Half Of All Species Will Be Extinct By The End Of The Century

Although wildlife populations are set to heavily decline, human populations will increase by billions.

Latest figures reveal that one in five species on Earth are now facing extinction, which is due to rise to 50% before the end of the century unless urgent changes are made now. A group of the world’s leading biologists, ecologists and economists will gather in a few days time to discuss these figures and strategically determine the social and economic changes needed to save the planet’s biosphere, according to recent reports. Organizers of the Biological Extinction conference, that is being held at the Vatican this week have said, “The living fabric of the world is slipping through our fingers without our showing much sign of caring.”

The male Regent Honeyeater is an Australian Endangered Bird. Dean Ingwersen

The male Regent Honeyeater is an Australian Endangered Bird. Dean Ingwersen

Although the constantly depleting numbers of well-known animals such as elephants, rhinos, and tigers are frequently in the news, there are many other life forms that are quickly becoming eradicated which are not so heavily publicized, meaning that the issue is a lot worse than the majority of people realize. The conference will examine the human population’s heavy reliance on the natural world for food and medicine, including things such as purifying water and air, absorbing carbon emissions from cars and factories, regenerating soil, and providing an aesthetic inspiration. Biologist Paul Ehrlich, from Stanford University in California, said, “Rich western countries are now siphoning up the planet’s resources and destroying its ecosystems at an unprecedented rate. We want to build highways across the Serengeti to get more rare earth minerals for our cellphones. We grab all the fish from the sea, wreck the coral reefs and put carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. We have triggered a major extinction event. The question is: how do we stop it?”

Australian endangered species: Woylie    Flickr/Arthur Chapman

Australian endangered species: Woylie  

Flickr/Arthur Chapman

Ehrlich, who is speaking at the meeting, believes that the consistent growth of the human population is a key issue in the depleting populations of wildlife. He believes that wider use of birth control is needed to halt the world’s spiraling population, and told the Observer, “If you value people, you want to have the maximum number you can support sustainably. You do not want almost 12 billion living unsustainably on Earth by the end of the century – with the result that civilization will collapse and there are only a few hundred survivors.” He believes that if the world population was around one billion, then this would create a pro-life effect, which would be much more sustainable for future generations compared to the current uncontrolled growth. Biologist Professor Peter Raven, of the Missouri Botanical Garden, who is also attending the conference, agrees and says that “By the beginning of the next century we face the prospect of losing half our wildlife. Yet we rely on the living world to sustain ourselves. It is very frightening. The extinctions we face pose an even greater threat to civilization than climate change – for the simple reason they are irreversible.”

Past UN statistics have suggested that the global population is set to increase from the current 7.4 billion to 11.2 billion by 2100, with the majority of these extra billions appearing in Africa where fertility rates are currently twice that of the rest of the world. Economist and conference attendee Sir Partha Dasgupta from Cambridge University said, “[Africa’s] population is likely to go from roughly one billion now to around 4 billion. Can you imagine what tensions there are going to be there, especially with climate change coming and hitting the continent more than anywhere else? What do you think is going to happen when the arid regions spread, and a hundred million Africans try to swim across the Mediterranean? It is terrifying.” He adds that it is crucial to put the problem of biological extinctions in a social context, “That gives us a far better opportunity of working out what we need to in the near future. We have to act quickly, however.” Ehrlich agreed by adding, “We are wrecking our planet’s life support systems. We have the capacity to stop that. The trouble is that the danger does not seem obvious to most people, and that is something we must put right.”

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Australia is one of the most important nations on Earth for biodiversity. In fact, Australia is one of only 17 “megadiverse” nations and is home to more species than any other developed country.

Most of Australia’s wildlife is found nowhere else in the world, making its conservation even more important. 87% of our mammal species, 93% of reptiles, 94% of frogs and 45% of our bird species are found only in Australia.

Sadly, however, Australia is facing an extinction crisis. Australia has the worst mammal extinction rate in the world: 30 native mammals have become extinct since European settlement. To put this in a global context, 1 out of 3 mammal extinctions in the last 400 years have occurred in Australia.

More than 1,700 species of animals and plants are listed by the Australian Government as being at risk of extinction. Around 30% of our surviving (non-bat) mammal species are threatened with extinction.

The primary factors causing this loss of wildlife include:

  • Feral cats and foxes. For example, feral cats kill an estimated 75 million native animals every night across Australia.
  • Feral herbivores including pigs, goats, rabbits, donkeys, horses, camels, buffalo and feral cattle.
  • Changes in fire regimes, especially an increase in the extent and severity of wildfires.
  • Clearing native vegetation.
  • Weeds.

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