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Biodiversity Loss Worst in Human History – 1 Million Animal Species Risk Extinction

A newly weaned Hawaiian monk seal pup rests at Trig Island, French Frigate Shoals.
A newly weaned Hawaiian monk seal pup rests at Trig Island, French Frigate Shoals. The Hawaiian Monk seal is in imminent danger of extinction; the Caribbean Monk seal became extinct in the 20th century. (Photo: Mark Sullivan)

“More than 40% of amphibian species, almost 33% of reef-forming corals and more than a third of all marine mammals are threatened.”

One million animal species are currently threatened with extinction, according to a landmark new report by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystems (IPBES). The report finds that nature is being eroded far more rapidly than previously thought, and declares transformational action must be taken to avert irreversible damage to the biosphere.

As Axios first reported, the IBPES report is the first-ever global analysis of the state of nature, including not only the impact of climate change, but also overfishing and hunting, pollution, and overpopulation. The report’s 310 contributing authors detail the specific life forms most vulnerable to extinction:

“The average abundance of native species in most major land-based habitats has fallen by at least 20%, mostly since 1900. More than 40% of amphibian species, almost 33% of reef-forming corals and more than a third of all marine mammals are threatened. The picture is less clear for insect species, but available evidence supports a tentative estimate of 10% being threatened. At least 680 vertebrate species had been driven to extinction since the 16th century and more than 9% of all domesticated breeds of mammals used for food and agriculture had become extinct by 2016, with at least 1,000 more breeds still threatened.”

‘Interconnected Web of Life Increasingly Frayed’

Beyond the tragedy of losing biological diversity, these findings show how disruptions in food chains directly harm human civilization. Coral reefs, for example, are an essential part of marine food chains and assist with nutrient recycling, and some estimates show that over one billion people depend on them for food.

“The essential, interconnected web of life on Earth is getting smaller and increasingly frayed,” said Josef Settele, a biologist who co-chaired the study.

Oceana senior advisor Philip Chou referred to the involvement of plastic waste in threatening marine life:

“We are seeing alarming increases in the deaths of fish, marine mammals and turtles ingesting plastics. These plastics break apart in the ocean into microscopic particles [that are] consumed by fish, fish we now eat.”

But It’s Not Too Late…

While the report paints a grim picture of the route humanity is taking, it explicitly states it is not too late to prevent the worst consequences of biodiversity loss and climate change. Sir Robert Watson, chair of the report, wrote a column in The Guardian expressing his view on potential solutions, including a transformation of agricultural practices. Watson makes the point that if food waste were a country, it would rank as the third worst source of carbon emissions in the world, after China and the United States:

“We need to redirect government subsidies towards more sustainable and regenerative farming. This will not only contribute towards absorbing carbon and reducing the emissions of other greenhouse gases, it can also halt a frightening trajectory where farmland is so overloaded that eventually it just stops growing crops.”

Axios commented that while the report will likely be dismissed by the Trump administration and other climate skeptics, it will give further legitimacy to burgeoning climate movements and progressive leaders campaigning for rapid change.

Peter Castagno

Peter Castagno is a co-owner Citizen Truth.

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