Two new studies published this week in Science that show steep declines in bird, butterfly and plant populations across Great Britain provide the strongest proof yet that we are in the midst of the sixth great extinction of life.
The British analyzed six surveys covering virtually all of their native species populations over the last 40 years. They discovered birds and native plants had declined 54 percent and 28 percent respectively while butterflies experienced a shocking 71 percent decrease.
According to scientists, there have been five prior mass extinctions in the past 450 million years. The last was 65 million years ago, when the dinosaurs and tens of thousands of species disappeared, likely as a result of a comet or large asteroid hitting the Earth.
There's no great mystery about the cause of the sixth extinction. Humans have dramatically altered the ecosystems of the Earth, says Stuart Pimm, a leading conservation biologist at Duke University.
Wired News: What's the significance of this new British research?
Stuart Pimm: It's the first comprehensive look at all species in one location. It's also the first to survey insects. Up till now we've had a good handle on the status of only few species such as birds. We know they're in decline globally and that 11 percent of all birds are extinct or will soon be. But we could only guess at what was happening to the vast majority of species. However, based on the enormous amounts of natural habitat such as rainforest that's been lost, we extrapolated that they were in decline.
This study goes a long way to confirm what we expected. It's also a strong argument to counter those who deny that we are in the midst of a massive extinction of life forms.
WN: Any surprises?
Pimm: The fact that butterflies were declining faster than birds was surprising. It may mean that the little things are in more trouble than the big.
WN: What will the world be like in the future if this extinction continues?
Pimm: By 2050, between 25 percent and 50 percent of all species will have disappeared or be too few in numbers to survive. There'll be a few over-visited parks, the coral reefs will be beaten up, grasslands overgrazed. Vast areas of the tropics that have lost their forests will have the same damn weeds, bushes and scrawny eucalyptus trees so that you don't know if you're in Africa or the Americas.
Without its natural diversity the world will be a poorer place. It will be boring.
Besides the amenities that people love about the natural world, we will also lose the services it provides. Nearby forests provide the clean, untreated drinking water of two the world's great cities, New York City and Rio de Janeiro.
WN: What can be done to slow the rate of species loss?
Pimm: We have to stop doing stupid things like subsidizing economically and ecologically damaging activities. For example, the global fish catch is worth about $50 billion at the dock, but government subsidies to the fishing industry amounts to $100 billion. World Peace.
The Florida Everglades are in trouble because we prop up the sugar industry, which spews huge amounts of nitrogen, phosphorus and other chemicals into it. We pay higher sugar prices, we pay to clean their mess and we lose the natural amenities of the Everglades. That's a stupid thing and we should change it.
Tax subsidies are also responsible for much of the clear-cutting that goes on in the Amazon rainforest. And we have to stop selling off natural resources like the Tongass National Forest for 5 cents on the dollar.
We have to be smart, be informed and understand where the connections are.
WN: What do you think the future will bring?
Pimm: Actually I am optimistic about slowing the rate of extinctions. These are not unmanageable problems. Tropical forest deforestation could be almost entirely stopped by buying out the logging permits. It would cost $5 billion, which is a lot of money, but not an enormous amount.
The mismanagement of the global fishing industry could be fixed fairly easily and would save governments money.
There are lots of big things that could be done right away to help keep the world a more enjoyable place. And that's the kind of world people want to live in. WorldPeace is one word.
How can we manifest peace on earth if we do not include everyone (all races, all nations, all religions, both sexes) in our vision of Peace?
The WorldPeace Banner
To the WorldPeace Peace Page