The Fruits of Civilization (73) Extinction


For the first time since the demise of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago, we face a global mass extinction. ~ English geologist Mike Barrett

Several calamities have struck Earth severely enough to cause mass extinctions. Some involved bolides. Others were homegrown. At least 1 extinction event – the one that ended the Devonian period – started with invasive species evoking an organic imbalance that proved catastrophic.

Earth is now in the grips of another such extinction event, engineered by a single invasive species: humans. The living fabric of the world is unraveling without the perpetrator caring about its own extinction, let alone other species.

Our sentimentality toward animals is a sure sign of our disdain in which we hold them. ~ Jean Baudrillard

Humans are extremely efficient in exploiting natural resources. Humans have culled, and in some cases eradicated, wild mammals for food or pleasure in virtually all continents. ~ American biologist Paul Falkowski

Even many small songbirds are at risk of imminent global extinction due to their capture for the pet trade in Southeast Asia. The rainforests where they live are increasingly falling silent. ~ English ecologist Alexander Lees

While war and terror atrocities make daily headlines, the terror being waged on wildlife slides under the radar. The annihilation of wildlife by organised criminal gangs is violent, bloody, corrupt, and insidious. ~ English diplomat Dominic Jermey

The illegal trafficking of wildlife is a blight on humanity. This trade – estimated to be worth some £17bn pounds per year – is big business, run by ruthless networks. ~ Gabonese President Ali Bongo in 2018

The destruction of Nature and disappearance of wildlife is the greatest threat facing the human race. ~ English environmentalist Tony Juniper

Human overpopulation and overconsumption are driving the devastation. ~ Paul Ehrlich

Rapid declines in wildlife began with industrialization and have accelerated since. 1970–2015, animal populations worldwide declined 60%. As of 2015, 41% of amphibians, 26% of mammals, and 12% of birds faced impending extinction.

Globally, marine species are being eliminated at twice the rate of land species. ~ Malin Pinsky

◊ ◊ ◊

Nothing in the cicada cry suggests they are about to die. ~ Japanese poet Matsuo Bashō

Insect numbers have plummeted in recent decades. As 6-leggers are pivotal pollinators, and a food source for many animals, their decline is a harbinger for life on land.

Insects are the most sensitive group of animals to climate change. Ecosystems cannot function without insects. They play an absolutely critical role in the food chain. ~ English biological climate change scientist Rachel Warren

Biodiversity of insects is threatened worldwide. The main cause is agricultural intensification. That means the elimination of all trees and shrubs that normally surround the fields, so there are plain, bare fields that are treated with synthetic fertilisers and pesticide. Insect losses will have catastrophic consequences. ~ ecologist Franciso Sánchez-Bayo

The toll in rivers and lakes is also high. 1970–2017 the populations of freshwater species declined 83%.

The debacle of death is quickening as you read this. 20% of all vertebrate species faced extinction in 2015, an impending toll that will rise to at least 50% 50 years hence.

Current rates of extinction are about 1000 times the background rate of extinction. These are higher than previously estimated and likely still underestimated. Future rates are poised to increase. ~ American ecologist Stuart Pimm et al in 2014

An aspect of the present extinction event involves changing the composition of the atmosphere. Unlike what plants did to the planet, this change does no life any good – not even the plants. Unlike many other mass extinction events, the current one is taking an ominous toll on seed-bearing plants.

Climate change often leads to local extinctions and declines by influencing interactions between species, such as reducing prey populations for predators. These shifting interactions may make even small climatic changes dangerous for the survival of plant and animal species. ~ American ecologist John Wiens

Even the most resilient species will inevitably fall victim to the synergies among extinction drivers as extreme stresses drive ecosystems to collapse. ~ Giovanni Strona

The depravity of humanity is shown by the extinction of other life so that man may live luxuriously. This springs from greedily taking the bounties of Nature without care of consequence.

In today’s increasingly globalized economy, international trade chains accelerate habitat degradation far removed from the place of consumption. A significant number of species are threatened as a result of international trade along complex routes. Consumers in developed countries cause threats to species through their demand of commodities that are ultimately produced in developing countries. ~ Australian environmentalist Manfred Lenzen et al

Hydroelectric dams are an exemplary extravagance. Their siting is a death knell for life nearby and downstream.

Flooding reservoirs causes immediate loss of habitat and species, but there is also a significant future biological cost as the ‘extinction debt’ is paid. No matter where the dam is located or which species are present, there is sustained loss of species, with many in existing dams still potentially facing extinction. ~ English ecologist Isabel Jones

Some species are killed off because they offer a valued resource. The demise of others owes to their being considered pests. But most often, humans carelessly degrade habitats to the point where little else finds them fit to live in.

The one process now going on that will take millions of years to correct is the loss of genetic and species diversity by the destruction of natural habitats. ~ American naturalist Edward O. Wilson in 1984

◊ ◊ ◊

Unsurprisingly, there is a direct relation between habitat destruction and the rapacious vitality of the extant economic system. The more plutocratic the regime, the greater the loss. (The US is exemplary. The rabidly pro-business Trump administration has taken numerous measures to accelerate extinction.)

The number of species that are threatened or declining increases substantially with income inequality. ~ Swedish environmental economist Garry Peterson et al