The Sixth Mass Extinction May Actually Be Here

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For the first time in 65 million years, life on Earth may really be in the throes of a mass-extinction event, according to new research published yesterday in the journal Science Advances. Now, this is definitely not the first time scientists have warned of this sort of thing, but what’s different about this study is that a group of experts sought to specifically address concerns that previous studies had overestimated the rate in which present-day species were disappearing. However, even after using what they insist are very conservative estimates regarding current extinction rates, the study’s authors were still left with the conclusion that a historic die-off is indeed under way and that it is almost certainly the result of human influence.

In her detailed look at the study, Motherboard’s Kaleigh Rogers highlights how “the researchers found that the rate of extinction in the last 115 years is as high as 50 times what it would be under normal circumstances”:

If we do nothing, in the next 50 years it will be a completely different world, something that humanity has never experienced,” Gerardo Ceballos, lead author of the study and a senior ecology researcher at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, told me over the phone.

Ceballos and his colleagues found vertebrate species have been disappearing at an alarming rate for the last 500 years, roughly since humans started to have a significant impact on the environment. Since 1500, at least 338 vertebrate species have gone extinct, and if species continue to disappear at this rate, the planet’s biodiversity could be significantly and permanently altered within three generations, the researchers warned.

Furthermore, the study’s authors insist that, as the world’s biodiversity falls off a cliff, humans will thus lose what is essentially an insurance policy for our survival when it comes to disease and other hostile natural forces. Said Ceballos, “If [the extinctions are] allowed to continue, life would take many millions of years to recover and our species itself would likely disappear early on.”