Threat of the sixth mass extinction is real – and it is here, now!

That is the bad news at the center of a new study by a group of scientists including Paul Ehrlich, the Bing Professor of Population Studies in biology and a senior fellow at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment. Ehrlich and his co-authors call for fast action to conserve threatened species, populations and habitat, but warn that the window of opportunity is rapidly closing…

Although most well known for his positions on human population, Ehrlich has done extensive work on extinctions going back to his 1981 book, Extinction: The Causes and Consequences of the Disappearance of Species. He has long tied his work on coevolution, on racial, gender and economic justice, and on nuclear winter with the issue of wildlife populations and species loss…

The new study, published in the journal Science Advances, shows that even with extremely conservative estimates, species are disappearing up to about 100 times faster than the normal rate between mass extinctions, known as the background rate.

“If it is allowed to continue, life would take many millions of years to recover, and our species itself would likely disappear early on,” said lead author Gerardo Ceballos of the Universidad Autónoma de México…

Focusing on vertebrates, the group for which the most reliable modern and fossil data exist, the researchers asked whether even the lowest estimates of the difference between background and contemporary extinction rates still justify the conclusion that people are precipitating “a global spasm of biodiversity loss.” The answer: a definitive yes.

“We emphasize that our calculations very likely underestimate the severity of the extinction crisis, because our aim was to place a realistic lower bound on humanity’s impact on biodiversity,” the researchers write.

To history’s steady drumbeat, a human population growing in numbers, per capita consumption and economic inequity has altered or destroyed natural habitats. The long list of impacts includes:

Land clearing for farming, logging and settlement

Introduction of invasive species

Carbon emissions that drive climate change and ocean acidification

Toxins that alter and poison ecosystems

Now, the specter of extinction hangs over about 41 percent of all amphibian species and 26 percent of all mammals, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, which maintains an authoritative list of threatened and extinct species.

“There are examples of species all over the world that are essentially the walking dead,” Ehrlich said.

Look around you, folks. Most of us are urban if not urbane. We struggle each day back-and-forth through invisible vapors, still detectible with our olfactory sense. Friends in Midland, Texas, call the petrochemicals in the air “the smell of money”. I call it the smell of death because most birds are already gone, dead or dying, fleeing the chemistry of an Earth’s crust riddled by as many holes as the battlefield remains of a Mafia shootout.

Do you wonder why only the rich and super-rich afford themselves menus of fish and fowl comparatively as expensive as Ferraris. Taste guided not only by wealth; but, scarcity, assumes the death of species as an opportunity for increased profit. When vendors of toys and bling achieve greater wealth themselves – we know the prophets of doom have every right to stand and ring their little bell outsides the doors of our homes, before the grand entrances of government halls.