STREAMING NOW: Watch Now

The sixth mass extinction is happening faster than expected. Scientists say it's our fault

The sixth mass extinction is not a worry for the future. It's...

Posted: Jun 1, 2020 11:08 PM

The sixth mass extinction is not a worry for the future. It's happening now, much faster than previously expected, and it's entirely our fault, according to a study published Monday.

Humans have already wiped out hundreds of species and pushed many more to the brink of extinction through wildlife trade, pollution, habitat loss and the use of toxic substances. But the findings published in the scientific journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) show that the rate at which species are dying out has accelerated in recent decades.

Gerardo Ceballos González, a professor of ecology at the National Autonomous University of Mexico and one of the authors of the study, said approximately 173 species went extinct between 2001 and 2014.

"173 species is 25 times more extinct species than you would expect under the normal, background, extinction rate," he told CNN in an email. He and his team found that in the past 100 years, more than 400 vertebrate species went extinct. In the normal course of evolution, such extinctions would have taken up to 10,000 years, they said.

Mass extinctions are just as severe as their name suggests. There have been five mass extinction events in the Earth's history, each wiping out between 70% and 95% of the species of plants, animals and microorganisms. The most recent, 66 million years ago, saw dinosaurs disappear.

The past events were caused by catastrophic alterations of the environment, including massive volcanic eruptions or collision with an asteroid. The sixth mass extinction -- the one happening now -- is different: Scientists say it's caused by humans.

"It is entirely our fault," Ceballos González said.

Extinction breeds extinctions

While life on Earth has bounced back after each of these events, it took millions of years to restore the number of species.

"Even though only an estimated 2% of all of the species that ever lived are alive today, the absolute number of species is greater now than ever before," the scientists said. "It was into such a biologically diverse world that we humans evolved, and such a world that we are destroying."

Ceballos González and his colleagues said many of the species that are on the brink of extinction are concentrated in the same regions being decimated by human impacts.

When one species in the ecosystem disappears, it erodes the entire ecosystem and pushes other species toward annihilation. The researchers use amphibians as an example of this phenomena. Hundreds of species of frogs and toads are suffering population declines and extinctions because of the chytrid fungus disease, which is sometimes spread into new areas by humans. Climate change is likely making the issue worse.

This interdependency of different species is bad news for humans, too.

"When humanity exterminates populations and species of other creatures, it is sawing off the limb on which it is sitting, destroying working parts of our own life-support system," said Paul Ehrlich, a well known Stanford professor who wrote the controversial 1968 book "The Population Bomb" and is a co-author of the new study.

The researchers also said the current coronavirus crisis shows how the recklessness with which people treat the natural world can backfire badly. Many of the species that are endangered or at the brink of extinction are being decimated by wildlife trade.

"We believe that the recent coronavirus outbreak is linked to wildlife trade and consumption in China," they said. "The ban on wildlife trade imposed by the Chinese government could be a major conservation measure for many species on the brink, if imposed properly."

The researchers said this data highlights the urgency with which the world needs to act.

Later this year, the UN Convention on Biological Diversity is expected to set new global goals to combat the ongoing biodiversity crisis in the coming decades.

At a 2010 summit in Japan, the United Nations set similar targets. But the world failed to meet most of those 2020 goals and now faces unprecedented extinction rates, threatened ecosystems and severe consequences for human survival.

Huntsville
Clear
56° wxIcon
Hi: 65° Lo: 44°
Feels Like: 56°
Florence
Broken Clouds
57° wxIcon
Hi: 69° Lo: 42°
Feels Like: 57°
Fayetteville
Overcast
59° wxIcon
Hi: 66° Lo: 42°
Feels Like: 59°
Decatur
Broken Clouds
56° wxIcon
Hi: 64° Lo: 42°
Feels Like: 56°
Scottsboro
Overcast
57° wxIcon
Hi: 64° Lo: 47°
Feels Like: 57°
WAAY Radar
WAAY WAAY-TV Cam
WAAY Temperatures

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 236865

Reported Deaths: 3472
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson31043491
Mobile19446360
Tuscaloosa12684150
Madison12528146
Montgomery12122235
Shelby992276
Baldwin837684
Lee759765
Morgan626247
Calhoun6049113
Etowah600564
Marshall596153
Houston510838
DeKalb469635
Cullman421136
Limestone408844
St. Clair403955
Elmore398961
Lauderdale387253
Walker356199
Talladega339044
Jackson302524
Colbert297641
Blount282236
Autauga266139
Franklin246233
Coffee236615
Dale228454
Dallas222331
Russell21923
Chilton218537
Covington215933
Escambia196931
Tallapoosa171790
Chambers171448
Pike156014
Clarke155319
Marion135535
Winston126623
Lawrence123936
Geneva11848
Pickens117618
Marengo117424
Barbour116710
Bibb115717
Butler114341
Randolph100321
Cherokee99624
Hale93231
Washington89918
Clay89623
Fayette86216
Henry8436
Lowndes78929
Monroe77911
Cleburne75614
Macon71720
Crenshaw70330
Bullock69019
Conecuh68214
Perry6726
Lamar6337
Wilcox62818
Sumter56222
Choctaw41813
Greene41317
Coosa3144
Out of AL00
Unassigned00

Tennessee Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 345916

Reported Deaths: 4372
CountyCasesDeaths
Shelby45850645
Davidson40834409
Knox17686142
Rutherford16918153
Hamilton15944139
Williamson1068176
Sumner9163134
Wilson705076
Out of TN692847
Montgomery623582
Sullivan612491
Putnam573779
Washington5609101
Maury556661
Blount518055
Madison5112107
Unassigned493018
Bradley484533
Sevier469131
Robertson357751
Tipton349138
Hamblen332258
Dyer309349
Gibson302663
Greene287871
Anderson274427
Dickson274232
Coffee263941
Bedford256428
Carter255053
Obion252849
Lawrence251532
Cumberland243535
McMinn234755
Warren227118
Hardeman220937
Roane220626
Loudon218518
Jefferson216431
Fayette214838
Weakley208035
Lauderdale200322
Monroe200042
Franklin194232
Trousdale189712
Hawkins182334
Wayne181210
Henderson178532
Macon177027
Hardin172625
White167418
Marshall165818
Carroll164434
Haywood159530
Rhea156730
Cocke155528
Overton150834
Cheatham149416
Campbell148322
Lincoln147113
Henry145017
Smith138419
Johnson137621
McNairy137533
Giles136044
Fentress117120
Lake11525
Bledsoe11395
Hickman112017
Crockett111025
DeKalb109121
Marion104017
Chester99419
Scott9667
Grainger92915
Decatur91613
Unicoi79125
Benton76415
Claiborne7539
Grundy74214
Lewis71914
Cannon7133
Union6945
Morgan6796
Jackson66410
Humphreys6617
Polk63714
Houston57620
Stewart56914
Clay52818
Sequatchie5015
Meigs46112
Perry46120
Moore3702
Pickett36713
Van Buren3422
Hancock1473

Community Events