When news of the new Spider-man and the latest White House bids attracts our attention, it’s pretty easy to miss that a sixth mass extinction is underway threatening the viability of humanity as we know it.
In a study published in ‘Science Advances,‘ a new study suggests that the loss of species is accelerating at a rapid rate, much quicker than the average rate of species extinction.
The previous rate of the extinction of mammals is two mammal extinctions per 10,000 species per 100 years, the equation being 2 E/MSY. Already, this rate, known as the background rate, is doubled from previous estimates. At this background rate, it would take specific types of mammals to go extinct between 800 and 10,000 years.
However, new evidence suggests that based on species lost within the last century, the new rate of extinction is actually 100 times the background. This means that the sixth mass distinction is already underway.
Here’s a part of the discussion that will really freak you out:
The evidence is incontrovertible that recent extinction rates are unprecedented in human history and highly unusual in Earth’s history. Our analysis emphasizes that our global society has started to destroy species of other organisms at an accelerating rate, initiating a mass extinction episode unparalleled for 65 million years. If the currently elevated extinction pace is allowed to continue, humans will soon (in as little as three human lifetimes) be deprived of many biodiversity benefits. On human time scales, this loss would be effectively permanent because in the aftermath of past mass extinctions, the living world took hundreds of thousands to millions of years to rediversify.
In order for an event to be considered a mass extinction, 75 percent of species must go extinct within a million years.
Back in the 1980s, scientists hypothesized that the Earth has had five major mass extinctions since life emerged 3.5 billion years ago. The last mass extinction is estimated to have taken place around 445 million years ago.
Biodiversity is essential for life to thrive. If one animal can’t feed off another animal because that species is extinct, we see a domino effect in the food chain.
According to the study:
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. 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.
So, of course we have to ask, can humans change their ways to slow down the rate of extinction? The answer is absolutely but we should really start right now, particularly since there are a lot of us.