The world is officially on the brink of a sixth mass extinction event, primarily because of humans and their shortsighted antics. Leading scientists are now warning that we need to make urgent changes to the way we manage Earth’s resources if we want to prevent a truly apocalyptic biodiversity crisis, as explained in an editorial published in the journal Science on Friday.
In short, they argue that humans need to start sharing the planet with our fellow inhabitants, otherwise it could be very bad news for us all.
The editorial, written by the National Geographic Society's chief scientist Jonathan Baillie and Chinese Academy of Sciences biologist Ya-Ping Zhang, explains that the world’s governments are meeting at the Convention on Biological Diversity in Beijing to discuss biodiversity targets. If we want to avoid the collapse of the world’s wildlife, they argue that policymakers need to push to protect 50 percent of the world’s land and oceans by 2050, and aim to protect 30 percent by 2030.
“Simply put, there is finite space and energy on the planet, and we must decide how much of it we're willing to share,” Zhang and Baillie write.
"If we truly want to protect biodiversity and secure critical ecosystem benefits, the world's governments must set a much more ambitious protected area agenda and ensure it is resourced.
“Both from an ethical and a utilitarian viewpoint, this depletion of natural ecosystems is extremely troubling.”
Most scientific estimates find between 25 and 75 percent of an ecosystem needs to be heavily protected to safeguard biodiversity. While this editorial is aiming bang in the middle of this estimation, Zhang and Baillie concede that this is still a colossal challenge.
"Targets set too low could have major negative implications for future generations and all life. Any estimate must, therefore, err on the side of caution," they explain.
By no coincidence, the new wave of extinction comes at a time of exponential human population growth. As of 2018, there are 7.4 billion humans on the planet, but that could rise to 10 billion by 2050. Humans make up around 36 percent of the mammalian biomass on Earth. An unbelievable 60 percent is livestock used by humans, while the remaining 4 percent is made up of wild mammals.
This weighty human presence is understandably having an effect on the environment and its inhabitants, whether it's through habitat destruction, overhunting, or the introduction of invasive species. If we're going to act, it’s got to be soon.
“How much of the planet should we leave for other forms of life? This is a question humanity must now grapple with,” the scientists add.