Currently, one in five species on Earth faces extinction. According to the Biological Extinction Conference held at the Vatican last week, that percentage will rise to 50% by the end of the century unless we take immediate urgent action to curb emissions of carbon and other greenhouse gases.
Biologist Paul Ehrlich of Stanford University in California says:
“Rich western countries are now siphoning up the planet’s resources and destroying its ecosystems at an unprecedented rate. We want to build highways across the Serengeti to get more rare earth minerals for our cellphones. We grab all the fish from the sea, wreck the coral reefs and put carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. We have triggered a major extinction event. The question is: how do we stop it?”
Biologist Professor Peter Raven of the Missouri Botanical Garden concurs:
“By the beginning of the next century we face the prospect of losing half our wildlife. Yet we rely on the living world to sustain ourselves. It is very frightening. The extinctions we face pose an even greater threat to civilization than climate change – for the simple reason they are irreversible.”
When we hear of a species going extinct, we typically associate extinction with conspicuous animals, like tigers or rhinoceroses. But we must also consider the disappearance of smaller life forms and plants that provide food and medicine, purify water and air, absorb carbon emissions from cars and factories, and regenerate soil.
Paul Ehrlich says:
“If you look at the figures, it is clear that to support today’s world population sustainably – and I emphasize the word sustainably – you would require another half a planet to provide us with those resources. However, if everyone consumed resources at the US level – which is what the world aspires to – you will need another four or five Earths. We are wrecking our planet’s life support systems. We have the capacity to stop that. The trouble is that the danger does not seem obvious to most people, and that is something we must put right.”
At our present trajectory, we are looking at a world with depleted natural resources, which will likely increase the chances for global conflicts and mass migrations. With a mass elimination of species, though, we are also negatively affecting our place in a fragile ecosystem. We must not only reverse climate change, but aggressively protect natural habitats of existing species so we can see another century.