Chronicling Sixth Great Extinction

Jan Libourel

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Well, the slaughter of elephants and rhinos in Africa and (to a lesser extent in Asia because they're already rare there) is certainly deplorable, but on the brighter side, large mammals have made a great comeback in the "Northern Tier." There are somewhere between 20 and 40 million deer in the USA alone, five million wild hogs, close to a million black bear in the USA and Canada (in California their numbers have trebled in the past 30 years, and mountain lions have increase tenfold), moose have increased their range in some parts of the country. Bison have been brought back from the brink of extinction to number in the hundreds of thousands. Not mammals, but alligators have made a remarkable comeback as well: From being endangered, they now number in the millions. Large mammals like wild boar, bear and wolves have made comebacks over much of Europe. All in all, the status of the world's larger wildlife is complex. The slaughter of elephants and rhinos is certainly heartbreaking, but the overall picture is by no means all gloom and doom.
 

LelandJ

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I live in bear country and my friends tell me most of the bears they see are sick and diseased, which is a real shame because then they can't eat them after killing them if they become a nuisance.

Population booms of a few species means nothing, and more often bad than good for local environments, with overall diversity and health decreasing rapidly.

The overall picture is absolutely doom and gloom but I don't expect the average person to have the psychological capacity to accept reality.
 

Jan Libourel

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^Unduly pessimistic. At least the bears I see on TV that jump into swimming pools on the periphery of Greater Los Angeles look fat and sassy, hale and hearty, although I suppose the ongoing drought may start to take a toll on them.
 

John Lee Pettimore III

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The overall picture is absolutely doom and gloom but I don't expect the average person to have the psychological capacity to accept reality.
I'd question why you continue living if the world is so terrible, but I don't want to do anything that would deprive the world of your dazzling brilliance. Your psychological capacity for doom and gloom is simply astounding. If only everyone thought the way you do, the world would be such a better place.
 

LelandJ

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I'd question why you continue living if the world is so terrible, but I don't want to do anything that would deprive the world of your dazzling brilliance. Your psychological capacity for doom and gloom is simply astounding. If only everyone thought the way you do, the world would be such a better place.
Denial
Anger
Bargaining
Depression
Acceptance
Depression
Brilliance
 

Rambo

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Humans to Go Extinct in Three, Two— | Ian Welsh

So, a very conservative study on the rate of species going extinct has come up with the following:



One hundred and fourteen times faster than the normal background rate.

“If it is allowed to continue, life would take many millions of years to recover, and our species itself would likely disappear early on,” lead author Gerardo Ceballos of the Universidad Autonoma de Mexico said…

Cheerful.

This is the point where a sane species would be in a controlled panic.

Which brings us to Laudato Si. The obvious issue with Luadato Si is Pope Francis sticking to current church doctrine against birth control. It is incontrovertible that every person has a carrying load for the planet.

But Francis makes a great number of good points, starting with the fact that we are vastly wasteful. It is not that we have necessarily surpassed the Earth’s carrying capacity in theory (only in fact). Half the food in America, for example, is wasted. Suburbs are vastly wasteful. Lawns are idiocy. Most of our buildings use far more energy than they need to. Improved agricultural methods can produce up to ten times as much produce on the same amount of land, for less water. Urban indoor agriculture using LEDs is showing great promise. Centralized manufacturing, which requires concentrated power which cannot yet be provided by renewables could be decentralized even with out current tech, and within fifteen years or so we could radically decentralize it.

And so on. There are more good ideas than one could possibly list. These ideas would allow us to support our current population on much less land and allow the environment to renew itself. We could massively reduce carbon output at the same time, stop overfishing the seas, and everyone would still be fed, have a place to live, and so on. Yes, most suburbs would be a thing of the past, but the question of “suburbs” vs. “human survival” shouldn’t be a hard one.

All of this would probably not be enough.

Yeah, sorry.

We’ve left it too late. The issue is the carbon and other hothouse gases already in the environment. They are so high that we will see release of methane from the arctic, both land and sea. This has already begun. It will continue. Even entirely stopping carbon tomorrow (which is impossible) likely wouldn’t be enough. Cutting carbon by half would definitely not be enough.

