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, a 25 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?
Photo credit: Thinkstock.
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