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Lewis writes: “Species are now disappearing at a rate of up to 1,000 times faster than they did before humans started walking the earth, a new study says.”

Is the planet heading toward another mass extinction? (photo: The Nation)
Is the planet heading toward another mass extinction? (photo: The Nation)

Earth Heading Toward Another Mass Extinction

By Renee Lewis, Al Jazeera America

01 June 14


pecies are now disappearing at a rate of up to 1,000 times faster than they did before humans started walking the earth, a new study says.

The Biodiversity of Species and their Rates of Extinction, Distribution, and Protection” was published Thursday in the journal Science, and it warned that the world is on the brink of its sixth great extinction.

Mass extinctions have wiped out the majority of life on Earth at least five times. About 66 million years ago, a mass extinction killed off the dinosaurs and three out of four species on Earth, the report said.

Though such extinctions are often associated with asteroids, the worst mass die-off around 252 million years ago, which wiped out 90 percent of life on Earth, was caused by methane spewing microbes, according to a new theory.

The microbes produced much the same effect as climate change — a sudden rise in temperatures and acidification of the oceans. Both phenomena can be observed today due to global warming, and man-made climate change was cited by the report as one factor making traditional habitats unlivable for many species.

Though scientists have been aware that mass extinctions are occurring, this study calculates the actual rate of extinction — not just the number of species disappearing — before and after humans appeared on the scene.

In 1995, Duke University’s Stuart Pimm of Duke University, the study’s lead author, calculated that before humans were on the scene, one out of 1 million species went extinct every year.

Today, the rate is between 100 to 1,000, according to Pimm, who also heads a conservation nonprofit called Saving Species.

That trend can be reversed if biologists can pinpoint where vulnerable species are, according to the study. Once they have that information, they can try to save the species by preserving their habitats.

Habitat loss is the number one factor in the accelerating rates of global extinction, the study said. Humans have developed and taken over too much land, and many species no longer have a place to live.

Pimm and co-author Clinton Jenkins of the Institute of Ecological Research in Brazil suggested that the increasing availability of smartphones and conservation apps could allow the public to help researchers find endangered animals

This online crowdsourcing of species distribution could expand online databases and could help scientists better identify and protect vulnerable species. That data can then be combined with information already available on changing land and ocean use to better identify and protect vulnerable species. your social media marketing partner


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+22 # fredboy 2014-06-01 09:41
Balance will return once we are gone. And that won't be long. Earth can't sustain many more of us, or the way we behave here.
+7 # brianf 2014-06-01 18:15
It may not be long before we are gone, but it can take millions of years for biodiversity to return after a mass extinction. Our legacy is likely to last much longer than our species existed.
+4 # Activista 2014-06-01 20:59
We are getting/will be getting lot of warning along the way - Earth can't sustain the United States, with less than 5 % of the global population, using about a quarter (25%) of the world’s fossil fuel resources
+17 # Edwina 2014-06-01 09:43
I appreciate science (evidence) being used for activism, but another layer of technology will not save the earth--and us. Our technology is the problem: it has interrupted the earth's ability to restore itself. We have to live differently, more sustainably, less disposably, if we want to survive.
+2 # Activista 2014-06-01 20:55
Technology enable US to understand quantitatively our PROBLEM - but young people lost their bond with nature - let's hope that information will bring them to their senses - there is biophylia - we need to replace consumerism - money addiction with completely different lifestyle - make shopping malls and wars immoral.
If phones bring young people bodies to nature - from gizmos screens - learn, understand, protect motto - this will be good start.
+9 # Glen 2014-06-01 11:15
How can species be saved if the environment at large is not saved?

I recommend reading The Sixth Extinction, An Unnatural History, by Elizabeth Kolbert.
+7 # Activista 2014-06-01 13:51
"Humans have developed and taken over too much land, and many species no longer have a place to live"
Human OVERdeveloped - overpopulation and OVERCONSUMPTION (including wars Made in the USA) is the issues. Use of killing chemicals everywhere.
+6 # Activista 2014-06-01 13:53
The U.S. Consumer is killing the planet;

The United States, with less than 5 % of the global population, uses about a quarter of the world’s fossil fuel resources—burni ng up nearly 25 % of the coal, 26 % of the oil, and 27 % of the world’s natural gas.
As of 2003, the U.S. had more private cars than licensed drivers, and gas-guzzling sport utility vehicles were among the best-selling vehicles.
New houses in the U.S. were 38 % bigger in 2002 than in 1975, despite having fewer people per household on average.
+4 # Noman 2014-06-01 14:07
Humans must adapt to the reality that the earth as we have known it has a finite carrying capacity, otherwise we and our fellow creatures will be replaced.
-4 # DurangoKid 2014-06-01 16:41
The fact that the estimates for the rate of extinction vary by as much at 1000% tells me the problem is yet to be well characterized. Imagine for instance if an astronomer told you the moon is somewhere between 24,000 and 2,400,000 miles away? Dealing with such a large uncertainty would have made the Apollo program impossible. Numbers like that invite the climate deniers and anti-environmen talists to use the tobacco industry technique of harping on the uncertainty. And for good reason; it works. The bottom line is don't expect anyone in the political class to care very much about species extinction unless they can use it as a bludgeon against their opponents. Once the bludgeoning ceases, so will the concern.

