Several Stanford scientists joined CBS’s Scott Pelley on 60 Minutes to discuss the global mass extinction crisis. Spoiler: neither had good news. The bad news is that we are heading towards the 6th mass extinction on Earth.
Earth Is Heading Towards The 6th Mass Extinction
Tony Barnosky, a Stanford biologist whose work involves using the fossil record to map changes in ecosystems over time, told CBS his work suggests current extinction rates are moving at about 100 times the rate typically observed in the known four billion-year history of our planet.
According to the biologist, such rapid population loss means that the worst mass extinction event since the dinosaurs is currently being experienced. And while Earth itself has repeatedly recovered from mass extinction events in the past, the vast majority of life existing on our planet at the time has not.
Unfortunately, that may well include us humans—or, at least, the pitfalls of our technological civilization.
“I and the vast majority of my colleagues have come to the same conclusion: that the next few decades will be the end of civilization as we know it,” Barnosky’s Stanford colleague Paul Ehrlich, who also appeared on the show, told Pelley.
That grim reality, according to the researchers, means that even if humans manage to survive somehow, the far-reaching impacts of mass extinction — such as habitat destruction, failures in the natural food chain, soil infertility, and more —would cause modern human society to collapse.
“I would say that it is too much to say that we are killing the planet because the planet is going to be fine,” Barnosky acknowledged. “What we are doing is killing our way of life.”
This means that if we humans do not drastically correct course, the havoc we are wreaking on the planet will be very unpleasant for us. It’s a grim warning, but one that other experts echo.
Ehrlich, it’s worth noting, is something of an icon of mass overpopulation and extinction. He published The Population Bomb, one of the first modern books on the dangers of excessive human development and population growth, back in 1968, and was considered an alarmist for the controversial predictions he made at the time. While not all of his controversial predictions came true, two big ones—that greenhouse gases would melt polar ice and humanity would overwhelm nature—have certainly since come to fruition. And sadly, the reasoning for its making feels depressingly familiar.
According to the author, the problem is “too many people, too much consumption, and growth mania,” a reality few would likely argue shows any significant sign of slowing down.
“Humanity is not sustainable. To maintain our lifestyle (yours and mine, basically) for the entire planet, you would need five more Earths,” Ehrlich told his interviewer. “It’s not clear where they’re coming from.”
“Resources that would be needed, the systems that sustain our lives, which of course are the biodiversity that we are depleting. Humanity is too busy sitting on a branch that we are cutting,” concluded the 90-year-old researcher.
What do you think? Are we really heading toward the 6th Mass extinction?
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