The Sixth Mass Extinction is Happening and it is Man-made. The Culmination of the Catastrophe may Lead to the Extinction of Modern Humans.
World Wildlife Fund published a report in October, 2018, describing the extent of environmental deterioration caused by humans and its effects on wildlife. The report highlighted that the populations of wildlife around the world have declined by sixty percent in the last forty years. Rapid increase in pollution, climate change, deforestation and humans or man-made problems are the major reasons for the sharp and quick fall in wildlife populations.
The Living Planet Report that has been published once every two years since 1998 details over four thousand species of mammals, fishes, amphibians and birds that have been seriously affected by human activities. The rates of extinction for many species are now as much as a thousand times greater in many ecosystems where human involvement has been recorded in the last four decades. It is estimated that only a tenth of all land on the planet will be untouched by human impact by the mid twenty-first century.
Right now, only a quarter of all land on earth is not inhabited by humans. If we keep expanding and inhabiting ecosystems that should be left untouched for nature, plants and animals, then we are writing our own doom. The moment we inhabit almost the entire landmass, it will be too late and there may not be any way of turning the clock back or take any restorative, preservative or conservative measure.
We are the last generation that can save nature and we need to act. This is not just a clarion call from only the environmentalists and activists but also scientists. Former Secretary General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-Moon had said in May, 2015, “We are the first generation that can end poverty, the last that can end climate change.” Hereafter, every generation will have to endure and can only react to what has already happened. No generation will be able to truly prevent or avert climate change that can effectively destroy the only planet in this solar system that can harbor life.
Our Planet is Beyond Inflection
Many people perceive climate change as a slow process. For an average human lifespan, the forty years scrutinized in the aforementioned study may appear to be slow but it’s quicker than a blink of an eye if you factor in the age of the planet or history of life. The speed, scale and forms of environmental deterioration, destruction of forests, adverse transformations of ecosystems and species going extinct are unprecedented. Let us factor in some of the realities of our times to understand the gravity of the situation.
• The level of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere right now is at its highest in eight hundred thousand years. Never before has the modern human breathed in as much carbon dioxide. Our anatomy is not prepared to deal with so much carbon dioxide in the air.
• 2014 was the hottest year for the planet. 2017 was the second hottest. If anyone thinks that climate change is still a slow process should look at the data. One extremely hot year can be due to local influences such as depression, cyclone or other natural events. Consistent heating up of the planet to an extent of having the hottest years in recorded history is cause enough to be alarmed. It is no longer about if the planet is heating up or when it will get unbearably hot. This has already happened and is getting worse.
• There were a hundred and fifty glaciers in Montana Glacier National Park. There are only twenty six now. We do not have to go to Greenland or the North and South Poles to witness disappearing glaciers. It is happening closer home. According to scientific analysis, the National Park may not have any glacier in a few decades.
• The World Health Organization has estimated that a quarter of a million people will die due to climate change in the next thirty years. This is in addition to all natural and unnatural deaths attributed to other causes. More than half a million people have died in natural disasters in the last two decades. Most of these natural disasters occurred rarely in recorded history but they have been happening frequently. Some natural disasters have become a yearly phenomenon.
• Mosquitoes in the Arctic are getting bigger. Mosquitoes thrive in warmer climates. As the temperature rises further, mosquitoes are going to get bigger by as much as 53%. The blood sucking insect can wreak havoc for wildlife and also for humans. They are also capable of carrying pathogens so a biological threat looms large.
• The Amazon Rainforest is becoming a desert. The 2013 drought in California was the worst throughout recorded history. Sea level along the East Coast of the United States is rising and it is expected to hit as much as thirty eight inches above present levels by the end of this century. A rise of almost a hundred centimeters will be more than sufficient to submerge most cities along the seaboard.
• If climate change is not checked right now, the Arctic may not have any ice by 2014. The North Pole will no longer be a frozen cap. Climate change is not just about melting and disappearing glaciers, rising temperatures and sea levels, vanishing wildlife, droughts, cyclones, floods and flashfloods. Cities around the world are becoming uninhabitable in their present forms. From Venice to Cape Town, Napa Valley to Mumbai, Alaska to Rio de Janeiro, Osaka to Northern Italy, The Rhone Valley to Sudan, Lagos to The Alps, conditions are becoming unsuitable for people to feel comfortable without artificial climate control. The older generations know how summers, winters, springs and autumns used to feel like and how they experience the seasons now.
• Acidification of the ocean has lead to the extinction of a million species. Imagine one million of species disappearing from the marine ecosystems around the world and how that can impact our seas and oceans. As much as forty percent of all animals and plants species that we have right now will be extinct in the next thirty years. It is not just the smaller animals that will be extinct. The first mammal to go extinct was the Bramble Cay melomys. It was last spotted in 2009. The Golden Toad went extinct in 1989.
Climate Change is not just Global Warming
One of the misconceptions about climate change is that it is considered to be about global warming. People living in colder regions often do not understand or relate to the implications of temperatures rising by a degree or two every few years. People living in warmer climates are resorting to air conditioning to endure the summers. Global warming has a ripple effect on every aspect of our lives and the world we have.
Rising temperature leads to water shortage. Around three billion people in the world are already living and dealing with water scarcity. As temperatures soar further, there will be a serious water crisis and it is not just the rivers, lakes and other freshwater sources drying up. Groundwater too is drying up so people who are self dependent now and are not connected to a steady supply from a reserve will struggle to survive. Warmer waters will become more habitable for microbes. New mutations will occur and the world may have to deal with unknown strains of bacteria, viruses, fungi and other pathogens.
Global warming and climate change will affect the cultivation of all kinds of crops. Only a few crops will benefit but there will be a decline in the production of most staples, from rice to wheat, corn to potatoes, green vegetables to most fruits. Agricultural production has increased in the last few decades and this is because underdeveloped countries have been developing, taking to irrigation and technological advancements have empowered farmers. More land is now under cultivation than ever before. Yet, the net output of staples such as rice has been declining during the same period, considering the total land under cultivation.
The world will witness water scarcity, food shortage and diseases. Cities will be deluged and hurricanes, cyclones and strange weather will wreak havoc nearly everywhere. Forests are turning into barren lands and those may turn arid. Heavily populated cities will become ghost towns as people abandon unlivable conditions.
We have to immediately curb our carbon emissions from gasoline and other fuels. Methane emissions must be checked urgently, from both agriculture and livestock. Deforestation has to be outlawed. Use of chemicals must be stringently regulated. Industries should be held accountable for their actions. There should be multiparty led audits of all polluting industries. There has to be a global movement to save nature and our world. That is the only way we can save ourselves. Humans cannot survive in isolation. We rely on nature, from air to water, food to refuge. Everything we create is essentially borrowed from the planet. Humans have not created anything out of nothing. We can be reduced to nothing if do not act now.