A disturbing reality: the sixth mass extinction


Mass extinctions are often seen as merely a part of distant history, not as something that could have a detrimental impact on our current human population. Scientists believe that continuous harmful human activity has impacted the animal kingdom enough to lead us into a sixth mass extinction-- the first one that humans have been around for and have supposedly caused. The past five mass extinctions, named the Ordovician-Silurian, Late Devonian, Permian, Triassic-Jurassic and Cretaceous-Tertiary extinctions, have mostly been due to the natural changing of the earth’s environment as it progressed towards its current state.

The question of whether human activity has had such an impact on the environment has become controversial, causing tension between avid environmentalists and those who believe the environment is solely for human use.

“We kind of see ourselves at the top of the food chain,” biology teacher Jaime Gilbert

said. “We’re actually like another animal that’s part of a food chain and part of an ecosystem.”

This is often the mindset of environmentalists who believe that humans must coexist with nature and do so by continuously keeping in mind the impact of human activity on the environment regarding primarily economic and urban development.

“We have a lot of urban sprawl and development that destroys certain habitats for certain plant and animal species that can’t be replaced,” Gilbert said.

Along with habitat destruction, the hunting and poaching of animals has been shown to

have major effects on ecosystems worldwide; prevention efforts have not completely halted these illegal activities, as poachers continue to gain more profit for rarer and endangered species.

“As things become more rare, it’s simple economics, they become more valuable,” AP

Environmental Science and Biology teacher Jessica Timmons said.

The cause of habitat disruption leading to the harm of species is not always from a point

source. Scientists have proven that dependence on nonrenewable energy such as coal and oil contributes to the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere which has supposedly worsened the effects of global climate change and displaces species by making certain environments uninhabitable.

“There are a lot of specialists-- organisms found in very specific environments-- and we

are altering those environments,” Timmons said.

Certain resources that humans depend on have the potential to be affected by the

depletion of certain species. For example, seven species of yellow-faced bees, insects vital to the production of agriculture and one third of the bites of food humans eat, have been added to the endangered species list in the past year.

“At some point there will be enough species lost that one of them will impact our ability

to survive,” Gilbert said.

Economics seems to play an important role in influencing the scope of human activity’s

impact. Although the mass extinction can no longer be prevented, individual and communal effort is required to seek further solutions for environmental change.

“We influence the environment and in turn, the environment influences us,” Timmons

said.

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