This planet has seen five massive extinction events. The most famous of these was the one that ended the dinosaurs at the end of the Cretaceous period. We are, by all accounts, rapidly approaching the sixth.
Borrowing clips from an article on CNN.com, here is what you need to know about what we’re currently facing, and if we have the ability to stop it:
This is Anthony Barnosky. He is the executive director at the Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve. Here, he explains what an extinction event looks like, including losing three out of the four of our most common species alive today.
Humans, as a race, are helping cause this. We are seeing the disappearance of species at a rate that is 100 times more than normal. Take, for instance, the African elephant. If poaching rates continue to raise, we are likely to see no more of this species within 20 years. Orangutans and Monarch Butterflies are also on their way out.
Paul Ehrlich, the Bing Professor of Population Studies at Stanford University, states that we half of the life forms that we have come across in our history, disappear from this Earth.
Why exactly are we seeing this happen? Here’s what reporters over at CNN have found out. Basically drawn out, we have five causes to look at.
Number One: Climate Change
We are heating up this planet rapidly. Temperatures around the globe have been affected and it has been clearly tracked.
We’re burning more and more fossil fuels and cutting down our rainforests. Coral has been suffering from this change, as they are the first barometers to indicate that water temps are changing. Reefs become subject to the acidity in the water, which is affected by the warmth of the water. We may see a mass extinction of all our coral reefs by 2050, if we can’t get ourselves using cleaner fuels.
The loss of coral isn’t just about those who can go visit it on a dive. It’s also about those people who rely on the fish and creatures living in the reefs to sustain their lives. This is Lydia. She lives on a small island that lies off of Madagascar. There is no electricity or modern convenience where she is from. She counts on having fish from the sea every day to help her family survive.
Number Two: Farming and Agriculture
We have covered almost 37% of the available land we have by farms. This is how much we have given to the crops we grow:
This is how much we’ve given to livestock:
And this is how much we’ve taken for ourselves:
We have grown so huge, as a race, that we’re pushing out other species from the land they’ve been on since time immemorial. The orangutan, for instance, has been caught in a deadly play between the land that’s left to them in the jungle, and the interactions they are constantly having with humans as they destroy their land for palm oil production.
Bees have also seen their fair share of plight. The crisis is huge for the Bumble Bee. They have lost 25% of their population in the last few decades due to pesticides and habitat loss. What makes this so bad? Bees help pollinate up to 35% of our crops. Without them, we wouldn’t have food to eat. And we aren’t even noticing when they’re gone.
Robbin Thorp, a professor emeritus at UC Berkely, was the only one to see the disappearance of the Franklin Bee from Oregon. He has been trying to track them down since seeing the last one in 2006.
Number Three: Wildlife Crime
One of the most lucrative black markets in the world, wildlife trade, is worth an estimated $91 to $258 billion dollars. These are huge numbers.
Animals like rhinos, pangolins, and elephants are all hunted for things that they naturally are gifted with. Whether horns, scales, or tusks, their numbers are threatened because humans desire after wealth, prestige, or medicine. It’s hard to imagine that anyone would want these animals to go extinct, but that’s exactly what’s happening.
Mike Chase, a conservationist and creator of Elephants Without Borders, has been tracking African elephants for years. Between 2007 and 2014, he saw over 30% of elephants disappear. “We are failing the elephants”, he says.
Number Four: Pollution
We are destroying our planet with garbage. Everywhere we look, we’re throwing something away. In fact, we’re currently dumping almost 9 million tons of trash into the ocean every year.
That’s one garbage truck full of plastic almost every minute. With that sort of rate, we might be looking at having more plastic in our oceans (by weight) than fish by the year 2050. It’s already happening: every seabird that has currently been examined after death, has had plastic in its stomach.
This is Midway Island. There are tons and tons of seabirds here. They’re all consuming plastic. Matt Brown of the US Marine National Monuments Association speaks.
Number Five: Diseases
Nearly 40% of amphibians are at risk of extinction. This is an alarming number, as it’s higher than any other invertebrate. Scientists point to chytrid fungus as the main culprit, a fungal infection that attacks the skin of amphibians, and kills them within a short amount of time.
Fingers are being pointed at humans, who may have helped spread the disease across the whole world by importing and selling frogs.
Costa Rican scientists have installed microphones in the rainforests, in order to better hear what is happening with the frogs. Each species of frog has its own unique sound, and over time, one can track a given species’ presence, by listening to the noises they make recorded on a track.
Here’s an audio clip from 2008:
And here’s one from 2015:
Bryan Pijanowski, a professor of landscape ecology at Purdue University, states it pretty clear: “I’m worried that these (frogs) would potentially become acoustic fossils.”
This whole list might have you supremely worried about what’s to come. And perhaps it very well should. The important thing is that we have the tools to stop this.
We can wean ourselves off of the fossil fuels we have held so dear to us. We can help boost support for cleaner, healthier forms of energy.
Protecting half of the world’s surface against farming is an idea that has gained wide attention. If we were do so, that would mean we could see the end of some of the worst extinction.
We an reject the trade of ivory and animal products that lead to the death of the animal. By boycotting these items, there is no longer a need to procure them.
We can do this. And we have to. Starting today.
Head on over to the wonderful article by CNN that give more infographics and links.