Humans Threaten The Lives Of One Million Species In Current Mass Extinction Event

Humans Threaten The Lives Of One Million Species In Current Mass Extinction Event

By: Oliver G. Alvar -

One million species are currently facing extinction because of human activity, according to a UN report.

A mass extinction event. That's what we're witnessing. A wipeout of our planet's biodiversity on such a scale that it has happened only six times in a billion years—and each time it has been so devastating, it's taken hundreds upon millions of years for life to recover. And this time, we're the cause.

According to a draft of a UN report, obtained by AFP, up to one million species will become extinct within the next few decades due to human activities (like poaching and deforestation) unless we take active and directed steps to prevent it. The report documents how humanity has systematically obliterated the very resources it fundamentally relies on.

humans threaten one million species mass extinction event

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humans threaten one million species mass extinction event

Mass extinction

To give you an idea, the last mass extinction event occurred about 65 million years ago. It was caused by a meteor impact. And it pretty much wiped out the dominating animals on the planet—the dinosaurs. Having ruled the Earth for over 150 million years (far longer than our measly 300,000 years), the dinosaurs were not invulnerable to extinction any more, or any less, than we are. Thing is, unlike the dinosaurs, we're now the leading cause behind our own potential extinction. So much for "the smartest species ever."

So, it's not only climate change that's threatening our future and the future of our children. It's biodiversity loss as well. The two phenomena are intimately connected, but distinct nonetheless. One can result from the other, but have separate, though related, causes.

humans threaten one million species mass extinction event

The increasing loss of clean air through pollution, the loss of drinkable water, deforestation, the massive loss of pollinating insects on which entire ecosystems and agricultural fields rely, the loss of fish and mangroves, etc., are but a few of the issues that are obliterating the natural services we depend on. Mass industrialization and consumption are killing off these services. And we can't survive without them.

It is estimated that, today, Earth is home to around eight million different species. So one million implies a proportional hit to the stability of most ecosystems on the planet, and if the lives of billions of nonhumans were not enough, we humans are going to pay a steep price as well. Markets are going to take a hit, followed by our quality of life and, perhaps, our very existence.

humans threaten one million species mass extinction event

Mammalian life alone has gone down by 82%, with humans and livestock accounting for more than 95% of mammal biomass by this point. That means we're driving our fellow animals out of existence, and the environment on which we so deeply rely with them. 

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Direct causes

In order of importance, the direct causes of species extinction are: 

  • Habitat loss and land change due to human industrialization, deforestation, agriculture, etc. 
  • Hunting, poaching, and trade in body parts—including ivory trade. 
  • Climate change
  • Pollution
  • Introduction of species that are not part of an ecosystem and that disrupt its balance

humans threaten one million species mass extinction event

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Indirect causes

Indirect causes include overpopulation and overconsumption. Consider that only 200 years ago, there were fewer than one billion humans around. Today, there are over 7 billion of us. According to "Our World In Data:"

"Between 1900 and 2000, the increase in world population was three times greater than during the entire previous history of humanity—an increase from 1.5 to 6.1 billion in just 100 years."

humans threaten one million species mass extinction event

But not only are there more of us. We're systematically consuming more as well by living beyond the means that our planet supports. We're leading unsustainable lifestyles which could only be achieved if we had more than three times the resources that Earth actually offers—so we're obviously causing extreme harm to the environment just so we can enjoy some momentary luxuries. 

Climate justice and hard facts

There's also the issue of so-called climate justice and global inequality, which worries that the areas to be most affected are closer to the tropical regions near the Equator, which encompass many poor and underdeveloped countries.

humans threaten one million species mass extinction event

Though only a draft has been seen so far, the facts will remain the same in the final release. Sure, some phrasing might change, but the numbers are unavoidable. Here are some hard figures found on the report:

  • 75% of land surfaces, 40% of marine environments, and 50% of in-land waterways worldwide have been severely altered. 
  • The areas that will face the worst consequences of biodiversity loss and climate change are home to indigenous peoples and the world's poorest communities.
  • Nearly 50% of land and marine ecosystems have been profoundly compromised by human interference over the last 50 years.

humans threaten one million species mass extinction event

In all, if we don't do anything, more than two billion people will be directly affected within the next few decades, almost one million species will die out, and overall the whole world's population will suffer the consequences over the long term. Best case scenario, it's a disaster. Worst case, we disappear. It's as simple as that. 

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