The sixth mass extinction is underway

from the WonkBlog at the Washington Post

by Brad Plumer

There have been five mass extinctions in Earth’s history. Now we’re facing a sixth.

There have been five mass extinction events in Earth’s history. In the worst one, 250 million years ago, 96 percent of marine species and 70 percent of land species died off. It took millions of years to recover.

628x471Nowadays, many scientists are predicting that we’re on pace for a sixth mass extinction. The world’s species are already vanishing at an unnaturally rapid rate. And humans are altering the Earth’s landscape in far-reaching ways: We’ve hunted animals like the great auk to extinction. We’ve cleared away broad swaths of rain forest. We’ve transported species from their natural habitats to new continents. We’ve pumped billions of tons of carbon-dioxide into the atmosphere and oceans, transforming the climate.

Those changes are pushing more species to the brink. A 2007 report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change suggested that 20 to 30 percent of plant and animal species faced an increased risk of extinction this century if the planet keeps warming (though scientists are still debating these exact numbers, with some going far higher).

So what happens if the extinction rate speeds up? That’s one of the questions that New Yorker science writer Elizabeth Kolbert explores in her excellent new book, The Sixth Extinction, an in-depth look at the science of extinction and the ways we’re altering life on the planet. We spoke by phone this week about the topic.

Read the rest here.




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Filed under Climate Change

4 responses to “The sixth mass extinction is underway

  1. Bernard J.

    There’s much that I could say about this post as it’s a subject dear to my heart, but I am going to beg pardons for going completely off-topic. Well, almost off-topic – it is about a type of extinction…

    The federal industry minister Ian Macfarlane was blaming the demise of Toyota on the unions:

    “Toyota have made no requests to us other than express their frustration with the difficulty they were having with the industrial relations process,” he said, when asked whether Toyota had sought financial assistance or other forms of aid.

    (Also here at ~ -5:30 in the interview with Macfarlane)

    Treasurer Joe Hockey has been playing the same game:

    “The union, the AMWU, is at war with Toyota, they are creating the conditions that make it extraordinarily difficult for Toyota to continue producing cars in Australia,” he told ABC radio.

    The thing is, they were both playing loose with the truth, and in fact it had nothing to do with the unions. How do I know? Well, Toyota was so pissed off by these untrue statements that they’ve explicitly and very publicly released a statement contradicting the claims from the union-bashing federal government.

    When the industry itself is telling the government and all Australians that it’s Coalition politicians are telling untruths, it’s hard to believe otherwise…

  2. Gregory T

    I am amazed that within my life time, I have seen the demise and the extinction of honest government. There was a time that even the most despicable politician, feared being caught out in a lie. Now, the truth is just another word, for nothing left to lose and words they don’t mean nothing, if they ain’t true. Apologies to Janis Joplin