It’s disturbing, but humans and what we do are likely the base causes of extinction for more than a million plant and animal species in the not-so-distant future.
That prediction is in a comprehensive report from the United Nations on the planet’s biodiversity — a report that will likely be ignored by the Trump administration, whose principal players seem particularly immune to any form of negative information on how human activity is destroying the planet.
The U.N. report isn’t all bad. The scientists involved in the compilation of a wide range of data say it’s not too late to fix the problem. But that’s not the real issue, which is that so many people in control of policy decisions don’t buy into the premise.
Here’s the gist of the lengthy report: Species loss is accelerating to a rate hundreds of times faster than in the past. More than half a million species on land do not have sufficient habitat for long-term survival, and are therefore likely to die off within decades, unless habitats are restored. That’s the part humans have some control over, but there seems to be a general lack of will to spend on the environment.
The report also points out that our oceans are not any better off, which may be why more gray whales are dying off the coast of California. Their food supply is shrinking.
The U.N. study has some high-powered credentials. Conservation scientists from around the world met in Paris to issue the report of more than 1,000 pages. The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services included more than 450 researchers who used 15,000 scientific and government reports.
Here’s the thing about more than a million species of plants and animals going extinct — it could lead to the extinction of the human species, because we depend on so many of the plants and animals that apparently are doomed. Earth is already inhospitable to humans in many regions. Not enough fertile soil, not enough safe water to drink. Problems that will continue to decimate the human population.
Poor countries will be hit the soonest and hardest, but superpowers such as the United States will feel the heat as well. Once the ball starts rolling down hill, it will be difficult to stop. At some point the downward momentum will be irreversible.
The habitat loss leaves plants and animals in severe peril. About three-quarters of the planet’s land area, two-thirds of its oceans and 85 percent of crucial wetlands have been severely altered or obliterated in recent years, making it all but impossible for species to survive. A third of the world’s food fish stocks have been overfished. The burning of fossil fuels will change our climate, in many cases making it deadly.
In total, nearly 700 backboned species have gone extinct since 1600. The report said 559 domesticated mammal breeds used for food have disappeared. More than 40 percent of the world’s amphibian species, more than a third of the marine mammals and nearly one-third of sharks and fish are threatened with extinction. When this all happens is not the question. It’s happening now.
Mass extinction episodes are not that rare. There have been five such events in Earth’s distant past. The difference now is that we are the cause of this extinction episode.
Much of the problem is habitual, humans consuming too much of everything, and throwing what’s left in the trash. Habits can be changed.