A new study adds to a growing body of scientific research that indicates the planet has entered a new period of mass extinction; that is, a time characterized by a rapid contraction of the number of species alive on Earth.
In the past—roughly 65 million years ago, for example—the onset of such a period of time required an event large enough to quickly impact the entire planet. There have only been five such events in known history. The best known of these is the asteroid that struck the Earth to end the Cretaceous period and the age of the dinosaurs.
The June 19 paper published in journal Science Advances describes researchers’ efforts to determine whether the current rate of extinction is substantially faster than the normal or “background” rate.
Put another way, it explores the question of whether the environmental damage humans are inflicting on Earth can be described—in scientifically quantifiable terms—as roughly equal to that caused by an asteroid striking the Earth and wiping out the majority of life on the planet.
The researchers’ findings? “Even under our assumptions, which would tend to minimize evidence of an incipient mass extinction, the average rate of vertebrate species loss over the last century is up to 114 times higher than the background rate,” the paper’s abstract reads.
“These estimates reveal an exceptionally rapid loss of biodiversity over the last few centuries, indicating that a sixth mass extinction is already under way.”
The researchers’ conclusion: “Averting a dramatic decay of biodiversity and the subsequent loss of ecosystem services is still possible through intensified conservation efforts, but that window of opportunity is rapidly closing.”
The June 19 paper was coauthored by six professors associated with universities in the United States and Mexico. It reinforces similar findings in many academic papers published over the course of the last decade.
On April 15, the Georgia Straight published a cover story that examined how humans threaten plants and animals in the Pacific Northwest. That article similarly emphasizes that the present rate of extinction is so rapid, scientists are assessing whether it marks the onset of a new geological era.
Going local, it looks at examples in and around Metro Vancouver. Oregon spotted frog populations living in the Fraser Valley, for instance, and caribou that reside in the South Peace region. According to a 2011 government report, the B.C. Conservation Data Centre lists 390 animals and 1,207 plants as at risk.
“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,” the story reads.
Read that article in its entirety: “Humans versus nature: the Sixth Extinction hits B.C.”.