We needed to be acting back in the 1980s when climate change science first became overwhelmingly likely to be true.

We didn’t. An alien species studying our extinction, should it come to that, will only be able to conclude we did it to ourselves.

What I’m seeing is that we are on the wrong side of a self-reinforcing cycle.

We’re going to need geo-engineering. It’s messy and we’ll probably screw it up, but we don’t have much choice left.

Because there is a chance that even doing everything right, we’ll still go extinct (especially if we bork the oxygen cycle, a non-zero possibility), we need to be crashing biospheres. We’ve never made biospheres work before; we cannot create artificial environments cut off from the world which work. We need to.

That understanding will be very useful in any scenario–from cleanup of major, but not catastrophic, environmental damage, to triage on a crashing ecosystem, to saving a breeding population in a world which no longer supports humans.

A sane humanity, who self-governed in ways that made sense, and which was concerned with the welfare of their children, would have headed off most of this. A not-completely-insane humanity who had failed to take action before would now be making this the highest world priority.

We are doing neither.

Instead, our best and brightest are figuring out the best possible ways to serve ads, creating the most impressive mass-surveillance system the world has ever seen, and playing leveraged financial games which are resulting in austerity for much of the world. Destroying the human resources which we should be using to save ourselves (and so many other species, who have done nothing to “deserve” their extinction).

One can argue, and many will, that this is entirely the fault of our rulers. Maybe, maybe not, but it won’t matter when we’re all dead, and I’m not seeing widespread revolts because of mismanagement. And hey, if worse comes to worst, and enclaves are set up to save a small breeding population, remember, it’s the “leaders” who did most of the damage who will get into them.

You won’t. Your children won’t. You live or die with saving the Earth.

Probably you die.

But, then, most people probably figure they’ll die before the environmental collapse gets them. If they’re at least middle-aged, they’ll probably win that bet.

Their kids won’t. Too bad for them. Loved them enough to do everything except save their lives from a completely predictable threat.
 

Jan Libourel

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The problem with that bar graph is that scientific taxonomy was pretty much unknown until about 1800, so we really don't know how many species went extinct in the centuries immediately prior to that time. A vast number of species were discovered and identified since 1900. Many of these were tiny local species or, very often, subspecies whose difference from the nominate species is controversial.

And there are some heartening comebacks. I can recall reading a column describing threatened species sorrowfully carrying "Osprey" to her funeral. Now I see them near my house with considerable frequency, thanks to the banning of DDT. I recently read an article stating that the grizzly might be extinct in the Lower 48 by mid-century, there being only about 1,500 of them here now. This ignored the fact that this is at least double the number that were around when I was a young man.
 

LelandJ

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Plankton eat plastic? Why am I recycling plastic then?
Most recycling's a literal scam anyways, gets shipped and dumped on the coast of India and China.

Kinda my thought. Those pictures seem to indicate species flourishing, but I guess it's bad because it's the wrong type of species or something. Diversity, change, and invasive aliens are all horrific to the modern environmental movement.
You didn't know there's been a 50% die-off of plankton in the oceans during your lifetime?
 

LelandJ

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Every summer, the Yellow Sea turns green as a thick carpet of algae covers the beaches of Shangdong Province, eastern China. People living in Qingdao and nearby coastal towns have grown accustomed to their beaches looking more like verdant meadows every July.
Oh you really believe this existed before pollution?
 

John Lee Pettimore III

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On the bright side, upon which you, Rambo and the thousands of people whose livelihood depends on this sort of thing can't bear to look...

http://www.rationaloptimist.com/blog/counting-species-out/

But now that most of these accidental introductions to islands have happened, the rate of extinctions is dropping, not rising, at least among birds and mammals. Bird and mammal extinctions peaked at 1.6 a year around 1900 and have since dropped to about 0.2 a year. Wilson's 27,000 a year should be producing (pro rata) 26 bird and 13 mammal extinctions a year. Myers would predict even more.

