6th World Mass Extinction
History of Mass Extinction
The data is in, and scientists have officially stated the world has entered the 6th Mass Extinction, the mother of all mass extinctions. There have been 5 extinctions in the past, but the rate of 6th is far outstripping the previous 5, to the tune of being 100 times faster than the normal rate between mass extinctions, known as the background rate. According to The Anthropocene Review, the 6th extinction differs from the last 5 in four crucial ways, all stemming from homo sapiens arriving on the scene approximately 200,000 years ago. A 6th extinction would be catastrophic because in the past, it has taken 10-30 million years to recover from a mass extinction, and by then homo sapiens would be long gone from the planet it seems.
Current Extinction Crisis is Unique
Scientists argue that the current extinction crisis is unique because of four characteristics, these being:
- The spread of non-native species around the world
- A single species taking over a significant portion of the world’s primary production
- Human actions increasingly directing evolution
- The rise of what is called the Technosphere.
The spread of non-native species around the world has led to the global homogenisation of flora and fauna. Essentially this would not have happened without human intervention, who, through their ability to travel the world, have brought with them innumerable species to new habitats. Humans dominate the planet now; both the land and the sea. No other species can claim this distinction. One need not look far to know this is the case. Humans use up resources at a rate and in a way no other species ever has. The third point above that humans direct evolution. There is no doubt humans have domesticated animals and cultivated crops, and has been doing so for thousands of years. Geneticists today manipulate genomes by artificial selection and molecular techniques. Humans managing ecosystems as population continues to increase will have a direct effect on the evolution of species.
The last point is in relation to the technosphere, which has been defined as:
The global, energy consuming techno-social system that is comprised of humans, technological artifacts, and technological systems, together with the links, protocols and information that binds all these together.
In essence, the sprawling combination of humans and their technology which encompasses the whole planet. The question now is whether humans can control technology, or whether it has a life of its own. Not everyone believes the technosphere plays a role in the latest mass extinction, but there is no question of doubt that technology is now very much a part of human culture; it being somewhat difficult to imagine what life would be like without computers, and social media such as Facebook and Twitter. Humans are social creatures, and it is through socialization that we have spread across the planet, and there are those who argue that is socialization driving the changes on the planet being witnessed today.
Either way, be it technology or socialization, there is no disagreement that homo sapiens are responsible for the current state of affairs. The impact humans have had on the biosphere is recognised as an epoch boundary, like between the Pliocene and Pleistocene. We are currently in the Holocene epoch. There is a sense of urgency among scientists who study climate change and ecosystems, that if we don’t act now, it might well be too late. Governments are acting, but the extent of action required is unclear. The world must rely on scientists to assess the situation correctly, and pass their assessments onto government, where decisions can be made and implemented in a co-operative environment.
- How humans are driving the sixth mass extinction by Jeremy Hance
- It’s official: scientists say we’re entering Earth’s sixth mass extinction by Fiona MacDonald