Largest extinction since dinosaurs is happening now, experts say

SHARE Largest extinction since dinosaurs is happening now, experts say

Tigger, a Siberian tiger at the Six Flags Great Adventure Safari, yawns as he tries to stay cool while sitting in a pond at the Jackson, N.J., theme park in this July 6, 1999 file photo. Back in 2002, the United Nations said a quarter of the world’s mammal species could face extinction within 30 years. Now the organization says a “mass extinction” is already underway. | AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast, File

Up to a million species are at risk of extinction because of human activities, according to a United Nations report scheduled for official release next week.

“Half a million to a million species are projected to be threatened with extinction, many within decades,” says a draft copy of the report obtained by the French news outlet Agence France-Presse.

The reasons for the mass extinction include shrinking habitat, illegal hunting, climate change and pollution, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

The draft says the pace of species loss “is already tens to hundreds of times higher than it has been, on average, over the last 10 million years.”

Many experts say a “mass extinction event” – only the sixth in the past half-billion years – is already underway. This is the first extinction event since the dinosaurs were wiped out by an asteroid that slammed into the Earth 66 million years ago.

“A quarter of catalogued animal and plant species are already being crowded, eaten or poisoned out of existence,” the report states.

A summary of the report, officially known as the Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, will be released May 6 by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services.

“The loss of species, ecosystems and genetic diversity is already a global and generational threat to human well-being,” said Robert Watson, chair of the group that’s preparing the report at a meeting this week in Paris

“Protecting the invaluable contributions of nature to people will be the defining challenge of decades to come,” Watson said.

The report is also the first global assessment ever to systematically examine and include indigenous and local knowledge, issues and priorities, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council.

“This report should help us understand that the signals of natural ecosystem collapse are symptoms of our collective human patterns, including consumption, resource exploitation and inequalities in economic and political power,” said Zak Smith, senior attorney for the defense council’s nature program.

“The only way we’re going to save our planet and ourselves is if we firmly break with the failed systems of the past and embark on a new human journey,” Smith said. “It won’t be easy, but we don’t have a choice. It’s time to engage as if our lives depend on it because they do.”

According to the U.N. group, the report is being prepared “by 150 leading international experts from 50 countries, balancing representation form the natural and social sciences, with additional contributions from a further 310 experts.”

Three years in development, at a total cost of more than $2.4 million, the assessment draws on nearly 15,000 references, including scientific papers and government information.


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