Population Matters

Sixth mass extinction underway

Sixth mass extinction underway

A study published last week in the journal Science Advances indicates that a sixth mass extinction of animal and plant species has begun and human activity is the primary cause.


“Species are disappearing up to about 100 times faster than the normal rate,” said Stanford University Woods Institute for the Environment professor and Population Matters patron Paul Ehrlich, who is one of the authors of the study. “There are examples of species all over the world that are essentially the walking dead.”

About 25 per cent of mammal species are currently at risk of becoming extinct. Members of many of the species at risk, among which are the South China tiger, Sumatran elephant and Gulf porpoise, exist only in captivity.

The Living Planet Report published last year by the World Wildlife Fund supports the conclusions of the researchers. The report indicates that “populations of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish (have) declined by 52 per cent since 1970.”

“If (the mass extinction) is allowed to continue, life will take many millions of years to recover,” said Gerardo Ceballos of the Universidad Autónoma de México, who is another author of the study. “Our own species would likely disappear early on.”


“Avoiding a true sixth mass extinction will require rapid, greatly intensified efforts to conserve the many already threatened species and to alleviate pressures on their populations — notably habitat loss, overexploitation for economic gain and climate change,” the authors of the study state.

Underlying the causes of the mass extinction is the growth of our population. It is no coincidence that while wildlife populations have declined by more than half since 1970, the size of our own population has more than doubled. As David Attenborough, another of our patrons, has said, “All our environmental problems become easier to solve with fewer people and harder — and ultimately impossible — to solve with ever more people.”

There are many ways in which individuals can help to preserve species. We urge you to do so — not only their future but our own is at stake.

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