Is the Web of Life Unraveling? (Blog 21)

The videos we watched in class presents us with a pretty bleak picture of the future and the impact that humans have had on the life processes and balance here on earth. The short video that explains 4.5 billion of creation and evolution within a 24 hour span says that single cells were created at 4am, earth is covered in forests at 10:24pm, dinosaurs go extinct at 11:41pm and humans emerge at 11:58pm. Recorded human history and life only spans a few seconds. The following video, entitled “Call of Life: Facing the Mass Extinction,” shows that those few seconds of human life may be coming to a rapid end if web-of-life-fbsomething is not done to protect the biodiversity on this planet. According to the scientist the natural rate of extinction is 1 in 1 million, which is about 10 per year. The current rate of extinction is at least 10 if not 100 times greater than this. The problem is that the rate of extinction has now surpassed the rate at which new species are evolving. There have been 5 mass extinctions in the last 500 million years, all of which were dramatic events. We are currently experiencing the signs that a 6th mass extinction is on its way and its cause is very much related to humans and human activities. Just to give an idea of the evidence supporting this idea of a new mass extinction the video states: the population of land animals is down 28% since 1970, Marine Birds are down 30% since 1995, Big Ocean Fish are down 90% since 1950, Freshwater Fish are down 50% since 1987, Marine Animals are down 28% since 1970 and Songbirds are down 50% since 1965. These numbers are staggering but the problem does not lie within the dwindling numbers it lies within the lose of diversity among populations and the loss of biodiversity that form the net that supports human life and all other life on Earth.

The message of this film was very much so an apocalyptic one. I fear that this may be to the detriment of the much-needed awareness for the issue if people perceive it as just another doomsday scare tactic. In any case, the most shocking part of this film for me was the idea that the effects of this mass extinction aren’t hundreds and thousands of years away, they will take place within a few decades, within a generation. We’ve talked about inter-generational justice before and I can’t imagine my children or grandchildren growing up in the world without elephants or tigers or any number of the amazing creatures that I’ve had the privilege of inhabiting the world with. There are so many things that this film puts into perspective for me and enlightened me about. Endangered species and extinction are always talked about and framed in terms of pure numbers. This is the way they are thought about and implemented with protective policies and it’s how most people understand the situation. But the scientists in this film talked about the issue of population; that if there are 10 populations of a certain species around the world and 9 go extinct, it will be ok because we still have 1 and we can regenerate and repopulate from there. However, this is an incorrect assumption because with the extinction of those 9 populations we lost critical genetic information that created the diversity that allowed those populations to spread and thrive in different regions around the world. Anther interesting point that was made was that the question is often asked, why do we care? Why does it matter? Why should I care if a certain plant in the amazon or insect or amphibian went extinct? And the answer is extinctthat maybe we won’t come in direct contact or directly need those particular animals and species but the net of diverse organisms support the organisms that we care about. Therefore, they do very much, albeit indirectly, effect us. The scientists also talk about how there are currently over 120 drugs that owe their origins mostly to plants. The biodiversity on Earth is a genetic bank, one that with the proper research we as humans can and have cashed in on to cure many of our common and deadly ailments. There is so much about this film that I found informing and could talk about it for days and days and pages and pages but the last thing that I want to mention is the research aspect of this impending (or ongoing?) mass extinction. One of the environmental biologists said that she and her team searched for hundred of kilometers to find forest that they could conduct their research in when she realized that soon there will be no place left to conduct actual field research. Norman Myers talks about the disappearing Tropical Forests and the life that inhabits them. I think, for me, this particular point really hit home for me. I can remember being in elementary school, around 3rd grade, and doing a project on deforestation. It was rudimentary and the work of an 8 year old, but it’s a very scary idea of how much worse the situation has gotten since I did that project; since I was first introduced to the idea of environmental degradation. The sheer number of species and populations lost since then is overwhelming. This is not a problem that is being dragged out across centuries; it’s happening within decades, within my lifetime. That is the scariest part. I think it’s time that we put an end to our rampant consumerism and start acting as responsible environmental citizens.

Question: Is the mass extinction currently happening or is it impending? Scientists agree that this is a problem and one that we should worry about, but is it one that we know enough about to act upon in a beneficial manner?


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