The Fruits of Civilization – 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


Reindeer, also known as caribou, live in the chilly Arctic, tundra, and boreal biomes of the northern hemisphere. There are both sedentary and migratory populations of this species.

Accelerating Arctic warming has spelled erratic weather. Retreating sea ice and unseasonably warm weather contribute to heavy rains, which later freeze the snow cover for months, cutting off the reindeer’s lichen food supply.

In November 2013, 61,000 in a herd of 275,000 reindeer on the Yamal Peninsula in west Siberia starved to death when thick ice covered the land. This was a more intense recurrence of 2006, when 20,000 caribou succumbed to starvation. (These are just the documented incidents, after extensive research. Most loss of Nature goes unnoted.)

“Reindeer are used to sporadic ice cover, and adult males can normally smash through ice around 2 centimetres thick. But in 2006 and 2013, the ice was several tens of centimetres thick.” ~ Finnish ecologist Bruce Forbes

One subspecies of reindeer has already gone extinct. Caribou are not going to survive the erratic weather at the top of the world for much longer.


“Elephants love reunions. They recognize one another after years and years of separation and greet each other with wild, boisterous joy.” ~ American educator Jennifer Richard Jacobson

Elephants are highly intelligent, compassionate animals. Their groups are matriarchal: a more sensible choice in leadership than humanity makes.

The tusks of elephants are prized for their ivory: a substance esteemed since antiquity by many human cultures. Elephants were eliminated in Syria and North Africa for ivory in ancient times. That demand continues to drive elephants toward extinction.

Elephants that survive a slaughter are psychologically scarred for the rest of their lives. Survivors do their best to regroup, often joining with others, so as to have social support. The loss of experienced leadership is sorely missed by elephants.


At the turn of the 20th century, the world elephant population was 1.4 million, and fairly stable. Their numbers started to drop around World War 1. The decline accelerated steadily until the 1980s, when the combined effects of automatic weapons, ivory poaching, and human habitat encroachment wiped out half of the remaining elephants.

The Asian elephant population was 200,000 in 1900. Fewer than 40,000 were alive as of 2009. Indian farmers, who decimate the elephants’ forests, consider pachyderms an oversized pest. The feeling is mutual.

African elephants, which have long had higher population numbers than their Asian cousins, will soon be gone from the wild: reduced to miserable numbers living in zoos.

◊ ◊ ◊

Forest elephants are integral to a functioning forest in Africa, opening up the forest floor and acting as a vital part of the life cycle of many plant species through their role as seed dispersers. Certain tree species decline as a result of the local extinction of forest elephants. ~ English zoologist Bethan Morgan

  Blood Ivory

In January 2012, a hundred raiders on horseback charged into an African national park and slaughtered hundreds of elephants: entire families, including females and the infants they strove to protect. Then some killers paused to pray to Allāh.

“They were good shots, very good shots. They even shot the babies. Why? It was like they came here to destroy everything.” ~ Congolese park ranger Paul Onyango

Tens of thousands of elephants are killed each year in Africa. The prize comes in male tusks, but the carnage is not constrained: whole herds are indiscriminately wiped out.

The customers for blood ivory are the religious and superstitious in the far East. Though almost all international ivory trade is legally banned, many tonnes are smuggled from Africa to east Asia each year.

In the Philippines, devout Catholics treasure their religious icons carved from ivory. One Filipino ivory collector remarked: “I don’t see the elephant. I see the Lord.” Pope John Paul II blessed an ivory artifact from the country’s largest archdiocese.

Asian elephant ivory mixes with African in Thailand. Many Thai wear amulets to keep them safe and ward off black magic. One Thai Buddhist monk advises that “ivory removes bad spirits.”

China is the largest consumer of ivory. There too, Buddhist monks bless ivory icons, as ivory honors God. “When elephants die, they want to leave something behind as a good deed to have a good next life,” observes one Chinese ivory carver.

The international authorities charged with stamping out illegal ivory smuggling are as inept as ivory consumers are covetous. For its part, the Chinese government expels those trying to police the ivory trade.

“China is the epicenter. Without the demand from China, this would all but dry up.” ~ American diplomat Robert Hormats

 Prairie Dogs

Prairie dogs are herbivorous, burrowing rodents native to the grasslands of North America. These gregarious creatures live in family-oriented communities (towns) that may have 1,000 residents.

In the 17th century, prairie dogs inhabited 15% of the Great Plains. A single colony might have occupied 2 million hectares. Prairie dogs now live in 1% of their former range. Few prairie dog towns are left.

