A study published in the May 1 edition of Science warns plants and animals are going extinct at a rate faster than was previously understood.
The paper by University of Connecticut ecologist Mark Urban synthesizes a wide body of peer-reviewed research on the topic. It concluded that climate change could result in the loss of as many as one in six of all species on Earth.
“Extinction risks will accelerate with future global temperatures,” it states. “We urgently need to adopt strategies that limit further climate change if we are to avoid an acceleration of global extinctions.”
The findings might sound alarmist but, as the New York Times notes in its coverage of the study, are actually more likely on the conservative side. “Other experts said the real toll may turn out to be even worse,” it’s reported there.
Urban’s research reinforces similar findings presented in many academic papers published over the course of the last decade.
On April 15, the Georgia Straight published an Earth Day cover story that examined how humans threaten plants and animals in the Pacific Northwest. That article explains that the present rate of extinction is so rapid, scientists are assessing whether it marks the onset of a new geological era.
“How seven billion humans are collectively warming the planet is an invisible but devastating example of what scientists increasingly agree is the beginning of the Anthropocene: a proposed epoch defined by Homo sapiens overtaking nature as the dominant force on Earth,” it’s written there.
According to a 2011 government report, the B.C. Conservation Data Centre lists 390 animals and 1,207 plants as at risk.
The article goes on to note many scientists now compare the damage people are inflicting on the planet to the impact of a large asteroid. They do this not anecdotally but in in quantifiable terms.
“Since the earliest land animals crawled from the oceans almost 500 million years ago, there have been at least 20 periods characterized by a major contraction of the number of species on Earth,” it continues. “Of those, only five are categorized as ‘mass extinctions’, a term applied conservatively to describe events or geologically brief continuums of events so devastating they eliminated the majority of life on Earth. The most recent and best known of the five occurred roughly 65 million years ago, when an asteroid struck the Earth to end the Cretaceous period and the age of the dinosaurs. Now the scientific community is debating whether we have entered—or when we did enter, in the opinions of many—the sixth great extinction and the onset of the Anthropocene.”
Read that article in its entirety: “Humans versus nature: the Sixth Extinction hits B.C.”.