We Humans Are Driving ONE MILLION Species To Extinction
Hi! You read the title? Feeling guilty? Well, you should.
Now, by ‘you’, I don’t really mean you, in particular. For all I know, you might be concerned about climate change and doing all you could—riding a bike or using public transport; making, fixing, recycling, repurposing, composting and eating for a climate-stable planet.
But, an ever-growing human population and our insatiable consumption is destroying the very bond that holds nature together.
One million species, that’s right! One million of the planet’s eight million plant and animal species are now threatened with extinction, many within decades, more than ever before in human history. And this is going to have serious consequences for us humans as well as the rest of life on Earth.
A UN committee of 145 experts from over 50 countries—with inputs from another 310 contributing authors—warned in the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) report that the global rate of species extinction "is already tens to hundreds of times higher than it has been, on average, over the last 10 million years”.
“The health of ecosystems on which we and all other species depend is deteriorating more rapidly than ever. We are eroding the very foundations of our economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life worldwide,” IPBES Chair, Sir Robert Watson said.
According to the report, more than 40 per cent of amphibian species, almost 33 per cent of reef-forming corals and more than a third of all marine mammals are threatened with extinction.
Why is biodiversity important, you ask?
For one, it boosts economic productivity where each species, no matter how small, has an important role to play. In fact, at least 40 per cent of the world’s economy and 80 per cent of the needs of the poor are derived from biological resources.
The greater the number of plant species, the greater the variety of crops. And the richer the diversity of life, the greater the opportunity for medical discoveries, economic development, and adaptive responses to new challenges such as climate change.
“Ecosystems, species, wild populations, local varieties and breeds of domesticated plants and animals are shrinking, deteriorating or vanishing. The essential, interconnected web of life on Earth is getting smaller and increasingly frayed,” said co-author Joseph Settele. “This loss is a direct result of human activity and constitutes a direct threat to human well-being in all regions of the world.”
Changes in land and sea use have the largest relative global impact on the loss of species. The direct exploitation of organisms, climate change, pollution and invasive alien species are the other main drivers of this change in nature.
The report notes that, since 1980, greenhouse gas emissions have doubled, raising average global temperatures by at least 0.7 degrees Celsius. And so has the level of plastic pollution. 300-400 million tons of heavy metals, solvents, toxic sludge and other waste material from industrial facilities are dumped annually into the world’s waters, and fertilisers entering coastal ecosystems have produced more than 400 ocean ‘dead zones’, totaling a combined area greater than that of the United Kingdom.
And though the findings of the report may suggest that doomsday is far nearer than we thought, Watson said that "it is not too late to make a difference, but only if we start now at every level from local to global”.
The report highlights that a sustainable future could be attained by adopting integrated management and cross-sectoral approaches that take into account the trade-offs of food and energy production, infrastructure, freshwater and coastal management, and biodiversity conservation. It also called for the building of a global sustainable economy that would steer away from the current limited paradigm of economic growth.
The UN report followed a study in January that predicted a bug massacre—an extinction of two-fifths of the world’s insect species, including beetles, flies, moths, butterflies and bees, due to pesticides and habitat loss.
It’s time to be afraid, people!