Never before has one species alone been responsible for the mass extinction of so many other life forms. A majority of scientists are unanimous in the belief that modern human beings are presiding over a new era of mass extinction comparable to past eras.
The data depicted above is the estimated extinction rate of the living species on the planet in each era. According to the Living Planet Report put out in 2014 by the World Wildlife Fund, humans have killed up to half of the wildlife on the planet in the last 40 years (World Wildlife Fund). And according to the Living Planet Report put out in 2016, this level of decline could increase to two-thirds by 2020.
Yet it could get even worse. A study published in the scientific journal Nature estimated that humans could soon be responsible for killing 75% of the life on the planet (Nature), which would mean that humans will soon preside over an extinction era comparable to the event that killed the dinosaurs 66 million years ago. However, when considering that up to half of the life on the planet has been killed off in a mere 40 years, we at World Future Fund believe it is much more likely that humans will preside over an era of extinction comparable to the Permian Extinction, an event that killed around 90% of the life on the planet.
According to a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Gerardo Ceballos, an ecology professor at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, and his co-authors, including well-known Stanford University biologist Paul Ehrlich, cite striking new evidence that populations of species we thought were common are suffering in unseen ways. "Earth's sixth mass extinction is more severe" than previously thought, the authors write. They say a major extinction event is "ongoing" and that there is only a small amount of time left to stop it. (CNN)
What is also eerie is that the Permian Extinction may have been caused by circumstances similar to the causes of global warming today. A team of researchers from Canada, Italy, Germany and the US say they have discovered what caused the Permian Extinction. According to a paper published in the journal Palaeoworld, volcanic eruptions pumped large amounts of carbon dioxide into the air, causing average temperatures to rise by eight to 11°C. This melted vast amounts of methane that had been trapped in the permafrost and sea floor, causing temperatures to soar even further to levels lethal to most life on land and in the oceans.
Professor Peter Wadhams, head of the Polar Ocean Physics Group at Cambridge University, has said, “If there were a large methane release, which is now possible because of the instability of the methane hydrates underneath the Arctic continental shelves, the off-shore waters, that could quite easily give rise to a very large [methane] pulse.” He was one of the authors of a paper in the journal Nature, which suggested it was possible for a truly vast amount of frozen methane to be released over just 10 years – a blink of an eye in geological terms, which could theoretically lead to similar events that caused the Permian Extinction (Independent).
The Permian Extinction holds an important lesson for humanity regarding the issues we faces today, with greenhouse gas emissions, global warming, and climate change.
Source for percentage of species killed in first five extinction eras
Raup, D.; Sepkoski Jr, J. (1982). "Mass extinctions in the marine fossil record". Science. 215 (4539): 1501–1503. Bibcode:1982Sci...215.1501R. doi:10.1126/science.215.4539.1501
Source for projected rate of species that will be killed by human activity
Nature 3-2-2011. Has the Earth’s sixth mass extinction already arrived?
Source for current percentage of species killed in modern era
Portrait of Our Planet: A Collection of Charts and Pictures (World Future Fund) (PDF)
Living Planet Report 2016
According to this report, around two-thirds of the world's wildlife could be dead by 2020.
Living Planet Report 2014 (PDF)
According to this report, around 50% of the world's wildlife has been killed off since the 1970's.
Biological annihilation via the ongoing sixth mass extinction signaled by vertebrate population losses and declines (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 5-23-17)
Methane Hydrate: Killer cause of Earth's greatest mass extinction (Science Direct, December 2016)
Has the Earth’s sixth mass extinction already arrived? (Nature, 3-3-11)
Sahney S & Benton MJ (2008). "Recovery from the most profound mass extinction of all time". Proceedings of the Royal Society: Biological 275 (1636): 759–65.
Global Environmental Crisis (Top news stories on the environmental crisis)
The International Union for Conservation Red List is widely recognized as one of the most comprehensive sources on the conservation status of plant and animal species. Currently the list has data on 45,000 different species.
Web Site on Extinctions Human beings are exterminating other forms of life at the highest rate in millions of years.
Mass Extinction Event (Wikipedia)
Sixth mass extinction: The era of 'biological annihilation' (CNN, 7-11-17)
Study: We've wiped out half the world's wildlife since 1970 (VOX, 9-30-14)
Are We in the Midst Of a Sixth Mass Extinction? (New York Times, 6-1-12)
Extinction Threat, A Call to World Leaders at Rio Earth Summit: (CNN World News, 6-20-12)
According to the article above: 41% of amphibians, 25% of mammals, 13% of birds, 30% of conifers and 20% of all plants are all threatened with extinction.
One in Five Mammals Threatened With Extinction (Common Dreams, 11-3-09)
The survival of 17,921 species is in jeopardy.
Almost 50% Of The World's Primates Are In Danger Of Extinction (CNN, 8-5-08)
Habitat destruction as well as hunting are the greatest threats to primates today.