Best Evidence Yet Supports We Are Undergoing a Mass Extinction
The latest evidence shows with a high degree of confidence that we are currently undergoing Earth’s 6th Mass Extinction Event.
Do a Google search on earth’s most massive extinction events in which a significant chunk of its species disappeared off the face of the earth. You will most often find that 5 such events have been identified throughout earth’s history, the most famous being the extinction 60+ million years ago that wiped out the Dinosaurs (except the birds of course).
For years now there’s been talk and studies that show that we are in another such period of time in history, sometimes called the Holocene Extinction. These studies have been criticized however for assumptions that were seen as exaggerating the extent of the crisis.
A new paper recently published, “Accelerated modern human–induced species losses: Entering the sixth mass extinction” concludes that our fears are justified.
They used a conservative estimate for the amount of extinctions that occur when there is no mass extinction currently happening. This is essentially the business-as-usual extinctions that are always happening. This is called the Baseline extinction rate and this number is critical because anything near this figure could clearly not be considered a mass extinction. The baseline used for this study was 2 E/MSY which means: 2 extinctions for 10,000 vertebrate species every 100 years.
As described in the paper:
“That background extinction rate was empirically determined using the exceptionally good fossil records of mammals, combining extinction counts from paleontological databases and published literature on the fossil, subfossil, and historical records”
This number was twice as large as previous estimates and therefore provides “a stringent test for assessing whether current modern extinction rates indicate that a mass extinction event is under way”.
Even with such a conservative baseline estimate, the researchers conclude that the vertebrate loss of the past 100 years is 15 to 114 times greater than this new baseline. That means that the extinctions we have experienced the past century would normally take 800 to 10,000 years to happen if we were in a baseline period. This loss of life has been linked to our destruction of natural habitats and climate change caused by our carbon emissions.
CO-Author Paul Ehrlich, Bing Professor of Population Studies Biology Senior Fellow, Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment said:
“Our paper is the icing on the cake. It shows without any significant doubt that we are now entering the 6th great mass extinction event”
If this isn’t bad enough for you then you’re in luck, it’s actually worse. This isn’t just about not being able to go to the zoo and see a panda. Many species will not completely die out but they will have their populations ravaged to such a degree that the so-called “natural services” that they provide for us will no longer be an option. These services are not trivial unless you consider things like many types of food and the climate trivial. Just look at what’s happening with honey bees for a great example.
If Paul’s last quote didn’t get your attention, perhaps this will:
“We are now moving into another one of these events that could easily…easily ruin the lives of everybody on the planet”
Is all hope lost? No, there’s always nanotech….kidding
The researchers recommend a major initiative for habitat and wildlife conservation but they warn that the “window of opportunity is rapidly closing.”
Given our track record, we may need to soon consider permanently adding #6 to that list.
UPDATE #1 (6/23/2015)
Thank you to the commenters who pointed out that Paul Ehrlich has historically had quite a penchant for making outlandish claims.
Here’s a couple examples:
“In ten years all important animal life in the sea will be extinct. Large areas of coastline will have to be evacuated because of the stench of dead fish.”
In a 1971 speech
“By the year 2000 the United Kingdom will be simply a small group of impoverished islands, inhabited by some 70 million hungry people.”
From his 1968 book The Population Bomb
“India couldn’t possibly feed two hundred million more people by 1980.”
I’m disappointed that none of the sources I used as research for this post mentioned the controversy surrounding Paul Ehrlich during his career. Many of his predictions, like the ones above, are so over-the-top and bat-shit wrong that it makes me question how much of what he says is science and how much is ideology.
Of course, his previous predictions do not mean that his current science and conclusions about earth’s 6th mass extinction have to be wrong but that proverbial grain of salt is now many orders of magnitude bigger than it was just yesterday.
I’ll post here again once other scientists have gone through his paper and offer their assessments.