The Earth's 6th Great Mass Extinction is Occurring as You Read This -A Galaxy Classic

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February 26, 2008

The Earth's 6th Great Mass Extinction is Occurring as You Read This -A Galaxy Classic

Transparentbutterfly2sm_2 "In one sense we know much less about Earth than we do about Mars. The vast majority of life forms on our planet are still undiscovered, and their significance for our own species remains unknown. This gap in our knowledge is a serious matter: we will never completely understand and preserve the living world around us at our present level of ignorance.

"If all mankind were to disappear, the world would regenerate back to the rich state of equilibrium that existed ten thousand years ago. If insects were to vanish, the environment would collapse into chaos."

Edward O. Wilson, The world's leading authority on Biodiversity, Emeritus Professor of Biology at Harvard and author of "The Creation: An Appeal to Save Life on Earth."

There is little doubt left in the minds of professional biologists that Earth is currently faced with a mounting loss of species that threatens to rival the five great mass extinctions of the geological past, the most devasting being the Third major Extinction (c. 245 mya), the Permian, where 54% of the planet's species families lost. As long ago as 1993, Harvard biologist E.O. Wilson estimated that Earth is currently losing something on the order of 30,000 species per year -- which breaks down to the even more daunting statistic of some three species per hour. Some biologists have begun to feel that this biodiversity crisis -- this "Sixth Extinction" -- is even more severe, and more imminent, than Wilson had supposed.

With the human population expected to reach 9-10 billion by the end of the century and the planet in the middle of its sixth mass extinction — this time due to human activity — the next few years are critical in conserving Earth’s precious biodiversity. The cause of the Sixth Extinction, Homo sapiens, means we can continue on the path to our own extinction, or, preferably, we modify our behavior toward the global ecosystem of which we are still very much a part.

At a casual glance, the physically caused extinction events of the past might seem to have little or nothing to tell us about the current Sixth Extinction, which is a human-caused event. For there is little doubt that humans are the direct cause of ecosystem stress and species destruction in the modern world through transformation of the landscape, overexploitation of species, pollution, and the introduction of alien species

The Sixth Extinction can be characterized as  the first recorded global extinction event that has a biotic, rather than a physical, cause, due to massive asteroid impact, volcanic eruptions.  Yet, looking deeper, human impact on the planet is a similar to the Cretaceous cometary collision. Sixty-five million years ago that extraterrestrial impact -- through its sheer explosive power, followed immediately by its injections of so much debris into the upper reaches of the atmosphere that global temperatures plummeted and, most critically, photosynthesis was severely inhibited -- wreaked havoc on the living systems of Earth, which is precisely what we are doing to the planet right now.

Phase two of the Sixth Extinction began around 10,000 years ago with the invention of agriculture-perhaps first in the Natufian culture of the Middle East. Agriculture appears to have been invented several different times in various different places, and has, in the intervening years, spread around the entire globe.

Agriculture, which began around 10,000 years ago in the Natufian culture of the Middle East, is a major engine driving the Sixth Extinction, represents the single most profound ecological change in the entire 3.5 billion-year history of life. With its invention humans did not have to interact with other species for survival, and so could manipulate other species for their own use nor did humans have to adhere to the ecosystem's carrying capacity, and so could overpopulate

Homo sapiens became the first species to stop living inside local ecosystems. All other species, including our ancestral hominid ancestors, all pre-agricultural humans, and remnant hunter-gatherer societies still extant exist as semi-isolated populations playing specific roles (i.e., have "niches") in local ecosystems. This is not so with post-agricultural revolution humans, who in effect have stepped outside local ecosystems. Indeed, to develop agriculture is essentially to declare war on ecosystems - converting land to produce one or two food crops, with all other native plant species all now classified as unwanted "weeds" -- and all but a few domesticated species of animals now considered as pests.

Yet, upon further reflection, human impact on the planet is a direct analogue of the Cretaceous cometary collision. Sixty-five million years ago that extraterrestrial impact -- through its sheer explosive power, followed immediately by its injections of so much debris into the upper reaches of the atmosphere that global temperatures plummeted and, most critically, photosynthesis was severely inhibited -- wreaked havoc on the living systems of Earth. That is precisely what human beings are doing to the planet right now: humans are causing vast physical changes on the planet.

