A mass extinction is very likely currently underway. This time, unlike the past, it's not a chance asteroid collision
, nor a chain of climatic circumstances alone that's at fault. Instead, it is chiefly the activities of an ever-growing human population, in concert with long-term environmental change.
The International Union for the Conservation of Nature estimates that 800 plant and animal species have gone extinct in the last 500 years, with more than 16,000 currently threatened with extinction — and those lost
or threatened organisms come from the mere 41,000 species so far assessed by science. More than a million have been described but remain unstudied.
The most troubling figures, however, come not from the total species lost
but the rate at which they’re vanishing: 1,000 times faster than usual.
According to Richard Leakey and Roger Lewin:
“Our planet has been shaken by five major extinctions in the four billion year history
of life. The first, 450 million years ago, occurred shortly after the evolution of the first land-based plants and 100 million years after the Cambrian Explosion of animal life beneath the seas.
The second extinction spasm came 350 million years ago, causing the formation of coal forests. Then the Earth experienced two mass extinctions during the Triassic period, between 250 and 200 million years ago. The fifth mass extinction, probably caused by a giant meteor collision
, occurred 65 million years ago, at the end of the Cretaceous period, and ended the reptilian dominance of the Earth. This led to the current
mammalian domination of the Earth.
So what is the Sixth Extinction? When is it coming? And what is its cause? "It's the next annihilation of vast numbers of species. It is happening now, and we, the human race
, are its cause," explains Dr. Richard Leakey, the world's most famous paleoanthropologist. Every year, between 17,000 and 100,000 species vanish from our planet, he says. "For the sake of argument, let's assume the number is 50,000 a year. Whatever way you look at it, we're destroying the Earth at a rate comparable with the impact of a giant asteroid slamming into the planet, or even a shower
of vast heavenly bodies." The statistics he has assembled are staggering. Fifty per cent of the Earth's species will have vanished inside the next 100 years; mankind is using almost half the energy available to sustain life on the planet, and this figure will only grow as our population leaps from 5.7 billion to ten billion inside the next half-century. Such a dramatic and overwhelming mass extinction threatens the entire complex fabric
of life on Earth, including the species responsible for it: Homo sapiens ...”
More ➥ Sixth Extinction
Information on the Current Mass Extinction ➥ Mass Extinction Underway | Biodiversity Crisis | Global Species Loss