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Sixth greatest extinction event in the history of our planet is underway.

According to a new scientific research study published yesterday in the peer reviewed journal Science Advances, the sixth greatest extinction event in the history of our planet is underway. The study, which is titled, Accelerated modern human–induced species losses: Entering the sixth mass extinction, was conducted by researchers at Stanford University, Princeton University and the University of California at Berkeley. They warn that there is “no significant doubt” that animals are disappearing about 100 times faster than they used to and they conclude that humans could be among the first victims of the next extinction event.

To reach an evidence-based conclusion, they had to determine the “natural rates of species disappearance before human activity dominated” and compare it to the current rate of extinction.

The analysis was based on documented extinctions of vertebrates, or animals with internal skeletons such as frogs, reptiles and tigers, from fossil records and other historical data.

The modern rate of species loss was compared to the “natural rates of species disappearance before human activity dominated”.

It can be difficult to estimate this rate, also known as the background rate, since humans do not know exactly what happened throughout the course of Earth’s 4.5 billion year history.

For the study, researchers used a past extinction rate that was twice as high as widely-used estimates.

If the past rate was two mammal extinctions per 10,000 species per 100 years then the “average rate of vertebrate species loss over the last century is up to 114 times higher than it would be without human activity, even when relying on the most conservative estimates of species extinction,” the study said.

“We emphasise that our calculations very likely underestimate the severity of the extinction crisis because our aim was to place a realistic lower bound on humanity’s impact on biodiversity.”

They identified the principal causes of the ongoing extinction event as a combination of the effects of climate change, pollution and deforestation. Human activity is driving the extinction event. Approximately 41% of all amphibian species and 26% or a quarter of all mammals are threatened with extinction. There has been a 52% decline in vertebrate populations over the last 40 years.

In case anyone missed the news in school, we are mammals.

The authors of the study called for “rapid, greatly intensified efforts to conserve already-threatened species, and to alleviate pressures on their populations – notably habitat loss, over-exploitation for economic gain and climate change.”

For more information, including a list of the 10 most endangered species with photographs and a list of the previous major extinction events, please go here.

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Frederick Leatherman

Frederick Leatherman

I am a former law professor and felony criminal defense lawyer who practiced in state and federal courts for 30 years specializing in death penalty cases, forensics, and drug cases.

I taught criminal law, criminal procedure, law and forensics, and trial advocacy for three years after retiring from my law practice.

I also co-founded Innocence Project Northwest (IPNW) at the University of Washington School of Law in Seattle and recruited 40 lawyers who agreed to work pro bono, assisted by law students, representing 17 innocent men and women wrongfully convicted of sexually abusing their children in the notorious Wenatchee Sex Ring witch-hunt prosecutions during the mid 90s. All 17 were freed from imprisonment.

  • Ruth

    thanks, Fred, it’s interesting to be reading this in London, a city that takes up an area of more than 40 square miles, staying with some one who’s been here quite a while and sees its continued expansion as a problem that impacts transportation, as well as the quality of life – and continually leads to crowding in any public area and events, and makes them hard on anyone who tries to visit. We’re self-destructing, it seems. We’re also making it hard to live in the world we’ve got.

  • Synoia

    Most will die. There is no proposed plan to back down from that which we have wrought, and too much money and momentum facing business as usual(R).

    Probably only primitive tribes will survive, and that survival depends on rainfall, where patterns are changing.

    The estimate is that by 2048 fish will be extinct. If so billions will have died by then.

    I cannot imagine how savage will become our societies as the food supply shrinks.

  • Frederick Leatherman

    I don’t believe most people realize how dependent we are on animals and plants for our survival. We cannot exist without them. This extinction event poses a much more serious threat to us than IS and right wing domestic terrorists like Dylann Roof and Timothy McVeigh.

  • Frederick Leatherman

    I saw a report earlier this week that the world supply of fresh water is 1/3 less than previously estimated.

  • AshenLight

    True and tragic, but not really news. I did my Ph.D. on the worst mass extinction of all, the end-Permian. My thesis adviser wrote a book in the early 90s that made it very clear that extinction rates were already so far above background levels that we were in the midst of a new mass extinction event, but the media loves to run with it every time someone publishes a me-too paper confirming what we already know.

    As an aside, I really don’t like the “sixth extinction” phrasing I frequently see nowadays. There are a several events that are considered to be mass extinctions that are smaller than the “big five”, and even a few that were larger as a percentage–this graph ( https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/06/Extinction_intensity.svg ) illustrates that pretty well. That’s % of genera going extinct on the y-axis, and time in millions of years ago on the x-axis, ranging from the beginning of the Phanerozoic to the present day. Three of the big five are apparent just from eyeballing it, but you could be forgiven for thinking the other two in that group included the two in the Cambrian (far left), or the one in the middle of the Carboniferous, or Olson’s in the mid Permian, and yet none of these count as mass extinctions by “big five” reckoning.

    Having not seen it for a couple years, I have to admit I’m impressed by how much the wikipedia article has improved. There is still some silliness pertaining to the causes, but it’s worlds better than it was.

  • John Munro

    Hopefully the transformation of the unbelievers?

  • Frederick Leatherman

    Thanks, for the link and your informative response. When do you think the mass extinction started? I suppose no termination date can be assigned since it would depend on what we do. IIRC, the Permian-Triassic mass extinction, which was caused by massive volcanic activity, may have taken place during a period of several million years.

  • Frederick Leatherman

    I wouldn’t bet the ranch, since a lot of the deniers persist in believing that the Earth was created in 4004 BCE.

  • Bluedot

    Wait, If it was 6000 years ago that would make it 3,985 BCE. Gotta keep these things straight.

  • Bluedot

    You are right. But don’t count on anyone getting serious about this, and that includes most of the world.

  • AshenLight

    The current event? I doubt the existing data is granular enough to show exactly when the extinction rate started going up, but my guess is when industrialization started. We did wipe out most of the megafauna in Europe, North America and Australia 10-20,000 years ago, so I suppose it depends how large of an effect that had on the overall numbers, but it also seems more specific to that one group than a mass extinction per se.

    Background extinction rates have actually decreased over the Phanerozoic (as you can also kind of see from that graph), so it wouldn’t have initially taken a really severe die-off to start rising above that, just a slight uptick in the overall rate. But it probably didn’t become recognizable as a mass extinction (the thresholds for which are somewhat arbitrary) until sometime in the 20th century. Peter’s book came out in early 1994, with much of the data from the 70s and 80s, and by that point it had become severe enough that IIRC he suggested it might become big enough to mark the recognizable end of the Cenozoic Era in the same way that the P/T (end-Permian) ended the Paleozoic and the K/Pg (end-Cretaceous) ended the Mesozoic. I’ll have to read it again now, it’s been awhile, but unfortunately most of my books are in storage.

    The end-Permian was basically an extreme end-state of the earth-ocean-atmosphere system–several things going wrong at once, albeit related (I’ve long been fond of this particular flow chart: http://www.killerinourmidst.com/grafix/MC%20diagram%203.jpg ). The primary driver is indeed thought to be Siberian Traps volcanism, and that’s been dated pretty well now. It probably erupted (flood basalt style, so runny lava like Kilauea, not explosive) for about 800,000 years, straddling the P/T boundary. But there is good evidence that it was a double event, i.e., an initial pulse, then a few million years with extinction rates still high, then the terminal event that finished most of the rest of everything off ( http://www.sciencemag.org/content/266/5189/1340 ). The system and biosphere also remained profoundly disturbed for millions of years into the Triassic.

  • Frederick Leatherman

    Thanks for the detailed response. I’m working on the chart.