Moreover, according to an analysis by the scholar Willis Eschenbach, of the 190 bird and mammal species that have gone extinct globally in the past 500 years, as recorded on the comprehensive list kept by the American Museum of Natural History, just nine were continental species (if you count Australia as an island, which in ecological terms it is).

They were, in chronological order: the bluebuck, the Labrador duck, the Algerian gazelle, the Carolina parakeet, the slender-billed grackle, the passenger pigeon, the Colombian grebe, the Atitlán grebe and the Omilteme cottontail rabbit. Only the last three vanished after the Second World War - and for all three there is some debate as to whether they were full species or sub-species. Not a single one of the nine went extinct because of forest loss or climate change. Most succumbed to hunting, or, in the case of grebes, introduced predatory fish.

Eschenbach says: "This lack of even one continental forest bird or mammal extinction, in a record encompassing 500 years of massive cutting, burning, harvesting, inundating, clearing and general widespread destruction and fragmentation of forests on all the continents of the world, provides a final and clear proof that the species-area relationship simply does not work to predict extinctions."

There are plenty more species that are threatened, endangered and of concern, some of which are probably irretrievable. A desperate attempt is under way to take eggs from Siberian nests of the last 100 or so pairs of spoon-billed sandpipers and rear chicks in captivity. Yet, remarkably, we have doubled the human population since 1965 while reducing, rather than increasing, the extinction rate of wild species, especially in the most industrialised countries. It is now 167 years since a bird native to Europe went globally extinct (the great auk), though the slender-billed curlew is almost certainly now gone. Of course the extinction rate of lesser creatures than birds and mammals may be accelerating, but there is no hard evidence either way.

I am not denigrating the efforts of those who try to prevent extinctions. I have three times worked on projects to avert the extirpation of birds - the western tragopan, the cheer pheasant and the lesser florican, all still extant but rare. But the constant repetition of the baseless meme that we are causing a mass extinction 100 or 1,000 times as fast as the natural background extinction rate is counter-productive.
Again, my point is not to ignore the damage, it is to highlight the progress and focus us on habitat conservation, rather than largely symbolic efforts to reduce carbon emissions.
 
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John Lee Pettimore III

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Also, if any of you actually are interested in biology/ecology and not just supplanting doom-and-gloom enviro-stuff for the religious behaviors you evolved, look into the genetics of the North Atlantic Right Whale. Absolutely fascinating stuff.
 

Jan Libourel

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On the bright side, upon which you, Rambo and the thousands of people whose livelihood depends on this sort of thing can't bear to look...

http://www.rationaloptimist.com/blog/counting-species-out/



Again, my point is not to ignore the damage, it is to highlight the progress and focus us on habitat conservation, rather than largely symbolic efforts to reduce carbon emissions.
Some of the "Rational Optimist's" claims are questionable. For instance, in claiming only nine continental species had gone extinct in the past 500 years, he omits the aurochs, the quagga (a zebra-like critter once found in South Africa) and the sea mink (although the latter may just be a subspecies), and those are just off the top of my head, and I am not even a naturalist!
 

John Lee Pettimore III

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I love that you questioned the article, but he's not that wrong (I was dubious at first too). Surprised the hell out of me, but when you factor out subspecies, it becomes a little more plausible.

Wiki has possibly eleven, but two are questionable:
Auroch
Giant Vampire bat (although it's someone uncertain it lasted until 500 years ago)
Blueback (an African antelope)
Tarpan
Passenger pigeon
Heath hen (possibly only a subspecies of the prairie chicken)
Crescent nail-tail wallaby
Red-bellied gracile possum
Sea mink
Quagga
Dusky seaside sparrow

A few right around the time the article was published:
Atitlan grebe
Pyrenean ibex
Japanese river otter

It is, however, a rather cherry-picked statement. Ignores subspecies, island species, and everything except birds and mammals.
 
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John Lee Pettimore III

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Of course the concept of species is fascinating. Heraclitus (i.e. "you never step into the same river twice") would point out that species are constantly changing and that with every birth or death, a new species has formed. But that's difficult as hell to administer, so....
 
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