The Holocene Extinction

The Holocene Extinction

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By Ryan Drum

In a 1998 poll, 70 percent of biologists agreed we are in the midst of a 6th mass extinction event unique among all others.

In its 4.5 billion year history, planet Earth has witnessed 5 mass extinction events. Such an event is determined by the loss of a large number of species over a short period of time. This current event has been dubbed “The Holocene Extinction” after Earth’s Holocene epoch.

The Holocene Extinction is the only mass extinction to be caused by living organisms:  Human beings.

Humans, as we know them today, have only been around for about 50,000 years, and spanned the globe in a matter of 40,000 years.  Knowledge, technology and the opposable thumb have allowed man to inhabit nearly any environment or terrain. However, it is the combination of these two marvels of modernity, intermingled with greed at the thumbed-hands of man, which has been the demise of countless other animals, plants, and entire ecosystems.

The birth of man almost immediately saw the downfall of large mammals and birds on Earth due to overhunting. Humans drove over 40 percent of large mammal species to extinction, and almost all large birds and tortoises. Our planet’s larger species (i.e. elephants, tigers, whales, etc.) are continuously exploited to this day, and are pushed further toward nonexistence.

It should come as no surprise that our species is the most destructive force on this planet. Human beings are the only species that exploit resources based on desire and not need. We take what we want from Earth without any regard toward the repercussions.

Habitat destruction is a serious issue that always fail to draw enough attention. Urban expansion devours unimaginable expanses of natural habitats, forests and meadows are leveled to make way for empty housing developments, businesses, and roads.

Massive agricultural “opportunities” somehow warrant the slash and burn of rain-forests worldwide. Vast sections of timberland are cleared every day for lumber profit, tourist resorts, urban expansion, drilling and mining operations, food crops, and grazing space for livestock.

Saving the rain-forests was not resolved in the 1990s, and it’s far from being accomplished or slowed today. Rain-forests provide humans with immeasurable resources (medicine, food, materials, etc.) which can be sustainably maintained and utilized efficiently. Deforestation shows no signs of slowing, and scientists estimate that rain-forests, which occupy 6 percent of the world, will be completely gone in 40 years.

We may never know their true potential.

Our dependence on fossil fuels have arguably proven destructive to the balance of life. Global climate change continues to wreak havoc on our ecosystems, and we perpetuate the calamity by drilling in areas previously too difficult or impossible. New drilling techniques threaten to pollute our preciously limited fresh water sources.

Edward O. Wilson of Harvard estimated in 2002 that 50 percent of the animal kingdom’s higher life forms will be extinct within a century if the current rate of human disruption continues.

More than 1.7 million other species share our planet and provide balance to ecosystems and life on Earth. Current estimates by professional biologists place the extinction rate at around 140,000 species per year.

That’s 140,000 plants and animals that will never exist again after this year.  They will be lost forever.

The facts alone should be enough for anyone to be concerned. It should be equally alarming to see that these annually published stats are getting worse, and they are blithely ignored. Our everyday choices from how we commute, what we eat, what we purchase, and even how we communicate have profound ramifications.

It is a common belief among many great minds across many professions and disciplines that the time to take action was yesterday. We need to seriously re-evaluate our role in the future of this planet. It’s the only one we have, and the only one our children will inherit.

The ignorant sleep soundly; this should keep you up at night.


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