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Earth and The Sixth Mass Extinction

Georgie Chantrell-Plant writes on the alarming prospect of the world’s first mass extinction since the age of dinosaurs.

Photo by Uriel Soberanes


Throughout the history of the planet, there have been five previous events and catastrophes that have led to mass extinction, whereby 99% of all organisms which used to call this planet home were made extinct. The most notable and extensively-studied is the Cretaceous and Palogene period over 66 million years ago, which wiped out the Nonovian dinosaurs, making way for mammals to evolve.

Worryingly, recent scientific projections think we’re headed for the sixth mass extinction in the Earth’s history, and it’s all our fault. A new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has found that 515 animals are now on the brink of extinction, a total nearly matching the number of species declared extinct in the previous century. This group of vulnerable, endangered species, are predicted to disappear completely within the next two years, and many more may follow.


“Extinction Leads to Extinction”

Today’s extinction rate seems to have increased more rapidly than first thought, rising far above than the ‘background’ rate seen for this latest millennium. The majority of the at-risk live in sub-tropic or tropical climates. Animals such as the Quagga, The Javan Tiger and the West African Black Rhino have been declared extinct over the past century. The future now looks bleak for animals such as the Amur Leopard, the Sumatran Rhino, the Tapanuli Orangutan and the Western Chimpanzee; with many more vulnerable species at risk. With ecosystems being so connected, any disappearance of species can interrupt how others can thrive, creating a catastrophic domino effect.


"When humanity exterminates populations and species of other creatures, it is sawing off the limb on which it is sitting, destroying working parts of our own life-support system" – Paul Ehrlich, Biologist

But what is the main contributing factor in this alarming conservation threat? Unfortunately, the problem lies solely with us. This is down to habitat loss on a massive scale caused by industrial deforestation, increased pollution, hunting and the ongoing climate crisis.

This monumental destruction of the planet’s ecosystems isn’t just detrimental to flora and fauna – according to ecologist and conservationist Gerardo Ceballos, “the extinction crisis is so bad that whatever we do in the next 10 to 50 years is what will define the future of humanity,” and as of right now, we’re not doing enough to protect it.



Where do we go from here?

With this revelation coming to light, it adds an additional sense of urgency towards the conservation of animals that humanity is already aware of. But now, it’s a call for action, instead of a warning. Initiatives such as Stop Extinction have been created in order to continue to raise the awareness of this crisis. It is clear that major transformative changes are needed in order to protect and sustain the environment and continue to interact with it in a sustainable way, but these need to be initiated urgently – the time for complacency is over.


You may also like: The Eco-Impact of Affluence

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