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The Sixth Mass Extinction Will Be The Most Disastrous Ever

by Madonna Watts D'Souza

The Sixth Mass Extinction Will Be The Most Disastrous Ever

May 20, 2021

Whether you may like it or not, the sixth mass extinction has reached its final stride, and if nothing is done now, then reversing the damage will be impossible.

Climate change, deforestation, overexploitation, endangered species, fires, global warming, intensified natural disasters, etc.- we all have heard or even experienced some of it. But what most of us don’t know is that the earth is super close to the beginning of its sixth mass extinction.

Like the previous five, this will take millions of years to arrive, but the damage has already begun. While it’s unclear how it will happen, humanity will be blamed for this one as it will be the worst one yet so far.

Is it too late to save the earth?

According to scientists, it’s not too late if we all can put our egos aside and contribute to the planet’s greater good. If not, then all of us won’t even have a trace of us, not even our pictures to explain what life was before the apocalyptic extinction happens.

There will be a point in the not too distant future when we suddenly see and feel this mass extinction all around us very clearly.

Nizar Ibrahim, palaeontologist, University of Detroit Mercy , National Geographic explorer

What Has Changed?

Many aren’t comfortable realizing that the earth is on its tipping edge for the sixth mass extinction. The previous five were already hellish, with the awesome dinosaurs and foods dying off. But the oncoming one will the most brutal of them all.

The Holocene was a thriving epoch, with bio-diversity being the most undisturbed by any significant natural calamity since 11,700 years. Holocene began after the Pleistocene, also known as the last major glacial epoch, or ‘Ice age’. Since then, only small-scale climate shifts like the infamous ‘Little Ice Age’ period occurred approximately between 1200 A.D. and 1700 A.D.

However, extinction has begun with several plants and animals being pushed over to their verge of extinction. Even though the debate has been ongoing if the Holocene has ended, it is safe to say that the Holocene has ended and the Anthropocene has begun. Humans changed the world so quickly and drastically that the epoch ended. The Anthropocene is also known as the ‘Age of Humans’.

Unlike the stable Holocene, the Anthropocene remains somewhat unpredictable. Whatever conditions were known to us now are changing rapidly, with Climate Change being one of the most profound examples.

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Dinosaur fossil on rough stone formation.

The Onset of the Inevitable Sixth Mass Extinction

A conversation with paleontologists reveals that the sixth one is arriving slower, but it’s terrifying. No, it won’t arrive within the next 100 years. Many people think extinction will happen within a few decades. However, extinction has always been a slow process. It takes millions of years for a global extinction to happen.

The previous one took place 35 million years, but this one won’t have an asteroid collision. However, this one will be like a slow, agonizing burn, and we won’t even be alive to regret our decisions. It’s yet unclear how it will happen, according to scientists. Still, no one else other than humans will have to blame this terrible form of extinction due to increased pollution, deforestation, mining, etc.

Many don’t understand the intensity of the situation since they can’t see it. Still, the damage has begun behind our sight as animals such as the elephants, giraffes, tigers, etc., and plants like the Rafflesia flower and Pitcher plants are being pushed to oblivion and will only exist in pictures.

Several aspects of biodiversity have been pushed to extinction. Some may die within the next 100 years. Climate Change’s heartbreaking conversation isn’t sufficient in explaining how our foolishness today will have prolonged and severe effects for years to come by.

'Almost' Irretrievable Damage to the Environment

To further explain the gravity of the situation, a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS) Journal collected data from the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species Birdlife International on 29,000 land vertebrate species.

The researchers had identified 515 species with individuals below a grim number of 1000, and more than 50% had less than 250 numbers left. Historical data for 77 of these species shows that they had lost 94% of their populations in the last century.

In the last century, more than 400 craniate species went extinct, an elimination process that would have been possible in 10,000 years in the regular evolutionary route, highlighting humanity’s adverse effect on the planet and its inhabitants.

Additionally, 400 vertebrate species turned extinct in the last 100 years. Usually, extinctions like these ideally take 10,000 years to happen during normal evolution but illustrating human activities has drastically affected this and the planet.

Out of the 515 endangered species:

  • 30% of them are from South America
  • 21% of them are from Oceania
  • 21% of them are from Asia
  • 16% of them were from Africa

In past instances of the five mass extinctions, in the last 450 million years, 70-95% of plants, animals, and microorganisms that thrived previously were killed. These extinctions were caused due to supervolcanic eruptions, reduced oxygen levels in the ocean, and asteroid collisions.

It took at least millions of years to regain the numbers of lost individuals in each event compared to those before the extinction. It’s estimated that only 2% of the species that ever lived on earth are currently alive! Today’s extinction rates have skyrocketed to hundreds or thousands of times faster than the ‘normal’ rates during the last several million years ago.

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MILLION NUMBER OF TROPICAL FISH HARVESTED ANNUALLY FOR THE AQUARIUM TRADE
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MILLION NUMBER OF CORALS HARVESTED ANNUALLY FOR THE AQUARIUM TRADE

What Do Experts Believe?

Nizar Ibrahim, a paleontologist from the University of Detroit Mercy as well as a National Geographic explorer, said, “There will be a point in the not too far in future when we instantly see and feel this mass extinction all around us very clearly.”

Michael Benton, a paleontologist at the University of Bristol, said, “A key point of extinction problem is that life has always persevered and doubtless will recover whatever we do to the planet. However, the process can take hundreds of thousands of years, and we most likely won’t be there to see it.”

Time to ACT is NOW!

It’s not all bad news as life has always recovered from brutal extinction. However, it takes thousands of years for life to stabilize, and it’s not promising that humanity will survive it. So while there’s a slim chance of survival, it’s not mitigating the impact.

Is it too late to save the earth, you may ask? Well, no, as scientists have high hopes for the youth of this generation. From Greta Thunberg to even us, every little conscious choice we make to save the environment is much bigger than we think.

Leonard-Pingel, a researcher working with the new generation of young scientists, outlined, “There are things we can do, as we use many avenues and develop new science, there are ways that we can preserve some habitats and some ecosystems. I don’t think we are fated at this point for this mass extinction. If we begin to take action soon.”

Road Ahead

Everyone needs to unite to save the earth and abandon selfish behaviors. Due to the majority, politicians will be pressured to do the right things. The new generation of environmentalists and activists seem to instill hope in scientists in saving the planet.

Even though it’s not too late, time is of the essence, and we must act now. While we can’t stop the width mass extinction, we can somehow ward off some of its impacts. Whatever steps we take right now and within the next few years, believe it or not, will immensely affect everything on this planet within the next few thousand years.

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