Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Why conservationists can’t prevent the sixth mass extinction

[Indian Economist] The immense challenge of climate change has caused myopia among a lot of politicians, sending them into a self-destructive state of denial. More quietly, though, that immensity has triggered another kind of myopia, this one among conservationists. In focusing on the staggering planetary impacts of greenhouse emissions, they are losing sight of the other ways that human beings lay a heavy hand on the planet.
Last summer, a team of biologists led by Paul R Ehrlich of Stanford University, the author of The Population Bomb (1968), published an article in the journal Science Advances, setting out the problem in stark terms. The average rate of vertebrate species loss over the past century has been up to 100 times higher than the average background rate of extinction, and roughly 60 per cent of large animal species (most of them in the developing world) are threatened with extinction. Another recent major study, this one by the ecologist William Ripple of Oregon State University and his colleagues, comes to depressingly similar conclusions.
The Ehrlich and Ripple teams pointedly note that much of the threat comes not from the indirect effects of climate change, but from direct killing by humans – primarily poaching, the trade in bushmeat, wildlife trafficking, and human-wildlife conflict over resources. Their findings are both alarming and oddly promising as we gauge the future of conservation. There is still time to soften the blow of this sixth extinction, but only if we look honestly at the causes of this catastrophe-in-the-making and alter our behaviour in rapid, well-informed ways.
‘If the currently elevated extinction pace is allowed to continue,’ the Ehrlich report says, ‘humans will soon (in as little as three human lifetimes) be deprived of many biodiversity benefits. On human time scales, this loss would be effectively permanent because in the aftermath of past mass extinctions, the living world took hundreds of thousands to millions of years to re-diversify. The evidence is incontrovertible that recent extinction rates are unprecedented in human history and highly unusual in Earth’s history.’ Read More