Is This the End? Scientists Warn the Sixth Mass Extinction Has Begun

Jun 23, 2015 at 5:59 pm |
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Start saying your goodbyes.

According to the research of one team published in the Science Advances journal, the human race and life as we know it are on their way out, subject to the sixth mass extinction which we ourselves are largely responsible for.

The study cites the rapidly increasing rates of observable extinction among lesser species of vertebrates- which are up at least 114% over the last century alone. According to the article, the number of species that have gone extinct in the past 100 years is equivalent to what would normally take 800 to 10,000 years to die out given natural extinction rate. So what’s the difference causing such rapid rates of death and disappearance? Us.

“Arguably the most serious aspect of the environmental crisis is the loss of biodiversity—the other living things with which we share Earth. This affects human well-being by interfering with crucial ecosystem services such as crop pollination and water purification and by destroying humanity’s beautiful, fascinating, and culturally important living companions.”

At the end of the day, the uncontrolled human population continues to negatively impact the biosphere, reducing plant and wildlife populations by deliberately hunting and destroying other species, reducing their natural habitats, and introducing invasive species and predators into new ecosystems. Deforestation and pollution caused by humans has been proven to adversely affect the planet and the living conditions of many species on it.

But is the advent of a sixth mass extinction really as dramatic as it sounds?

The last mass extinction was 65 million years ago, and today we know it as being the end of the dinosaurs. Called the Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction event or the K-Pg extinction, about 75% of all species are believed to have gone extinct at this time, and birds and mammals then emerged as the dominant land vertebrates. While it’s generally accepted that there have been five major extinction events (the “Big 5”), estimates range as high as 20. Furthermore, all of these events only account for easily observed species, meaning microbial life—which constitutes the majority of Earth’s diversity and biomass—is not taken into account.

It’s also important to note that over 99% of all species that have ever existed on Earth are already extinct, and that nothing—not even the planet itself—was made to last forever. Even if we are now entering a sixth mass extinction, previous events have been assumed to last for millions of years. The most likely case is that the sixth extinction has already been under way for some time.

What we can do.

One thing we can agree on is that, mass extinction or not, we need to start treating the world better. Darwin once wrote,

“Species are produced and exterminated by slowly acting causes… and the most import of all causes of organic change is one which is almost independent of altered… physical conditions, namely the mutual relation of organism to organism- the improvement of one organism entailing the improvement or extermination of others.”

Long story short, we have the power to slow down the rapid rate of extinction that we’re witnessing in other vertebrates. When it comes to the many species that have died over the past century, humans are largely responsible for their fates. Given our unbridled rate of consumption, pollution, and reproduction, we’re certainly not helping our own case, either. Yet experts have said we could start to reverse or at least delay the inevitable extinction by very conscious, global efforts of animal and wildlife preservation, diminishing exploitation of the natural world, and reducing our pollution rates.

Science has always enjoyed being a bit alarmist, so if there’s one thing you need to take away from the so-called sixth extinction, know that it’s not going to be an overnight event. Chances are humans were doomed before we started, just like every other living thing on the planet.

The human race is on its way out. But is there any way to stop our own extinction?