The Earth is becoming warmer each passing day. The environment deteriorates through the depletion of natural finite resources. Ecosystems are destroyed due to human overconsumption, exacerbating habitat loss and the extinction of wildlife. I so often ask myself the question of why the Earth has come to this point. And the answer is: it’s us. The human population has decimated the Earth to a point where if we don’t address the environmental impact we are having, we have little chance.
The latest research has painted a grim picture for life on Earth. The report found that Earth is already well into a “sixth mass extinction episode”. Researchers analysed all land vertebrates that were deemed ‘decreasing’ by the IUCN. They found that of the decreasing species, many are now considered as ‘endangered’. A more detailed analysis on 177 mammal species found that 58,000 populations from this sample have gone extinct.
This shows that there are significant proportions of populations of species that are disappearing before our eyes. The disappearance of populations usually precedes species extinction. In addition to this, there is a decrease in the numbers of individuals within the remaining populations. Particularly hard-hit are the mammals from south and south-east Asia, where the species analysed have lost more than 80 percent of their geographic ranges. Consequently, Earth is losing important ecological networks within ecosystems. Pools of genetic information are being lost and contributing to lower species diversity and therefore, higher proportions of population loss.
Ceballos suggests that we have only a limited time frame in which to make changes.
Ultimately, we need to see the natural world in a different light.
Although it is just the beginning of this extinction episode, the losses of species are irreversible and have profound consequences for all life on Earth. There is a general consensus among some that there is sufficient time to address the decline of biodiversity later on, however, the research by Ceballos is clearly implying that the time to act is now, even if it is early.
The past few decades have been characterised by habitat loss, urbanisation, overexploitation, invasive organisms, pollution, toxification, climate disruption, and interactions between these factors, which have led to the declines in populations of various vertebrate species. For example, a recent article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that there are just 7,100 cheetahs left in the wild.
If anything, it is a sad consequence of how we have taken the world for granted, how we have not cared for the natural world.
Despite this, it is important to remain optimistic. There are things that we’re doing that are helping!
For example, we’re increasing national park areas, increasing ocean areas to be protected, and reducing the deforestation rate in the Amazon.
Human beings have the potential to combat the changes we are seeing in the natural world. We created these changes therefore we have the power to reverse them. We have the power to prevent further deterioration of our planet. Like so many other issues we see and we fight for, we need to fight for the environment and the species that rely on it, including ourselves.
You can combat the sixth mass extinction in several ways:
- Spread the word to your family and friends, and share your opinions and research articles on social media – mobilising a mass of people is the first step because when they realise the problem is urgent, that is when they will act.
- Reduce your carbon footprint – try to live a more sustainable lifestyle, for example, don’t use your car as often and use other modes of transport, such as walking or cycling or using public transport. You can calculate your carbon footprint on carbonfootprint.com. By finding out what your carbon footprint is, you can reduce and offset your emissions.
- Control human population growth by educating women – currently there are approximately 7.6 billion people on Earth, with a projected increase to 11.8 billion by 2100. By controlling human population, it will prevent further urbanisation, use of finite resources, and encroachment on species’ habitats.
- Eat less meat – reducing your consumption of meat and dairy products will have a significant impact. The meat and dairy industries are the primary contributors to greenhouse gas emissions. Cattle need more land to graze and the Earth only has a certain amount of arable land. In addition to this, cattle and other animals use up significant amounts of food and water that can be used by people instead.
- Don’t buy ivory and other illegal wildlife products and educate others on this – it will mean the end of illegal wildlife trade and therefore less elephants, pangolins, rhinoceros amongst other species, being killed.
- Don’t buy palm oil products that have been produced using unsustainable palm oil – this will mean orangutans and other species that rely on these habitats will be off the IUCN critically endangered list.
- Get in contact with your MP and ask what their policies for the environment are – put pressure on politicians to act on, for example, the use of renewable energy. Policies that promote cleaner energy include: carbon taxes, cap-and-trade pollution pricing systems and renewable energy tax credits. Fossil fuels are a large contributor to pollution and land degradation. According to Barnosky, it is important to “vote for and support leaders who recognise the importance of switching from a fossil-fuel energy system to a carbon-neutral one”.
- Get in touch with nature – spend more time outdoors and exploring the natural word, for example going to a park or on a road trip. This will remind you and others of the importance of the sixth mass extinction and will increase your commitment to saving species that contribute to biodiversity. Using an analogy by Barnosky, it is vital we see the natural world as a savings account instead of a checking account.
Although we do have a long way to go, Worldie hopes that this article has made you aware of the human impact on Earth and empowers you to make changes in your life. Even just one person’s actions can have an impact on the future of the planet.