The Holocene Extinction

Our planet is in the midst of an extinction crisis that has not been seen since the demise of dinosaurs– species are now becoming extinct between 1000-10000 times the natural extinction rate due to poaching and climate change. At this rate, scientists believe that we’re losing dozens of species every day. This is the 6th wave of mass extinction of plants and animals (Holocene extinction) in the past 500 million years. While extinction is supposed to be a natural phenomenon where Darwin’s theory of natural selection is just a way of balancing the precariously placed ecosystem, the extinction crisis we are in today is caused by man. It’s a result of the careless actions of man alone.

This sudden loss of species causes a ripple effect in the ecology of our planet, as the extinction of one species causes the extinction of another, since they are bound together in a ecological food web. If nothing is done, these numbers will only increase exponentially in the future as the ecosystem unravels.

CNN has narrowed down the reasons for extinction to 5 major causes, with the first being climate change. Climate change is caused by increase in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. The greenhouse gases trap heat in the atmosphere making our world a smidgen hotter every day. Climate change is causing glaciers to melt and ocean levels to rise. The oceans are becoming warmer and more acidic, killing and bleaching corals. Some scientists also fear that reefs may disappear by 2050 if countries do not switch to cleaner energy sources. Many remote islands that completely depend on marine life for a living will be largely affected by its extinction.

The second cause was observed to be agriculture. According to a World Bank report in 2000, 37% of the Earth’s land surface has been converted for the purpose of agriculture. Large forest areas have been cleared, causing countless species to lose their habitats. With the increase in human population, land has also been converted for commercial uses. For example, only 24.4% of India’s land is forested. The rest is either used for agriculture or for commercial purposes. Further, India is home to roughly 133 crore people, all of whom are causing overconsumption. Due to deforestation and loss of habitat, species like the orangutan and bees are now endangered– more than 25% of bumblebees in the USA are facing the risk of extinction. This can cause serious economic and food problems for the country as bees help pollinate 35% of the world’s food.

The third cause is wildlife crime. Environmental crime has a sizeable black-market and is valued between $91 to $258 billion per year, making it one of the most lucrative black markets. Poachers hunt rhinos and elephants for their horns and ivory tusks, to the extent that 30% of all elephants disappeared between 2007 and 2014: that is roughly 144,000 missing elephants. Pangolins used are used in Chinese medicine, making the pangolin another frequently poached animal. Scientists predict that with the current poaching rate, African elephants will disappear in the next 20 years. India has recorded a loss of over 120 elephants due to poaching between 2008 and 2011. There are only 260,00 to 30,000 elephants left in India. Wildlife crime is now a serious misconduct and all countries are strengthening their laws to prevent the loss of more animals.

The fourth cause is pollution; this is one of the more apparent causes of this crisis. Although the world is now aware of the detrimental use of plastic, very few governments have been able to completely get rid of single use plastic. This results in the dumping of roughly 9 million tons of plastic in the ocean every year. Researchers believe that by 2050, the ocean will contain more plastic than fish by weight, and even now, early all seabirds have plastic in their stomachs. The last cause of this mass extinction is disease: 40% of amphibians are at risk because of an amphibian apocalypse caused by a certain fungus that is taking the lives of many animals across the world. It is speculated that humans helped spread the fungus by moving frogs across continents.

It can be noticed that humans play a direct as well as an indirect part in this extinction crisis, however, countries around the world are yet to acknowledge this as a serious issue. Climate change and the Holocene extinction go hand in hand and require immediate attention from all countries. To save these animals, people must be willing to change their current lifestyle to a more sustainable one for the betterment of the world. Governments too, have the responsibility to ensure that their citizens are not harming the environment. If our current behaviour were to continue, humans will witness the loss of many exotic species and be victim to all the problems resulting from imbalance in the ecosystem– the biggest one being the extinction of the human species itself.

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