Extinctions Exploding At Rate Never Seen

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By Reed Anfinson
Publisher, Swift County Monitor-News

“Nature  is in more trouble now than at any other time in human history, with extinction looming over 1 million species of plants and animals.”

That was the lede paragraph of a story this past week by Associated Press Environment reporter Seth Borenstein on the depressing and ominous news from a more than 1,000-page report issued by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services. It is a group of 450-plus conservation scientists, and the report was approved by representatives of the 109 participating nations.

 “Species loss is accelerating to a rate tens of hundreds of times faster than in the past, the report said. More than half a million species on land ‘have insufficient habitat for long-term survival’ and are likely to go extinct, many within decades, unless their habitats are restored. The oceans are not any better off,” he writes.

In destroying habitat and killing off species we are toying with food chains without fully understanding the inevitable consequences - among them our own existence.  We know that many pollinators – all kinds of species of bees, butterflies, flower beetles, and hummingbirds are among them – are threatened by chemicals and loss of habitat. We also know they are essential to not just pretty flowers, but to the crops that feed the world.

 “Humanity unwittingly is attempting to throttle the living planet and humanity’s own future,” George Mason University biologist Thomas Lovejoy, who has been called the godfather of biodiversity for his research, is quoted by Borenstein. “The biological diversity of this planet has been really hammered, and this is really our last chance to address all of that.”

That intricately entwined diversity is key to a thriving world.

“We are indeed threatening the potential food security, water security, human health and social fabric” of humanity, Robert Watson, former top NASA and British scientist who headed the report told the Associated Press.
Are such dire words enough to motivate the world to act? We doubt it.

At the core of the growing problem is the world’s population expansion. The more people in the world, the more land that is needed for them to live on, the more people who have to make a living off the earth, and the more land that is required to feed everyone. More people equals more consumption and more waste.

Expanding farms lead to deforestation and native prairies being put to the plow. Expanding populations spread the suburbs farther and farther out into the countryside, turning habitat into yards, streets and parking lots.
The report says one-third of the world’s fisheries are overfished.

Climate change is altering whole ecosystems disrupting natural foods chains leading to species extinctions. Direct man-made encroachment now affects close to “three-quarters of Earth’s land, two-thirds of its oceans and 85 percent of crucial wetlands have been severely altered or lost, making it harder for species to survive,” the report said.

We are dumping chemicals, heavy metals, plastics, garbage, drugs, and toxins into the world’s waters and on the land destroying ecosystems.

Since humans first began to travel across vast distances, whether on land or sea, they have transported with them invasive species. Sometimes they spread by accident, other times they were intentionally introduced into new areas, in both cases, they have often had devastating effects on the local species.

So much of the destruction simply comes as millions upon millions more humans simply try to eke out a living on this planet. If killing the last of a species will feed me, or earn me enough money to live another week, it dies without the briefest moment of regret. It is why in one African country an estimated 7,000 elephants were slaughtered for their ivory by poachers, many in national parks. Clearing land in the Amazon rainforest for crops, fishing a reef beyond sustainability, spewing pollution into the world’s waters, is done to meet the necessity of living.

Of course, profit is also a significant motivator for the destruction of habitat now home to many of the disappearing species. Disinterest, arrogance, and immediate needs over long-term worries are also at the heart of the problem.

“Business as usual is a disaster,” Watson warns.

“At least 680 species with backbones have already gone extinct since 1600. The report said 559 domesticated breeds of mammals used for food have disappeared. More than 40 percent of the world’s amphibian species, more than one-third of the marine mammals and nearly one-third of sharks and fish are threatened with extinction,” Borenstein writes of the report.

Another threat that comes with the destruction of habitat, the sources of food that feeds nations, is the political instability. Starving nations have dangerous, nothing-to-lose policies as they look to their neighbors for clean water and food. Ever more people on the brink of starvation are pushed to desperation, are driven to radical acts, and will strike out at those who have what they need. Simple survival takes precedence over ecology, over nature, and over the future.

There is hope if we act soon to change our ways. But many of the countries where the destruction is worst are overwhelmingly poor with populations continually expanding. And, like so many other warnings, this one will be met with vast indifference. It can take a million years for a new species to evolve, but humanity may not be around to witness what takes our place once we have destroyed the planet.

World population
Year        Population
1960        3.03 billion
1980        4.46 billion
2000        6.15 billion
2019        7.71 billion
2030        8.89 billion
2050        9.77 billion
2100        11.2 billion
 

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