Scientists Build Case for ‘Sixth Extinction’ … and Say It Could Kill Us

Even conservative calculations show the world is in the midst of a sixth mass extinction that’s being caused by our species — and is likely to lead to humanity’s demise if unchecked, scientists reported Friday.
The scientists’ analysis, published in the open-access journal Science Advances, follows up on more than a decade’s worth of warnings about a rapid loss of global biodiversity. Many experts say the loss has risen to the scale seen during five previous global extinction events — the most recent of which occurred 65 million years ago when the dinosaurs died off.
The claims provide the theme of Elizabeth Kolbert’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book, “The Sixth Extinction.” But such claims have drawn skeptical responses as well. The skeptics say it’s difficult to judge the “background rate” of extinctions, as well as the current rate of species extinction.
Is Earth headed for another mass extinction? 4:40
The team behind the new study, led by Gerardo Ceballos of the National Autonomous University of Mexico, tried to address such concerns by doubling the commonly cited background rate — going from one species extinction per million species per year to two extinctions. And for the current rate, they turned to a list maintained by the International Union for Conservation of Nature — which they characterized as a conservative accounting.
Based on those figures, the extinction rate since 1900 has been eight to 100 times higher than the expected background rate, the researchers said. “The particularly high losses in the last several decades accentuate the increasing severity of the modern extinction crisis,” they reported.
“There are examples of species all over the world that are essentially the walking dead,” one of the study’s co-authors, Paul Ehrlich of Stanford University, said in a news release.

[link to short video in original – video also available here:]

The researchers noted that amphibians, which account for 7,300 of the species documented by the IUCN, have been particularly hard-hit. “Only 34 extinctions have been documented with a high level of certainty since 1500, yet [more than] 100 species have likely disappeared since 1980,” they said.

Many of the causes for biodiversity loss have been traced to industrialization, deforestation and other, less obvious human factors. For example, in the case of the amphibians, the wave of extinctions have been traced to therapid spread of a fatal fungus through global shipping.
Flash Interactive: See When Species Rose and Fell
Ceballos warned that the human species itself could eventually fall victim to the sixth extinction.
“If it is allowed to continue, life would take millions of years to recover, and our species itself would disappear early on,” he said.
Although the report paints a depressing picture, Ceballos and his colleagues hold out a slender ray of hope.
“Avoiding a true sixth mass extinction will require rapid, greatly intensified efforts to conserve already threatened species, and to alleviate pressures on their populations — notably habitat loss, overexploitation for economic gain and climate change,” they write. “All of these are related to human population size and growth, which increases consumption (especially among the rich), and economic inequity. However, the window of opportunity is rapidly closing.”

Image: IUCN extinction tally

A tally by the International Union for Conservation of Nature shows trends in the extinction of various groups of animal species. Stanford

In addition to Ceballos and Ehrlich, the authors of “Accelerated Modern Human-Induced Species Losses: Entering the Sixth Mass Extinction” include Anthony Barnosky, Andres Garcia, Robert Pringle and Todd Palmer.
You would think all people would have some moral sense about the inherent beauty and value of life.  What worries me is the cavalier attitude with which most people watch these species disappear– as if they have no appreciation for anyone or anything other than themselves.  This is what needs to change if we are to survive.  But how do you awaken appreciation in people who have none?  And who don’t even believe that their own survival hinges on biodiversity, and therefore aren’t even willing to act out of a sense of self-preservation?
Christine Hansen
The interesting thing is that we are doing exactly the opposite.  In fact we are doing about as terrible job as possible.  We have huge disinformation campaigns designed to tell us how these problems are nonexistent or that our economy can’t bear any change in its operation, but at the same time we see a ramp up of wars.  The right wing is beating war drums now over ISIS and the middle east, and elsewhere in the world Russia is moving into Ukraine and China is flexing its power by taking over islands in the Pacific.  Of course a good war these days can cost a trillion dollars, but somehow that is “affordable.”  
It seems as if we have a “Nero fiddles while Rome burns” problem here.  I don’t see any way out of it, and in fact we appear to be heading into a period of intensified geo-political struggle in the world.  All the while these types of problems will increase and be ignored on a policy level.  At some point of course these problems will be addressed in a big “oh shits” report where the synthetic chiefs that run things in the world will start screaming bloody murder over these problems.  By that time we may be forced into using extreme methods like geo-engineering. LC
The human condition from the beginning of civilization has been a type of Ponzi game.  The modern world is certainly no exception.  Business is all about externalizing costs, reducing necessary expenditures and increasing profit margin.  One way to externalize costs is to push the payment into the future, and this may mean financial debt on a private or public or federal level, but its may also mean environmental costs, the idea is to shove the problem into the future.  It is like the old joke about Mexico as the land on manana, there is always tomorrow when the problem can be fixed.  At first the argument is that the problem either does not exist or is not serious.  The next argument has always been made that the economy needs to grow sufficiently to absorb the costs of fixing the environment.  This argument was made in the 1960s when the environmental issues started to arise, and now over 50 years later we get much the same argument.
Of course the captains of industry and corporate power have a sense there is a problem here.  They do however wave their hands with a dismissive sense that there will exist a solution when the time is needed.  Either there will be some “magic techno-fix” or there will be some economic breakthrough, or if nothing else there is always the ultimate Santa Claus solution with the second coming of Jesus.  The last of these though is promoted less as a social palliative for the elites and more as an soma-bromide fix for the masses.  How far this will go is hard to say.  Remember there were plenty of Nazi elites who followed their fuhrer into the bunker for those last weeks and days.  That could be a mirror of things to come. LC

About basicrulesoflife

Year 1935. Interests: Contemporary society problems, quality of life, happiness, understanding and changing ourselves - everything based on scientific evidence. Artificial Intelligence Foundation Latvia, Editor.
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