"The comparison I make between these big extinction events, prehistoric meteorite-caused or natural event-caused extinctions and the present one," says E.O. Wilson, "is parallel to the difference between a heart attack and cancer. We understand that what we are doing is a slow but insidious, and only can be seen when you lay it out over the whole world over a period of decades. The hopeful thing about it is that this cancer can be treated. A lot of damage has been done, and it can be dangerous to us if we really just go on until half the species of organisms are extinct forever. Or we can halt the hemorrhaging.

"In terms of scale, it’s hard to put a figure on it," Wilson adds: "We’re in a pronounced early stage of an extinction event that would probably be, by the end of this century if human activities continue unabated, right up to the Cretaceous level. We’re part way there. Whether you can say its 10 percent there or 25 percent there, a lot of it depends on the organisms you’re talking about. One estimate has it that, particularly when you throw in the mass extinction of the Pacific Island birds, which are the most vulnerable on Earth, something like 20 percent of bird species has been extinguished by human activities."

Biocide is occurring at an alarming rate. Experts say that at least half of the world’s current species will be completely gone by the end of the century. Wild plant-life is also disappearing. Most biologists say that we are in the midst of an anthropogenic mass extinction. Numerous scientific studies confirm that this phenomenon is real and happening right now. Should anyone really care? Will it impact individuals on a personal level? Scientists say, “Yes!”

Critics argue that species disappear and new ones emerge all the time. That’s true, if you’re speaking in terms of millennia. Scientists acknowledge that species disappear at an estimated rate of one species per million per year, with new species replacing the lost ones at around the same rate. Recently humans have accelerated the extinction rate to where several entire species are annihilated every single day. The death toll artificially caused by humans is mind-boggling. Nature will take millions of years to repair what we destroy in just a few decades.

A recent analysis, published in the journal Nature, shows that it takes 10 million years before biological diversity even begins to approach what existed before a die-off. Over 10,000 scientists in the World Conservation Union have compiled data showing that currently 51 per cent of known reptiles, 52 per cent of known insects, and 73 per cent of known flowering plants are in danger along with many mammals, birds and amphibians. It is likely that some species will become extinct before they are even discovered, before any medicinal use or other important features can be assessed. The cliché movie plot where the cure for cancer is about to be annihilated is more real than anyone would like to imagine.

Research done by the American Museum of Natural History found that the vast majority of biologists believe that mass extinction poses a colossal threat to human existence, and is even more serious of an environmental problem than one of its contributors- global warming. The research also found that the average person woefully underestimates the dangers of mass extinction. Powerful industrial lobbies would like people to believe that we can survive while other species are quickly and quietly dying off. Irresponsible governments and businesses would have people believe that we don’t need a healthy planet to survive- even while human cancer rates are tripling every decade.

A lot of us heard about the recent extinction of the Yangtze river dolphin. It was publicized because dolphins are cute and smart, and we like dolphins. We were sort of sad that we humans were single-handedly responsible for destroying the entire millions-of-years-old species in just a few years through rampant pollution. Unfortunately the real death toll is so much higher than we hear on the news. Only a few endangered “celebrity favorites” get any notice at all.

Since animals and plants exist in symbiotic relationships to one another, extinction of one species is likely to cause ”co-extinctions”. Some species directly affect the health of hundreds of other species. There is always some kind of domino effect. This compounding process occurs with frightening speed. That makes rampant extinction similar too disease in the way that it spreads. Sooner or later- if gone unchecked- humans may catch it too.

Amphibians are a prime example at how tinkering with the environment can cause rapid animal death. For over 300 million years frogs, salamanders, newts and toads were hardy enough to precede and outlive the dinosaurs up until the present time. Now, within just two decades many amphibians are disappearing. Scientists are alarmed at how one seemingly robust species of amphibians will suddenly disappear within a few months.

The causes of biocide are a hodge-podge of human environmental “poisons” which often work synergistically, including a vast array of pollutants, pesticides, a thinning ozone layer which increases ultra-violet radiation, human induced climate change, habitat loss from agriculture and urban sprawl, invasions of exotic species introduced by humans, illegal and legal wildlife trade, light pollution, and man-made borders among other many other causes.

Is there a way out? The answer is yes and no. We’ll never regain the lost biodiversity-at least not within a fathomable time period, but there are ways to prevent a worldwide bio collapse, but they all require immediate action. Wilson, and other scientists point out that the world needs international cooperation in order to sustain ecosystems, since nature is unaware of artificially drawn borders. Humans love to fence off space they’ve claimed as their own. Sadly, a border fence often has terrible ecological consequences. One fence between India and Pakistan cuts off bears and leopards from their feeding habitats, which is causing them to starve to death. Starvation leads to attacks on villagers, and more slaughtering of the animals.

