Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Earth is on brink of a sixth mass extinction, scientists say, and it’s humans’ fault

[Washington Post] A vast chunk of space rock crashes into the Yucatan Peninsula, darkening the sky with debris and condemning three-quarters of Earth’s species to extinction. A convergence of continents disrupts the circulation of the oceans, rendering them stagnant and toxic to everything that lives there. Vast volcanic plateaus erupt, filling the air with poisonous gas. Glaciers subsume the land and lock up the oceans in acres of ice.
Five times in the past, the Earth has been struck by these kinds of cataclysmic events, ones so severe and swift (in geological terms) they obliterated most kinds of living things before they ever had a chance to adapt.
Now, scientists say, the Earth is on the brink of a sixth such “mass extinction event.” Only this time, the culprit isn’t a massive asteroid impact or volcanic explosions or the inexorable drifting of continents. It’s us.
“We are now moving into another one of these events that could easily, easily ruin the lives of everybody on the planet,” Stanford biologist Paul Ehrlich said in a video created by the school.
In a study published Friday in the journal Science Advances, biologists found that the Earth is losing mammal species 20 to 100 times the rate of the past. Extinctions are happening so fast, they could rival the event that killed the dinosaurs in as little as 250 years. Given the timing, the unprecedented speed of the losses and decades of research on the effects of pollution, hunting and habitat loss, they assert that human activity is responsible.
“The smoking gun in these extinctions is very obvious, and it’s in our hands,” co-author Todd Palmer, a biologist at the University of Florida, wrote in an e-mail to The Washington Post. Read More