Date: 19 June 2015
Source: Stanford University
Summary: Biologists have used highly conservative estimates to prove that species are disappearing faster than at any time since the dinosaurs’ demise.
Publication: Science Daily News Release
There is no longer any doubt: We are entering a mass extinction that threatens humanity’s existence.
That is the bad news at the center of a new study by a group of scientists including Paul Ehrlich, the Bing Professor of Population Studies in biology and a senior fellow at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment. Ehrlich and his co-authors call for fast action to conserve threatened species, populations and habitat, but warn that the window of opportunity is rapidly closing.
“[The study] shows without any significant doubt that we are now entering the sixth great mass extinction event,” Ehrlich said.
Although most well known for his positions on human population, Ehrlich has done extensive work on extinctions going back to his 1981 book, Extinction: The Causes and Consequences of the Disappearance of Species. He has long tied his work on coevolution, on racial, gender and economic justice, and on nuclear winter with the issue of wildlife populations and species loss.
There is general agreement among scientists that extinction rates have reached levels unparalleled since the dinosaurs died out 66 million years ago. However, some have challenged the theory, believing earlier estimates rested on assumptions that overestimated the crisis.
The new study, published in the journal Science Advances, shows that even with extremely conservative estimates, species are disappearing up to about 100 times faster than the normal rate between mass extinctions, known as the background rate.
“If it is allowed to continue, life would take many millions of years to recover, and our species itself would likely disappear early on,” said lead author Gerardo Ceballos of the Universidad Autónoma de México.
Occasionally I find myself spending some time with a teenager or young adult. Once in a while, I ask them a few basic questions about the world around them, how things work and what kind of lives they expect to be living as adults. I’m sometimes struck with an apparent lack of important basic information. I once was invited to speak with an elementary school class about solar energy. Rather than lecture them, I simply asked some questions and was pleasantly surprised to find that in a class of 30, usually at least one or two of them would have a fairly good answer. It seemed the kids were more interested and willing to listen when a classmate tried to answer a question. I usually amplified on the answer, in some cases steering it toward more correct information.
Thinking about this recently, it occurred to me that, on issues affecting the long term viability of the human species, few people are sufficiently informed and seldom very interested in such an important topic. While that might be understandable in youngsters, the sooner we can help them understand how the world on which they live works, the better will they be able to cope with future challenges. You might have a chance for a mini “world dialog” with the young people you know or are in your family. If so, here are some suggested questions.
Next time you are able to spend some time with a young person and are able to engage that person in conversation, you might like to ask a few questions about basic principles of nature. Here are some suggestions.