Some of the most endangered wildlife species live right in between the borderland area of the US and Mexico. These indigenous animals don’t know that they now live between two countries. They were here long before the people came and nations divided, but they will not survive if we cut them off from their habitat. The Sky Islands is one of many areas smack in the middle of this boundary where some of North America's most threatened wildlife is found. Jaguars, bison, and Wolves have to cross through international terrain in the course of their life's travels in order to survive. Unfortunately, illegal Mexican workers cross here too. People who know nothing of the wildlife’s biological needs want to create a large fence to keep out Mexicans, regardless of the fact that a fence would devastate these already fragile animal populations.

Wilson says the time has come to start calling the "environmentalist view" the "real-world view". We can’t ignore reality simply because it doesn’t conform nicely within convenient boundaries and moneymaking strategies. What good will all of our money and conveniences do for us, if we collectively destroy the necessities of life?

There is hope, but it requires radical changes. Many organizations are lobbying for that change. One group trying to salvage ecosystems is called The Wildlands Project, a conservation group spearheading the drive to reconnect the remaining wildernesses. The immediate goal is to reconnect wild North America in four broad "mega-linkages". Within each mega-linkage, mosaics of public and private lands, which would provide safe migrations for wildlife, would connect core areas. Broad, vegetated overpasses would link wilderness areas normally split by roads. They will need cooperation from local landowners and government agencies.

It is a radical vision to many people, and the Wildlands Project expects that it will take at least 100 years to complete. Even so, projects like this, on a worldwide basis, may be humanity’s best chance of saving what’s left of the planets eco-system, and the human race along with it.

Posted by Casey Kazan and Rebecca Sato.

If you liked this article, please give it a quick review on Digg, Reddit, or StumbleUpon.Thanks!

Related Galaxy posts:

The Shiva Impact & Extinction of the Dinosaurs
Coming of Age in the Holocene
A Future K/T Impact -Would the Human Species Survive?

Past as Prelude -Asteroids & the Origins of Life
"The Great Extinction" & Rise of Modern Species
Dr Strangelove Two? -Cambridge Astrophysicist Gives Earthlings a 50/50 Chance of Making it Through the Century

Story Link:

E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Organization

http://www.actionbioscience.org/newfrontiers/eldredge2.html
http://www.earthwatch.org/site/pp.asp?c=dsJSK6PFJnH&b=1320231
http://news.independent.co.uk/environment/article2494659.ece

Related Blogs:

http://www.radioopensource.org/eo-wilson-darwin-and-dover/,
http://gristmill.grist.org/story/2007/7/10/20189/0933,
http://john.jubjubs.net/2007/07/06/the-creation-by-e-o-wilson/,
http://blogs.uit.tufts.edu/id/2007/05/fridays_pick_eo_wilson_and_the.html,
http://www.netcrucible.com/blog/2006/10/26/eo-wilson-at-microsoft/

http://www.isteve.com/












   












   

Comments

Please see www.oneplanetonelife.com. We are attempting to bring more public awareness to the extinction crisis.

- Will

Very interesting.

More people need to be educated about -biodiversity- and how important preserving it is.

/gives shout out to the Piping Plover

Love that lil' bird!

I'm sure that more species have died out due to human intervention in the past few hundred years than any other time period
http://www.spymac.com/details/?2146727

Anyone interested in exploring a political way to deal with these problems in a global way, please have a look at www.foundationcanada.ca
Thank You, Carl Joudrie

Interesting indeed..
Seems like someone was a little sleepy when they wrote this.
Could've sworn I read the same paragraph, twice.

Look at these videos: http://www.spymac.com/details/?1937756
they will shock you :(

bring awareness by social bookmarking things that suck. Like ecosystem and habitat loss

bring awareness by social bookmarking things that suck. Like ecosystem and habitat loss

bring awareness by social bookmarking things that suck. Like ecosystem and habitat loss

What a poorly written article.


While I admit that we humans could do a lot better at preserving the Earth we live on, it will require a lot more intelligence than was used in creating this worthless mess of unsupported and uneducated drivel.

Dear earthsucks,

If you want a wordy and jargonistic synopsis of this information, go read some bureaucratic government publications. Otherwise, please leave this insightful, JOURNALISTIC, article alone.

Its the end of the world as we know it. and I feel fine.

