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Mass Extinction is Almost Here: Should We Dedicate Half the Planet to Animals?

Mass Extinction is Almost Here: Should We Dedicate Half the Planet to Animals?

Scientists believe the sixth great mass extinction event may soon be upon us, that is if it isn’t already.

Indeed, we are currently living through a period in which animals are dying out at a rate that hasn’t been seen since the last mass extinction event when the dinosaurs went extinct. In fact, studies show that there has been, on average, a25 percent decline in terrestrial vertebrates, and a 45 percent decline in invertebrates. To put that into some kind of real-world figure, of the world’s 71,000 known species, about 30 percent are now threatened. That’s solely focusing on animals, too, and not plants which are also suffering severe extinction risks.

From the gyps vulture to the white rhino, we are losing biodiversity at an alarming rate, and while we have had some success stories at rescuing certain populations from the brink, the overall rate of loss continues apace — and the boom of the world’s human population over the past 35 years in combination with man-made climate change is probably what is to blame.

Outside of scientific circles and the occasional scaremongering media headline, few people are drawing attention to the extinction problem, but one person who is, is world-renowned biologist E. O. Wilson. The two-time Pulitzer-winning scientist, who has called the next mass extinction event a “biological holocaust,” has said that unless we start sharing the planet more equally with animal species, there will be no way of stopping the sixth mass extinction.

Wilson told the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, as reported by the Smithsonian Magazine, that he’d been thinking about this problem for a long time, and that he sees his “Half World” solution as one of the only ways forward if we really do care about preservation. He wants to create a series of “uninterrupted corridors” or “long corridors” to create national biodiversity parks that would literally take up large portions of our continents in order to ensure the preservation of the planet’s biodiversity.

“It’s been in my mind for years,” he is quoted as saying. “…People haven’t been thinking big enough even conservationists. Half Earth is the goal, but it’s how we get there, and whether we can come up with a system of wild landscapes we can hang onto.”

Wilson believes that there is real-world evidence that this approach can work. He points to the existing initiative known as Yellowstone to Yukon, which has been set up to allow animal species the ability to move north as the planet warms, with corridors running west to east to accommodate wildlife migrating with changing rain patterns. Wilson believes that this could be applied on a larger scale to essentially connect up our national parks and biodiversity parks, thus creating super areas of protection.

For this to work, however, there is one issue above all that we need to tackle: the human population would have to stop growing, at least at the massive rate it has been, in order for us to have even a small chance of establishing anything close to what Wilson and his supporters are talking about. Without controlling the human population boom, we will continue to need more land and more resources which will make these kinds of corridors impossible and any kind of equivalent action untenable.

But action is needed. Even if we weren’t to care about losing unique animal and plant species and the devastation it could have on the planet, the genetic secrets they may have could hold untold riches in terms of medical breakthroughs and engineering secrets. Losing them would mean losing all the knowledge we could garner from them, making it a double tragedy.

If nothing else, the big takeaway from E.O. Wilson’s Half-Earth theory is how it stresses the need to act, and act boldly. The usual conservation goal of putting aside 10 percent of our land mass to species preservation simply isn’t going to be enough to rescue animals and plants from the sixth mass extinction event scientists are telling us we’ve helped usher in. Only a plan like Wilson’s could stand a chance of working, but it will be costly, time consuming and a logistic nightmare. On the other hand, can we really afford not to?

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Photo credit: Thinkstock.

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1:15PM PDT on Sep 2, 2014

Shouldn't the title be about dedicating half the planet to OTHER animals? The article should also provide major reasons why biodiversity is so important, and not only for humans.

4:20AM PDT on Sep 2, 2014

yup we should give them half the planet

3:35AM PDT on Sep 2, 2014

Should We Dedicate Half the Planet to Animals??!
Rhetorical question for me...

12:49AM PDT on Sep 2, 2014

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12:48AM PDT on Sep 2, 2014

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6:54PM PDT on Sep 1, 2014

Yes, the human race is a common-sense mess. But we are many, those of us who care, and we can make a difference. Me, I'm going to keep my eye on hope. The despair of it is just too much.

4:46PM PDT on Sep 1, 2014

I feel like screaming when I read an article like this. Because the human race is NOT going to turn around and suddenly become smart.
Humans are way too selfish, self-involved, to care about the planet!...
It's now now now, not what will happen tomorrow?
It's the stupid Republicans who scream like banshees that abortions should be illegal, every fetus born!
It's the corporations like Monsanto poisoning our planet on a global scale and getting awards!
It's you, you, you, demanding your daily ration of meat, and calling vegans "freaks"!

It's too late and the children of today will pay for it! Money is really going to make a difference in the end, ask the dinosaurs...

1:56PM PDT on Sep 1, 2014

And here’s another reason why approaching the problem in that way (in the last comment) is so important: talking about humans disappearing automatically goes against every human’s innate, natural, evolutionary love of self and love of species — and thus engenders defensiveness (and for good reason!). On the other hand, approaching the problem with a goal of human *survival* automatically engenders a sense of shared purpose, possibly camaraderie — and goes ‘with the grain’ of evolution, not against it. By taking this approach, others are much more likely to agree and to want to join in coming up with solutions.

Of course, going against a sense of privilege, convenience and other notions that have been trained into us since we were babies, is not easy. But it’s a heck of a lot easier than suggesting people commit mass suicide or never reproduce.

And again, I will repeat that the impact of a population is the number of people, times the per-capita consumption. I think it’s a lot easier to get people to use and waste less, than it is to try to reduce the numbers of people (at least at first).

1:48PM PDT on Sep 1, 2014

One of the things that has continually come up in comments is the sense that “we” (that is, “humans”) are the problem… some even supporting the ZPG (zero population growth) idea, which is founded on the notion that humans are a plague on Earth and it would be best if we disappeared.

I would suggest to all of you who share this notion, or something similar (blaming “humans”, etc.) that you read a little book called Ishmael, by Daniel Quinn. One of the truths illuminated in the book is the fact that only one culture of humans has increased at exponential rates. This one culture is destroying Earth, taking whatever ‘they’ deem necessary, appropriate and convenient, and producing little but pollution and waste. I will refrain from naming this culture but in the book, Quinn refers to this culture as Takers. Those humans who are not part of ‘that’ culture, he refers to as Leavers.

(continued below)

1:47PM PDT on Sep 1, 2014


Very few Leavers exist today, but some still do. And some still live the way they have always lived, for hundreds of thousands of years, for thousands of generations, without destroying their environment.

So, to all you misanthropists, think again. The answer need not be as drastic as wiping out humans, but rather is much more doable: recognize what’s wrong with the Taker culture (okay, I’ll say it: Civilization), and change it. Here’s my take: Takers believe that ‘the earth” belongs to humans; Leavers believe that humans belong to Earth. It sounds to me that many of the commenters share this latter belief and, while that doesn’t make us Leavers, per se, the trick is, how do we expand this belief and convert other Takers to this way of thinking? Because if we can do that, then society’s systems will (and must) reflect our beliefs, and will thus change as well.

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