We are officially on the brink of a sixth mass extinction, and what we do next will decide whether we tip over that edge or can pull it back in time, according to a new report published in Nature.
It’s brutal to face up to the damage we as a species are doing to the other creatures that share our planet, but hope is not lost just yet, the researchers say, suggesting a huge international effort to mitigate the extinction risks in the next 50 years.
It might not sound as dramatic as meteorite strikes, volcanic eruptions, or ice ages – some of the causes of the previous five mass extinctions over the past 500 million years – but human activity is causing tens of thousands of species to be threatened with extinction at a rate comparable to these events.
“Human activities are driving the sixth mass extinction in the history of life on Earth, despite the fact that diversity of life enhances many benefits people reap from nature, such as wood from forests, livestock forage from grasslands, and fish from oceans and streams,” said lead author Forest Isbell, from the University of Minnesota, in a statement. “It would be wise to invest much more in conserving biodiversity.”
A quarter of all mammals, a third of amphibians, and 13 percent of all bird are currently at risk of extinction, with 99 percent of those threatened due to human activity – deforestation, poaching, culling, hunting, pollution, loss of habitat, introducing invasive species, and climate change are all contributing.
The human population – currently at 7 billion – has increased 130 percent in the last 50 years, and is set to increase to 10 billion by 2060. By contrast, the population of the world’s animals, birds, and fish has decreased nearly 60 percent in the same time period, with two-thirds set to have disappeared by 2020.
The study suggests that the value humans get from biodiversity, including plants that provide food, shelter, clean air, and other resources, is 10 times the total of what every country in the world spends on conservation. They argue that investing in protected species would provide economic as well as ecological benefits.
And it’s doable, too.
“All species could benefit from the intensification of current conservation policies, as well as from policies that reduce underlying anthropogenic threats,” the authors write. “Developing and enacting such policies, however, will require an unprecedented degree of engagement between stakeholders, policymakers, natural scientists, and social scientists.”
Many solutions have already been presented in many previous studies and reports: bring down pollution, mitigate climate change, modify our diets and eat less meat, stop the illegal wildlife trade, etc. Now, we need to act together on a global scale to implement these before it’s too late.