Many of the discussions in the media concerning the state of our environment focus on abstract scenarios about how bad things could get in the future.
However, there are very dangerous trends developing in the here and now that deserve much more attention than they are getting. There are a variety of different metrics that scientists use to measure the health of the planet’s ecosystem, but the abundance or absence of plant and animal species is one of the most important markers.
According to a UN report released this year, 1 million animal species are currently threatened by extinction. Another study, published this year in Nature, noted that 571 plant species were have been declared extinct since 1750.
At least 571 plant species have gone extinct since 1750, four times more than the current listing of extinct plants pic.twitter.com/km9sSkLy52
— China Xinhua News (@XHNews) June 11, 2019
Some naysayers may argue that extinction is a natural part of the life cycle on planet earth, and this may be true, but the rate of extinction is rapidly increasing. Plant species are going extinct at a rate 350 times faster than the historical average, according to new research published in the journal Current Biology.
The international team of scientists behind the study warns that these numbers are just scratching the surface, as it would be nearly impossible to track the exact life and death of every species on the planet.
The researchers conclude that:
There is no doubt that biodiversity loss, together with climate change, are some of the biggest challenges faced by humanity. Along with human-driven habitat destruction, the effects of climate change are expected to be particularly severe on plant biodiversity. Current estimates of plant extinctions are, without a doubt, gross underestimates.
However, the signs are crystal clear. If we were to condense the Earth’s 4.5-billion-year-old history into one calendar year, then life evolved somewhere in June, dinosaurs appeared somewhere around Christmas, and the Anthropocene starts within the last millisecond of New Year’s Eve. Modern plant extinction rates that exceed historical rates by hundreds of times over such a brief period will spell disaster for our planet’s future.
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This week, as news of fires in the Amazon rainforest spread through the global media, some sources were quick to suggest that the crisis is being blown out of proportion by environmental activists.
Forbes, for example, published an opinion piece attacking activists and celebrities for “overstating” the significance of the Amazon and the dangers of the fire. However, considering the alarming rate that plant species are becoming extinct, humans should be working as hard as possible to preserve our natural ecosystem so the remaining species can flourish.
IMAGE CREDIT: leekris