Prairie dogs are emblematic of habitat decline throughout the world. In this instance, the Great Plains grassland ecosystem is imperiled. Nearly 800 known animal species face extinction there. The black-footed ferret, which preys on prairie dogs, is a goner. Soon to follow are other predator species that rely upon prairie dogs: hawks, eagles, owls, plovers, and foxes.

The primary problem for prairie dogs is that they prefer to live in places that are flat: perfect for residential subdivisions and shopping centers. When people move in, they exterminate prairie dogs as a pest.

 King Penguins

King penguins are the 2nd-largest penguin, behind emperor penguins. King penguins mainly eat small fish.

King penguins occupy Southern Ocean islands en masse during mating season. One island colony hosted over 1/2 million breeding pairs in 1988. In 35 years, that king penguin colony population plummeted 88%. Nearly 1/3rd of the world’s king penguins disappeared in the collapse, which continues. Researchers do not know why king penguins are disappearing.


Orangutans are a highly intelligent primate. They use tools and their populations have their own cultures. Orangutans are the most arboreal of the apes, and the largest tree-dwelling mammal.

An orangutan has a natural life span of 30 years. Few get to die of old age nowadays.

Orangutans were once native to several islands in Indonesia and Malaysia. Their numbers greatly diminished, the few thousand that remain are in the rainforests of Borneo and Sumatra.

Deforestation has greatly confined where orangutans may live. That problem has been compounded by orangutans being hunted and killed by humans in large numbers. Orangutans are murdered for their meat, to protect crops, or for traditional medicines. Orangutan bones are furtively traded in Indonesian souvenir shops.

Even an occasional killing would be enough to wipe out a population, as the orangutan reproductive cycle is around 7 years. Orangutans are expected to be extinct by the early 2020s.


Extinctions are altering key processes important to the productivity and sustainability of Earth’s ecosystems. Further species loss will accelerate change in ecosystem processes. ~ David Hooper et al

Ecosystems are subject to self-organized criticality. As King penguins illustrate, population collapse can come suddenly.

Loss of certain life forms could substantially alter the structure and functioning of whole ecosystems. ~ American ecologist Bradley Cardinale et al

“Closer to a tipping point an ecosystem becomes less resilient.” ~ Chinese American biological physicist Lei Dai et al

“Localized ecological systems are known to shift abruptly and irreversibly from one state to another when they are forced across critical thresholds. The global ecosystem as a whole can react in the same way and is approaching a planetary-scale critical transition as a result of human influence.” ~ American paleontologist Anthony Barnosky et al

Animals fail to reproduce when their numbers thin beyond a certain threshold. As many plants rely upon animals for pollination and seed dispersal, the fates of all are interlinked.

“Future loss of species has the potential to reduce plant production just as much as global warming and pollution.” ~ American biologist David Harper

Owing to intricate interdependence, the demise of any one species can have severe domino effects.

“Several scales of biodiversity affect ecosystem multifunctionality.” ~ American environmental biologist Jae Pasari et al

◊ ◊ ◊

“The living fabric of the world is slipping through our fingers without our showing much sign of caring.” ~ Pontifical Academy of Sciences

As of 2015, 5% of the world’s species have gone extinct under modern man’s political-economic regime. By 2060 the tally will have risen to at least 50%.

“Loss of biological diversity due to species extinction is going to have major impacts on our planet.” ~ Bradley Cardinale

Some have optimistically (and idiotically) tried to minimize the ongoing extinctions, noting that planetary biodiversity has actually increased in the modern era, thanks to imported species from one locale to another, and rapid speciation from climate change. This is biodiversity as bean counting and ignores that mass extinction events typically occur over many thousands, even millions, of years. Comparatively, the pace of extinction now is mercurial, its toll guaranteed to be both inexorable and extensive. A major mass extinction event is well under way.


“In an era of massive biodiversity loss, the greatest conservation success story has been the growth of protected land globally. Protected areas are the primary defense against biodiversity loss, but extensive human activity within their boundaries undermines this.” ~ Australian environmental scientist Kendall Jones et al

A critical step at this late date is to limit the slaughter and let Nature be. Doing so has proven problematic.

As of 2018, 1/3rd of the world’s Nature preserves have been severely degraded by human incursion. Over 90% of conservation sites have suffered damage from logging, mining, urbanization, and tourism. Nearly 75% of nations have over half of their protected lands under intense exploitative pressure.

“These are the places that nations have said they are setting aside for Nature’s needs, not human needs.” ~ Australian conservation scientist James Watson

Some ostensible conservation efforts are just publicity stunts. In early 2018, the Brazilian government announced large protected zones in their coastal ocean, but the designations were deep-ocean areas with poor prospects for extractive activities. Lively waters with economic exploitation potential were left unprotected.