One Half of all Species Living on the Planet Today could be Extinct within the Next Hundred Years.
We live in a fragile and remote world, a blue, white and green gem in the solar system. With our ever expanding population and development in the name of consumerism, our delicate and unique planet is being depleted of its finite resources by pollution, poaching, habitat destruction and fragmentation, and climate change. As we over-consume animals and plants around the world are becoming extinct at an unprecedented rate. About a quarter of a billion years ago, 95% of marine species and 75% of land species became extinct over a period lasting thousands, if not millions of years. The end-Permian extinction nearly marked the end of life on Earth and is believed to have been due to a sudden climate change.
The Earth subsequently cooled and warmed but life on Earth survived. The last ice-age ended about 10, 000 years ago at the time when humans first began to settle and grow crops and rear animals. Planet Earth has an incredibly rich and diverse array of living organisms including a myriad of animals, plants, fungi and algae and microscopic organisms. Each organism plays a distinct role in the habitat in which it lives. To date some two million species have been classified and identified. New species are still being discovered and some scientists estimate that there could be up to 30 million organisms on earth and that many of these are microscopic and live in the soil and water bodies recycling nutrients and wastes so that the Earth can support such a rich biodiversity.
Human activities including carbon emissions, other pollution, poaching, habitat destruction and fragmentation, and climate change are driving an unprecedented wave of destruction and habitat degradation that is leading to species extinction on a scale never before seen in the Earth’s recent past. It is estimated that unless significant steps are taken to prevent extinctions one half of all species living on the planet today will be extinct within the next hundred years. Many scientists believe that the world is in the midst of a mass extinction comparable to the end-Permian catastrophe and that the speed of the extinctions, are faster than ever before. Once the pace of the loss of biodiversity gathers speed it gathers momentum and the relationships between inter-related species breaks down.
For instance, the loss of pollinators, such as the loss of bees around the world due to colony collapse disorder, can lead to a loss of plant life dependent on pollinators for their survival. Insects are equally dependent on plants and for every tropical plant species that becomes extinct it is estimated that some 20 insect species will become extinct too. Extinctions are widespread and are rapidly depleting the rich tapestry and treasures of life on Earth. It is estimated that some 140, 000 species per year are currently at risk of extinction. This can be translated into one species per hour and the rate is accelerating. Once the biodiversity is lost it cannot be brought back again as species have taken billions of years to form during the course of evolution.
A quarter of all animal species and one in eight bird species are at risk of extinction. For instance the population of saiga, an antelope from the steppes of Central Asia has declined from 1 million in 1993 to less than 50, 000 animals ten years later. Poaching and habitat destruction are driving the Sumatran tiger, which is confined to the Indonesian Island of Sumatra to extinction and there are thought to be only 100-400 tigers left in the wild. In Britain over the past twenty years once common farmland birds such as song thrushes and skylarks have declined by 50%. Amphibians are also affected - the strawberry poison dart frog is one of 1770 of the 5743 known species of amphibian currently at risk of extinction. Habitat loss and habitat degradation is the main cause of the loss of biodiversity.
Habitat loss is due to deforestation and urbanisation, habitat degradation is due to fragmentation, intensive use of pesticides and other human activities. The most biodiverse ecosystems on Earth are the tropical rainforests and these are being deforested at an alarming rate leading to wide scale loss of biodiversity. Biodiversity benefits humans in many ways. Most of our medicines have originated from nature such as aspirin from willow and medicines for leukaemia from the Madagascan periwinkle, quinine for malaria treatment from the Amazon jungle to name just a few. Other resources derived from nature and used extensively by humans include rubber from rubber trees from the rainforests, cotton from cotton plants, wool from sheep and lambs, components of cosmetics from rainforests e.g. cocoa butter, chocolate from rainforests. All of the foods we consume today including chickens (initially from the rainforest), wheat, rice, barley etc have been derived from wild stocks from the natural world and we need these wild stocks to protect our agricultural stocks from future damage or loss. Indeed in the 20th century disease wiped out most of the wheat crops throughout N. American and the wheat could only be bred again from the original wild stock. Currently wheat stem rust is a disease spreading across the world and has already damaged crops from Africa to Iran and could destroy most of the world’s wheat crops.
If human activities continue to cause extinctions and the loss of biodiversity this will threaten the continuity of ecosystems and limit provision of goods and services to humans affecting global economies and societies. Ultimately, all ecosystems will suffer by the loss of biodiversity and the balance of life on earth will be lost. So, what can you the citizens of Our Future Planet do?
1) Buy organic foods, pesticides kill wildlife.
2) Buy locally produced food to reduce the pollution of air miles.
3) Don’t buy tropical hardwoods from rainforests, buy wood from sustainably managed forests.
4) Recycle clothes, books and furniture – give unwanted items to charity shops.
5) Reduce waste - recycle tins, glass, paper, cardboard
6) Cycle or walk or use public transport to get to work you will get fitter and reduce carbon emissions and other pollution
7) Insulate your homes to reduce unnecessary heat loss and reduce your bills and use renewable energy to reduce fossil fuel consumption and pollution
8) Don’t waste food only buy and prepare what you need
9) Reduce your consumption of material items – think do you really need to buy something or is it a want rather than a need?
10) Join ourfutureplanet.org so you can help create a better future!