The Earth has always been in a state of flux. Continents bounce around each other, ice packs grow and retreat, species come and species go. Life itself has the ingenuity roll with it and bounce back. New habitats create new opportunities.

If we look at the longer term, industrial culture will be around for another dozen decades or so. Who knows what will follow? Maybe a few tens of millions of humans clumped on some of the nicer real estate without the ability to occupy most of the remaining land? No more mass production so no more cheap commodities and transportation? The return of famine and disease to limit our numbers? We're a life form and we'll adapt, too.
+2 # brianf 2014-06-01 18:12
1000% is a factor of 10, like the range of 100 to 1,000. Your moon analogy exaggerates this by a factor of 100.

It's still a fairly wide range, but we aren't planning a trip to the moon here. Even the low end of that range is way too high. And the "structured abstract" to this paper says, "Current rates of extinction are about 1000 times the background rate of extinction. These are higher than previously estimated and likely still underestimated. " The 100 number is probably from earlier estimates.

I agree that the majority in the political class won't care. And although most people care about this type of thing, it won't be one of their top issues. That is largely because they don't understand what a mass extinction is.

It's all too easy to take comfort in philosophical statements, but a mass extinction would be the most horrible reality to live through. Yes, life will go on, but it takes MILLIONS of years for life to recover from a mass extinction. And don't assume the human species will be one of the survivors. Like all higher life forms, we depend completely on other species for our existence.
-1 # DurangoKid 2014-06-01 20:15
Or would that be more like more like between 75,300 and 753,000 miles?
+3 # Activista 2014-06-01 20:41
..we depend completely on other species for our existence...
exactly - like pollination of crops by honey bee (now being killed by chemicals)... and this is only one disaster scenario we know ...
+3 # HenryS1 2014-06-01 18:39
If you are familiar with statistics, study results typically show that a true value lies withing a range, to a particular high probability. To quote exactly that is the only accurate way of communicating the results. Invented figures can be as precise as you like. anything involving statistics gives a range, and it should.

But the point is that there can be a VERY high confidence that the true value lies within that range. And any number within this range is shocking to me, in this case.
-1 # MidwesTom 2014-06-01 20:24
The world is overpopulated, yet we make great effort to save the weakest, the starving, and the sickest.

Historically, a large family was needed to provide for the older generations, since several children died young. I remember while working in Central America a farm worker told me that he and his wife had had seven children, but two had died young being bitten by snakes.

However, recent advances now predict that in the developed world we will need far fewer people because technology will replace 1/3 of todays jobs over the next decade. This will undoubtedly set up more future conflicts between the working and the unemployed.
+2 # Activista 2014-06-01 20:46
"large family was needed to provide for the older generations, since several children died young" is known from population ecology ... most animal populations adjust to resources - up and down ...
Humans are overexploiting their resources and are NOT adjusting ... what about to CUT CONSUMPTION!
-1 # MidwesTom 2014-06-01 20:26
I am knot for killing people, but maybe we should remove all warning labels, and let natural selection control population. just kidding.
0 # DurangoKid 2014-06-01 20:36
Applying a rate implies some interval of time. If industrial culture collapses in the next 100 years or so, damage yes, but not in perpetuity.

I would prefer to maintain diversity and the sanctuaries that would protect it. Unfortunately, this means humans having to give up their claims on forests, fisheries, mineral deposits, cropland, watersheds, etc. This means less wealth and more starvation and poverty. The end of oil, coal, and gas will likely bring this about in the next several decades. On the level of the individual, this is horrid. As a species, it may be our salvation. We die back to level the Earth can support. That opens up old habitats for recovery.

My apologies if I don't take the anthropocentric view.
+1 # Activista 2014-06-01 23:52
"Applying a rate implies some interval of time. If industrial culture collapses in the next 100 years or so, damage yes, but not in perpetuity?"
I am just reading
Red-Light-Starb oard- Angela Day Book written on 25 anniversary of Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska - using this as a metaphor (very plausible) for collapse of our fossil fuel economy - I would count months, NOT years...
Study complexity theory ... extinct species will not recover ... the system is so interrelated ... just study impact of honeybees (or bumble bee being killed by chemicals ..) - and of course Homo Sapiens has nuclear weapons if he is not happy with the pace of extinction ...
-1 # 2014-06-01 21:06
It's a pity USA Citizens couldn't elect a POTUS with such linguistic understanding.

JFK once said "Man Holds in his Mortal hands, the power to abolish all forms of human life".

1/ are there more than 1 human form? If so how many hands etc?
2/ what are Mortal hands?
3/ "Abolish" sounds like bad English to me? Oxford says "Formally put an end to (a system, practice, or institution" I take it JFK Meant eradicate, eliminate, exterminate, destroy, annihilate, stamp out, obliterate, wipe out, extinguish, not Abolish?

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