Its the end of the world as we know it. and I feel fine.

If we don’t even know how many species there are, how can we know there is mass extinction?
see:
http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,311503,00.html?sPage=fnc/scitech/naturalscience

Decreased diversity is not necessarily bad.
see:
http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,231715,00.html?sPage=fnc/scitech/evolution

Global warming will give us more biodiversity.
see:
http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,218366,00.html?sPage=fnc/scitech/evolution

but since, according to this article, man is causing mass extinction, we should all kill ourselves right now so biodiversity will begin to rise again. because thats what is important. right?

There is absolutely no doubt that with the global warming, rampant commercialism and unbridled consumerism, humankind is pushing itself towards collective suicide. It is tragic that many of us cannot foresee that, and worse, some refuse to see beyond their nose lest they have to forego their morbid gratifications.
Yes, we will be able to live out off our lives by committing crimes against our future generations who will suffer the consequences and finally hit the dead end of our evolution. Hope other forms of life survive then to celebrate the well-deserved death of the greatest predator on this tiny planet.

30,000 species become extinct every year, eh? Can anyone here name even five that became extinct last year?

AS LONG AS GLOBAL WARMING EXISTS, THE EXTINGSION OF ALL LIFE AS WE KNOW IT WILL CONTINUE=I'M A DISASTER SOLUTIOIST= I SOLVE DISASTERS. AS IS FLOODS, FIRES LACK OF WATER ARE PROVEN AND IMPLEMENTED BY THEIR TESTING. I'M SELLING EACH FOR $35,000.00 TO FUND MY GLOBAL WARMING SOLUTION OF WHICH WILL TAKE 12 COUNTRIES AND ALOT OF MONEY. I HAVE DECIDED TO PICK 4 COUNTRIES THAT EITHER DONATE OR BUY MY SOLUTION FOR THE HIGHEST AMOUNT ON EARTH WILL HAVE A CHOICE AT ANOTHER PROJECT AT A PROFIT OF $1.9 TRILLION 60% TO EACH COUNTRY AND 40% TO DELETING GLOBAL WARMING AND PUTING NATURE BACK ON COURSE AND REMEMBER THAT THESE SOLUTIONS ARE GOOD WHETHER NOW OR LATER. IN RETURN FOR AUTHORIZATION OF USE OF PROPERTY OF THE 12 COUNTRIES ARE MORE PROPERTY, MORE FOOD AVAILIBILITY AND I'D HIRE YOUR PEOPLE, TRAIN AND EQUIPT ETC. TO HELP YOUR ECONOMY. IT WILL TAKE ALOT OF PEOPLE TO WORK TOGETHER. WORK IN OCEAN, ON LAND, ON SHIPS ANF TRANSPORTATION ETC. THE OCEAN IS THE KEY. I PLAN ON EXPANDING THE CONTINENTS AND COMPACTING THE OCEANS. AS IS ALOT OF WHALES ARE DIEING DUE TO LACK OF FINDING FOOD, BUT WITH LESS OCEAN AND MORE FOOD FOR ALL, LIFE WILL CONTINUE. ALSO THAT LARGE OBJECT OUT IN DEEP SPACE THAT NASA IS HAVING THE HUBBLE TELESCOPE TRACK IS ON A COLLISION COURSE WITH HALEY'S COMET, NO THREAT TO EARTH. MICHAEL J. SCHMITZ 22001 125TH.ST.E, BONNEYLAKE, WASHINGTON STATE 98391 USA HAVE A NICE DAY. MIKE

I'D APPRECIATE IT VERY MUCH IF YOU COULD PUT WHAT I HAVE WRITTEN ON THE INTERNET FOR ALL COUNTRIES TO SEE, THESE SOLUTIONS ARE FOR HELPING ALL THAT LIVES AND ALL COUNTRIES PEOPLE WILL HAVE A CHANCE TO CHECK THIS OUT. AS IS EVER SINCE I DISCOVERED GLOBAL WARMING AND ASKED THE HUBBLE TELESCOPE TO FIND AND TRACK THE INCOMING OBJECT. SOMEONE HAS BEEN BLOCKING MY EMAILS INCOMING AND OUTGOING. ONLY COMMENTS CAN GET TO THE PUBLIC. THIS IS ONE OF MINE ==www.inventube.com/blog/view/59/thetsunamidestroyer MY DEMONISTRATION WAS THE BEGINNING OF GLOBAL WARMING. IF I WERE RICH, I WOULD GIVE ALL MY SOLUTIONS AWAY AND DELETE GLOBAL WARMING. PLESE PUT THE OTHER BLOG ON THE WEB. THANK YOU.

