Humans are rushing towards their own extinction, says study

We’ve known for years that biodiversity has been severely threatened by the very earthly phenomenon that is behind Britain’s highest recorded July day and male lizards turning female: humans (otherwise called global warming, climate change, habitat destruction, pollution etc). But it isn’t often that we turn that knowledge on ourselves.

In a study titled Accelerated modern human–induced species losses: Entering the sixth mass extinction published on 19th June 2015 in Science Advances, Ceballos et al. suggest that humans might be hurtling towards extinction, along with all the other species on the planet.

Even when using a very conservative baseline for the extinction rate of one animal group, vertebrates, and not taking into account the game-changing force that is climate change, the scientists concluded that a sixth mass extinction was imminent. Yes, that means everyone, all animals, including us. A process that should have taken 800 to 10 000 years to occur may now take just 3 human lifetimes to occur.

Using comparison rates of previous known species-wide extinction events, analysts found that even when very conservative figures were used, the rate of extinction of vertebrate species is up to 100 times higher than in previous extinctions. Although humans have not yet discovered the total number of species of vertebrates, based on the approximate 88%-100% of known bird species, 44% of known reptile species, and 38% of known fish species, if the current rate of extinction of these known species were to continue, then we could be looking at a disaster similar to that of the dinosaurs disappearing 65 million years ago.

We humans have known that something like this might happen to the world, although we often see ourselves surviving such an event, instead of being a casualty of the ultimate factor which ends the temperate environment needed for the animals on Earth to survive. Efforts to find a new planet for human civilisation to transfer to e.g. the Mars One project to the exploration of the Kepler telescope, have generated hope for humankind’s survival. After all, says Dr Charley Lineweaver of ANU, “if we don’t find one, maybe we’ll go extinct.”

But what about all the important beings left here to die? The importance of other earthly beings cannot be ignored; without them, our crops will not be pollinated and we will have almost no food (whether you’re a vegetarian or meat-eater), we will lose our non-human companions (cat memes will become historical), and there will basically be no tourism industry to speak of (say goodbye to the Great Barrier Reef).

Don’t panic just yet though; intensified conservation efforts may save the world from the sixth great extinction. Unfortunately the window for decisive action is closing, and we must act very quickly to save ourselves.

Feature image: Joseph Illingworth