a mass extinction event is no secret. As climate change melts glaciers, warms oceans, and throws off weather patterns, organisms all over the planet are being pushed to their biological limits and made more vulnerable to disease.
By some estimates, 75% of species on the planet could disappear during the course of this extinction event, and already, animals such as frogs, marine mammals and bees are dying off at alarming rates.
WHAT WERE EARTH’S PREVIOUS MASS EXTINCTIONS?
End-Ordovician — c 443 million years ago
The third largest extinction in Earth’s history saw a severe ice age cause sea level falling by 100m, which wiped out 60-70 per cent of all species — most of life on Earth was in the sea.
Late Devonian — c 360 million years ago
Three quarters of all species on Earth became extinct after prolonged climate change event, with shallow seas the worst affected areas. Reefs were also hard hit, which nearly saw all corals disappearing.
Permian-Triassic — c 250 million years ago
Aptly nicknamed ‘the great dying’, the third mass extinction saw 96 per cent of species dying out. Massive volcanic eruptions in Siberia were strongly linked to the savage episode of global warming responsible for the extinction.
Triassic-Jurassic — c 200 million years ago
Climate change, an asteroid impact and flood basalt eruptions have all been blamed for wiping out three-quarters of the species on Earth.
Cretaceous-Tertiary — 65 million years ago
The most famous mass extinction, which saw the death of dinosaurs from a giant asteroid impact.
There have only been five mass extinction events, that we know of on our planet. The mass extinction that killed the dinosaurs was the most recent—but it wasn’t the most devastating. The Great Dying, which preceded the demise of the dinosaurs roughly about 250 million years ago, was by far the worst and most similar: The planet warmed rapidly— roughly 50 degrees Fahrenheit over a 60,000-year period. Some 96 percent of all living creatures cooked to death. It then took 10 million years for life on Earth to bounce back.
“In one way it’s scary that we’re even in the same conversation as major mass extinction events, but the Earth has seen way worse than we could ever dish out and it still recovers. The Earth, in the long run? The Earth will be fine — Humans, maybe not so much.”
The Earth has reinvented itself at least five times before. In each mass extinction, planetary life was very nearly wiped clean. Microscopic organisms, insects, furry beasts, and reptilian land monsters have all been destroyed at one point or another.
There are survivors, of course. Even the Great Dying spared some clams, sea snails, urchins, brittle stars, and seed shrimp. These creatures didn’t just survive, they also became the most abundant animals in our oceans, a reminder that the story of life on our planet isn’t the story of a single species at the top of the food chain, but ultimately a tale of relentless adaptability.
“The world looks totally different before and after a mass extinction, Sixty-seven million years ago, you had mosasaurs and big non-bird dinosaurs, and 15 million years later you have whales and giant land-mammals.”
In total, the researchers concluded that climate change could cause the extinction of up to one-third of all species by the end of this century.
The resulting biological annihilation obviously will have serious ecological, economic and social consequences. Humanity will eventually pay a very high price for the decimation of the only assemblage of life that we know of in the universe.
“Slowing climate change has a really profound impact on extinction rates, but even in the best-case scenario, we’re still looking at fairly major global changes,”
Scientists analyzed both common and rare species and found billions of regional or local populations have been lost. They blame overpopulation and overconsumption for the crisis and warn that it threatens the survival of human civilization, with just a short window of time to act.
The study, published in the peer-reviewed journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, eschews the normally sober tone of scientific papers and calls the massive loss of wildlife a “biological annihilation” that represents a “frightening assault on the foundations of human civilization”.
“The situation has become so bad we would be unethical to not use strong language.”
Previous studies have shown species are becoming extinct at a significantly faster rate than for millions of years before, but even so extinctions remain relatively rare giving the impression of a gradual loss of biodiversity.
The scientists found that a third of the thousands of species losing populations are not currently considered endangered and that up to 50% of all individual animals have been lost in recent decades. Detailed data is available for land mammals, and almost half of these have lost 80% of their range in the last century. The scientists found billions of populations of mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians have been lost all over the planet, leading them to say a sixth mass extinction has already progressed further than was thought.
“Billions of animals have been lost as their habitats have become smaller with each passing year.”
While action to halt the decline remains possible, the prospects do not look good: “All signs point to ever more powerful assaults on biodiversity in the next two decades, painting a dismal picture of the future of life, including human life.”
Wildlife is dying out due to habitat destruction, over-hunting, toxic pollution, invasion by alien species and climate change. But the ultimate cause of all of these factors is “human overpopulation and continued population growth, and over-consumption, especially by the rich”
The serious warning in our paper needs to be heeded because civilisation depends utterly on the plants, animals, and microorganisms of Earth that supply it with essential ecosystem services ranging from crop pollination and protection to supplying food from the sea and maintaining a livable climate.
“The time to act is very short,”
It will, sadly, take a long time to humanely begin the population shrinkage required, but much could be done on the consumption front and with ‘band aids’ – wildlife reserves, diversity protection laws – in the meantime.”
A 2014 analysis of 3000 species that indicated that 50% of individual animals have been lost since 1970, which was based on different IUCN data. Strong language is needed:
“We need people to be aware of the catastrophic declines we are seeing.