Shocking article.
I do think that the natural life on earth is fading away.
Too bad that it happens too quick.

all this global warming stuff is a huge load of crap!!! global warming is a natural process we do not cause it!!! it happens every few million years the earth keeps getting hotter and hotter and then a big volcanoe goes off and we go through an ice age the way the earth cools itself down now the animals going extinct thing is true but not 30,000 species a year thats impossible because in about 3 years everything would be dead maybe one will go exctinct in the next 2 years the toads but look that up youself i dont feel like writing another ten paragraphs on that. but global warming evolution and the big bang is all a huge load of crap and besides not everyone is going to stop polluting what are you gonna do kill them we need to worry more about aids and malaria in africa and third world contries more than we need to worry about a natural process

You need a 'Print' style hyperlink.

The first extinction with a biotic cause? Did you really mean that? It is at least speculated that the rise of Cyanobacteria and photosynthesis wiped out an incredible amount of biological diversity, literally poisoning the entire atmosphere with reactive Oxygen!

It has also been proposed that the build up of methane hydrates from bacteria in the ocean floor was released by some event (earthquake?) nearly suffocating the entire atmosphere and causing or promoting a mass extinction.

There is no question that life can impact the entire planet, but traditionally, hugely stressful events lead to huge jumps in evolution and biodiversity... they knock out all the niche players and keep things on the edge where real innovation has to flourish just to stay alive . . .

Not arguing that this would be good for us by the way.. it would really suck because we especially depend on a stable environment, think honey bees that pollinate all our crops and are disappearing...

The planet will do just fine however.

p.s. re:Rajnish

Your right, that study citing 30,000 extinctions a year has come under pretty serious methodological criticisms... it's starting assumptions guarantee a high extinction rate which can be arbitrarily moved through an order of magnitude by changing a single unsupported and unscientifically justified parameter.

Dear anthropomorphismmustdie,

You used FoxNews as your only references. Your claims are based on one perspective, coincidentally, a perspective that is notoriously controlled by private interests.

nt.

I have no doubt it is happening right now.

JT
www.FireMe.To/udi

>>all this global warming stuff is a huge load of crap!!!

What's amazing about the global warming denial campaign is how few of the deniers are actually getting paid by the oil and gas industry. Poor misguided fools like you are doing their work for free. Just ask yourself: Who profits from the unbridled burning of oil, coal, and natural gas? Who profits from cutting back on the pollution we're pumping into the atmosphere? Hint: The oil industry is bigger than the wind power industry by a factor of — anyone care to jump in? — a couple thousand or so.

>>If we don’t even know how many species there are, how
>>can we know there is mass extinction?
>>see:
>>http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,311503,00.html?sPage=fnc/scitech/naturalscience

Well there's your problem right there: You're getting your so-called information from Right-Wing Corporate Propaganda Central. You've got about as much chance of finding truth there as finding a "pro-family" right-wing pundit who isn't divorced or secretly gay.

Too bad, not many people are care about the extinction of an animal, and the internet where there must be a fast way to transfers the information are now full of blogs and sites about stupid videos of people doing stupid things.

We're heating up the earth, not cooling it; just saying.

If you really hate stupid videos server-crash stupidvideos.com (the leading source of stupid videos) :P

global warming is a bunch of bull the government is just using it to cover up projects and stuff thats really happening. people stop studying global warming and start studying stuff that is hsppening in places like area 51 or the roswell incident or the philadelphia expirament and you will find the truth most things that the government says is happening is cover ups for wat they are really doing stop putting money towards global warming and use it to study things that are really happening i am starting to think i am the only person who is sane enough to question the US government. did you know that the US government is the stongest force on the planet that means they can do anything cover up anything and have infinate money start questioning the government.
and trust no one

if you agree please write

you guy are lome doum mother fuckers

“Due to their poor ability to (re)adapt to the current minor shifts in the environment without high susceptibilities to skin cancers like squamous and basal cell carcinomas, melanomas and cataracts the long term affects of global warming and ozone depletion negatively impact the fair skinned more so than those with darker pigments.“Who is evolving, we are evolving”“If you can’t figure out how to use ultraviolet light to advance your race, you shouldn’t be black,” - Black Hebrew Pagan minister Yeshua Belial

http://hotshorturl.com/se78

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