Are we fulfilling our role on Earth?
A study released on June 20 has re-emphasized what has been suspected and feared for quite some time — that the extinction of various species has escalated rapidly in recent times.
This widely discussed study has pointed out that under the natural rate of extinction, two species per 10,000 are expected to go extinct in 100 years. On this basis, extinction of around nine vertebrates would be expected since 1900, but the actual number is a shocking 477.
In fact the rate of the extinction of species taking place now may be up to 100 times higher than at normal times.
What may appear alarming are actually conservative estimates. As this study says, “We emphasize that our calculations very likely underestimate the severity of the extinction crisis because our aim was to place a realistic lower bound on humanity’s impact on biodiversity.”
One of the authors of this study, Dr. Gerardo Caballes has commented, “This is very depressing because we used the most conservative rates, and even then they are much higher than the normal extinction rate.” In a chain reaction, extinction of one species can lead to further losses. This extinction has been linked to climate change, deforestation and pollution, but a complexity of many factors is at work. The number of species on the verge of extinction or threatened with extinction is of course much higher. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, about 41 percent of all amphibian species and 26 percent of all mammals are threatened with extinction. This extinction caused by human- made factors poses many threats to human beings as well, apart from providing a warning to human beings about the impact of human-made environmental threats. As professor Paul R. Ehrich, a co-author of this study says, “We are sawing off the limb we are sitting on.”
Highly significant as this latest study is, similar warnings of a massive extinction of species have been given many times before.
Harvard professor Edward O. Wilson, one of the world’s leading experts on biodiversity summarized the current state of other forms of life in an article in Time Magazine several years ago. Biologists generally agree, he said, that, “on the land at least and on a worldwide basis, species are vanishing 100 times faster than before the arrival of Homo sapiens.”
“The ongoing loss in biodiversity is the greatest since the end of the Mesozoic era 65 million years ago. At that time, by current scientific consensus, the impact of one or more giant meteorites darkened the atmosphere, altered much of Earth’s climate and extinguished the dinosaurs. Thus began the next stage of evolution, the Cenozoic era or age of mammals. The extinction spasm we are now inflicting can be moderated if we choose. If not, this century will see the closing of the Cenozoic era and the start of a new one characterized by biological impoverishment. It might appropriately be called the Eremozoic era, the age of loneliness.”
Thus due to complex reasons, we are in the middle of — to use the words of John Tuxill and Chris Bight writing in the State of the World Report — “a mass extinction — a global evolutionary convulsion with few parallels in the entire his- tory of life.” As this report adds, unlike the dinosaurs, we are not simply the contemporaries of a mass extinction, “we are the reason for it.”
In 1992 as many as 1,575 of the world’s most distinguished scientists, including more than half of all living scientists awarded the Nobel Prize, signed a statement titled “World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity.” This statement issued a clear warning, “We the undersigned, senior members of world’s scientific community, hereby warn all humanity of what lies ahead. A great change in our stewardship of the Earth and the life on it is required if vast human misery is to be avoided and our global home on this planet is not to be irretrievably mutilated.”
This statement said, “The environment is suffering critical stress” and added that “The irreversible loss of species, which by 2100 may reach one-third of all species now living, is especially serious.”
Emphasizing the need for significant change, the statement went on to say, “If not checked, many of our current practices put at risk the future we wish for human society and the plant and animal kingdom.”
Clearly human beings have to take responsibility for checking this extinction and maintaining Earth as a planet where diverse life-forms can survive and flourish,
Among millions of life-forms, human beings alone have the ca- pacity to work in a planned way for the welfare of all forms of life. Human beings alone have the capacity to work to protect the environment and habitats that sustain such diverse forms of life. Human beings alone can perceive the threats to the coming generations and take timely measures to protect future generations of human beings and other forms of life. It is this unique capacity of human beings that defines their role on Earth. The essential role of human beings on planet Earth is to protect and promote the welfare of all life forms, including of course human beings, now and in future generations.
During the last century the tendency to violate this aim has dominated. Further massive technological changes have increased the capacity to cause distress and destruction to such an extent that for the first time in the history of Earth, human-made changes threaten the survival of many, perhaps most forms of life. Climate change and nuclear weapons (or other WMDs) are just two manifestations of this destructive capacity. This means that the need for establishing the protective role of humanity so that human beings fulfill their essential role on Earth is greater than ever before. The writer is a freelance journalist who has been involved with several social initiatives and movements.