Earth’s 6th mass extinction is now underway

Click to enlarge — Hainan Black-Crested Gibbon

Deforestation, climate change and the dramatic impact human societies have had in reshaping the Earth for the past few thousand years are taking an extraordinary toll on its animal species, which are dying off about 1,000 times faster today than they did before humans arrived.

It all adds up to the sixth mass extinction in the planet’s history, the editors of Science Magazine report in a special series of scientific studies…which both explore the implications of “anthropocene defaunation” and offer prescriptions for how we might re-colonize animal populations throughout the world…

Scientists point out that extinctions of individual species aren’t uncommon, as more than 99 percent of all the known species ever to have existed on Earth are now gone forever.

What has changed is the speed with which species are going extinct, a phenomenon scientists chalk up to the impact humans have had on the planet for the past two centuries. Many argue we should call the age we’re living in the “Anthropocene,” or the Age of Man.

That’s because the impact humans are having on the planet and its ecosystems — killing off species by destroying their habitats for building cities and agriculture, hunting them and overfishing them to extinction, and by the industrial pollutants we pump into the atmosphere, and into our lakes, rivers and oceans — are so dramatic that they constitute a definable geological time scale for the planet like the Holocene or the Pleistocene…

Earth has experienced five previous mass extinction events, most caused by giant meteors slamming into the Earth. The best-known of these is probably the one that killed off the dinosaurs, along with 75 percent of all other species, about 66 million years ago. Ninety percent of all animal species were lost in another extinction more than 250 million years ago, which has been called the “Great Dying.”

What’s different about today’s extinction? “The underlying driving force for this is not a meteorite or a mega-volcanic eruption; it is one species – homo sapiens“…

“Though for emotional or aesthetic reasons we may lament the loss of large charismatic species, such as tigers, rhinos, and pandas, we now know that loss of animals, from the largest elephant to the smallest beetle, will also fundamentally alter the form and function of the ecosystems upon which we all depend,” the study says.

Read the full special report on “Vanishing Fauna” at Science.

The significant difference about this horribly negative event is that – not only is this mass extinction to a large extent preventable – the creatures who are the cause, so far, are doing so little to prevent the extinction that we may end up including ourselves among the victims.

Thanks, Mike