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.

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