According to a recent study published in Science Advances, the Earth has entered into a sixth mass extinction, and species are dying out faster than they have since the event that killed the dinosaurs. And, coming as little surprise, this event is humanity’s fault.
Mass extinctions have, previously, been naturally occurring events that have meant the end of huge number of species, such as the meteor strike that killed the dinosaurs. They often last for years, decades, or even centuries, and result is a significant reshaping of the planet’s life. The evolution of new plants and animals to occupy biological niches left by extinct life forms can take millions of years.
Researchers compared current extinction rates to conservative estimates of “background extinction,” or the rate at which species normally disappear. What they found was that human activity, such as converting land for agriculture or logging, pollution, and the introduction of invasive species, is causing species to go extinct at a much higher rate than normal. For example, 41% of amphibians and 26% of mammals currently face extinction, while the destruction of wetlands threatens water supplies. Everywhere, humans are wreaking havoc on our surroundings, and it threatens not only other species, but us as well.
Humans like to pretend that we exist outside of nature, but that’s simply not true. Reduction in global biodiversity, especially on this kind of scale, will impact our ability to grow food, and will make life increasingly difficult, especially for people who have less access to the increasingly scarce resources.
The researchers did point out that there is still a chance to change things. There’s no silver lining here: we need to cut carbon emissions, develop better ways to grow food, reduce the use of pesticides, and step up conservation efforts. We can undo some of the damage, and make concentrated efforts to prevent more, but it’s on us, nothing else can save us.
If this mass extinction continues, life will find a way, and new species will evolve, but we won’t be here to see them.