For conservationists, scientists and wildlife enthusiasts alike, extinction is an alarming word. But it can be easy to forget that extinction is a completely natural process – during the estimated 3.8 billion years that life has existed upon planet Earth, the diversity of organisms has been in a constant flux, with natural extinctions being balanced by equally natural speciations.
There have been five documented mass extinctions during the history of life on Earth, the most well known of which was the KT (Cretaceous-Tertiary) Event, which culminated with the disappearance of dinosaurs and made way for the evolution of mammals. It is generally agreed among scientists to have been associated with a serious of dramatic extraterrestrial impacts, which had a devastating impact upon the diversity of life.
What may be well less known, however, is the general consensus among scientists that Earth is currently on the brink of a sixth mass extinction event. This sounds like an incredibly daunting prospect, especially if we consider the previous mass extinctions; the Permian-Triassic extinction event, for example, eliminated an approximated 57% of all families extant at that time. Clearly, this suggests we are on course for an enormous upheaval of life as we know it, should this prediction be true.
What I find pretty scary is that, despite this pending event, life for many of us seems to remain pretty constant. We may be bombarded with an increasing number of messages daily telling us that sea levels are rising, but this is yet to significantly influence the majority of people in the Western world. The truth of the matter is, this mass extinction is beginning to happen right underneath our noses. We can no longer plead ignorance. Indeed, it’s scientifically proven that global warming, pollution, poaching and deforestation are causing extinctions at a rate unparalleled by the previous mass extinction events.
Economic and scientific reasons for conservation aside, I wonder…why don’t we take more action to prevent these extinctions just because we should? We are members of the only species on Earth with the power to actively conserve and protect the species we share our planet with, yet we let this power go to waste. We all have the same right to be here, and I personally think we have a moral obligation to take more of an interest in the world around us, and the magnificent living things we share it with.
So, with 2012 barely under way, my resolution will be to think more carefully about how my day to day actions impact upon the environment, (even though I will probably never see them directly for myself), and make a conscious effort to consider the wonderful creatures who also call planet Earth their home.
For People & Planet’s environmental campaigns, see our Climate Change pages.