We are entering the sixth mass extinction on planet Earth. Since 1900, there have been 48 extinctions among vertebrates and extinction rates are up to 100 times higher than normal. In as little as three human lifetimes, the study by the University of Mexico suggests that a catastrophe on par with the dinosaurs being wiped out 65 million years ago will occur.
Worryingly, these figures are actually quite conservative, despite their shocking scale. The scientists involved in the study have been careful to not scare-monger or speculate by excluding the debateable impacts of global warming, ocean acidification, deforestation, etc. If these were to be factored in, the extinction rate would rocket even further.
But what is different about this extinction? Unlike the other five that were caused by what were more spontaneous apocalypses, this one is being caused by one species alone – homo sapiens, you and I. Without us, the species that are disappearing so rapidly would have taken anywhere from 800 to 10,000 years to disappear.
Humans now make up a third of land vertebrates, whilst the animals we raise to eat – cows, pigs, sheep and so on – make up the other two thirds. A measly 5% is left for all other land animals. Mass agriculture and our preference for efficiency has lead to a large majority of land being used for ‘hyper-fertilised’ crops that are fed directly to animals we breed for consumption. This leaves little for other organisms.
Our practices are a planetary novelty and have never before been seen. We can pick and choose which animals we want more of through selective breeding. We have created cities, frantic smog-ridden metropoli, in which everyday life is directly opposed to what our planet requires to thrive.
We are a land-living species, yet have become the top predator in the oceans too – directly and indirectly causing the population collapse of the wildlife there as well. We have created what has now been termed the ‘technosphere’ a system of machines that is beginning to take on a life of its own as it is increasingly designed to operate independently. It’s a system that requires resources the planet can’t sustain.
The main problem is, we have a slippery grip on our capacity for growth. We have the intelligence to radically alter the state of our surroundings in our favour, but lack the wisdom or the foresight to make sure it is in harmony with the planet that grants us this opportunity. This planet has always existed to serve all its inhabitants equally and unconditionally. We are the first species to operate outside of this harmonious framework, and we’re paying the price.
It’s easy for us to sit at home and feel completely detached and helpless from a threat of such magnitude, and who could blame us? The way we live our lives has been mapped out to serve the current way of doing things. Although it is getting easier, it’s still extremely difficult not to contribute to the world’s problems in some way or another, just by living our lives. So what can we do?
A quote springs to mind; “With great power comes great responsibility.” Yes, it’s from Spiderman, but that doesn’t make it any less valid (although this is open to debate).
We have great power, but we’re not taking responsibility, or to phrase it in a less accusing tone, we don’t feel empowered or able to do anything. But it is in this statement that the silver lining can be seen.
It is not difficult to start taking responsibility; it starts right now, wherever you are reading this from.
Avoiding the mass extinction of our wildlife is one thing that we must do to avoid our own extinction. But for us to fully commit to saving the planet, the animals, ourselves or anything else, we have to care.
If we just treat it like some kind of boring chore, we won’t put our hearts into it and it won’t work. It’s like when your parents tell you to tidy your room. If you don’t actually care yourself about it being tidy, you’ll just stuff all the mess under your mattress, in a corner or somewhere out of sight, out of mind.
Because that’s the main problem, people just don’t care enough about the planet, and most haven’t been educated to do so. But even those who have are overwhelmed with problems and deprived of solutions. Most of us resign to an apathetic outlook. No one else is going to bother trying to change anything, so why should I? Maybe we’re all just doomed.
Some studies suggest that while growing up, the average child hears the word ‘no’ over 100,000 times, compared to a few thousand yes’s. How is that relevant? It means that we’re more accustomed to be doing told we can’t do something, that it’s not possible, that there is no point. We’re more likely to think nothing can be done to prevent a mass extinction, so why bother?
But it’s a tragedy to think like this. Let’s remind ourselves of all the successes of humanity that have been a result of focusing on the yes’s.
Most recently, gay marriage was made legal in the USA thanks to constant campaigning in what was a historic moment for the LGBT community across the world.
France recently became the first country in the world to make supermarket waste illegal thanks to Arash Deramabarsh, a dedicated campaigner. This has had a knock-on effect across the Western world including here in England where Tesco announced they would be starting a system of donating wasted food to charities and foodbanks.
The recent earthquakes in Nepal saw a colossal humanitarian effort from people all across the world in what was a beautiful display of human unity. Despite the scale of the tragedy, they’ve had so much support.
More locally, an application to start fracking on the Lancashire coast was rejected by the council thanks to various petitions and pressure from the locals.
Throughout history, there has been such great success as a result of people uniting, keeping their visions positive and not giving in to apathy. The fact that a sixth mass extinction is taking place is down to many things, carelessness and negativity being two of them.
We can still avert a mass extinction if we immediately start making small positive changes in our lives and influencing those around us in the right way. We need to reconnect to nature, be more mindful of our actions and spread what we learn if we’re going to save the planet. It’s down to you.