Typically, extinctions only happen on a massive scale when something cataclysmic happens – the climate changes drastically, an asteroid hits Earth, that sort of thing. However, according to researchers at Stanford University, we’re on the cusp of a mass extinction (the sixth one in Earth’s history), and it’s all our own doing: Species are disappearing at 100x the normal rate between mass extinctions.
41 percent of all amphibian species and 26 percent of all mammals are feeling the pressure of extinction, and should things continue at their current pace, it’s possible humans will go extinct themselves if something doesn’t change. More disheartening, the researchers used exceptionally cautious metrics in their estimates.
“We emphasize that our calculations very likely underestimate the severity of the extinction crisis, because our aim was to place a realistic lower bound on humanity’s impact on biodiversity,” they wrote.
Humanity’s expansion is largely responsible for the die-offs, as bolstering the human population requires a great deal of resources. Our negative environmental impacts include land clearing for farming, logging and settlement, introduction of invasive species, carbon emissions that drive climate change and ocean acidification and toxins that alter and poison ecosystems.
As species go, so do the ecosystems we help maintain. The researchers cite systems like cross-pollination by honey bees, or the water purification effects of wetlands as just a couple of the benefits people rely on to survive. Should extinction continue at the same rate, it’s possible humans would lose these ecosystems in as few as three generations.
Thankfully, all is not lost. With continued and improved conservation efforts, a sixth mass extinction could be staved off.
“Avoiding a true sixth mass extinction will require rapid, greatly intensified efforts to conserve already threatened species, and to alleviate pressures on their populations – notably habitat loss, over-exploitation for economic gain and climate change,” the authors wrote.