As time continues to pass, humanity sees more clearly its harmful effects on the environment. The wave of environmentalism is growing large enough to grab the attention of many governments as humanity quickly approaches irreversible damage to the planet. Some researchers have coined the term of the sixth mass extinction and explore how humans have contributed to the acceleration of this wave of mass extinction and how they can prevent it.
The five previous mass extinctions–Ordovician, Devonian, Permian, Triassic, and Cretaceous–provide a foundation for guidance and warning for the current sixth wave. By considering and examining the effects of these previous waves, researchers can evaluate the measure of harm the sixth wave can bring and how far humanity is into the sixth wave. Important effects of measuring and research are the loss of biodiversity, the rate at which biodiversity is decreasing, and the groups of animals affected by rapid environmental changes.
What is the Sixth Mass Extinction?
Some primary anthropogenic actions are the destruction of habitats (e.g., deforestation and mining), pollution, over-harvesting, and the transport of invasive species into foreign ecosystems (Wake). All these actions have already resulted in a massive decline in biodiversity and continue to affect biodiversity negatively. While there have been many newly discovered species and even more that have yet to be discovered, there has also been an increase in extinction rates. This increase in the rate at which the planet is losing biodiversity is the root of the sixth extinction. Furthermore, some researchers believe we are already living in the sixth mass extinction that began thousands of years ago.
The Undeniable Decline of Amphibians
Researchers have provided a substantial amount of evidence proving the destructive impact of humans on the global environment. There have been significant changes in the climate that affect various species and a clear decline of studied species. For example, amphibians have shown a drastic decrease in species and are at the greatest risk of going extinct as a taxon altogether. The moist skin of amphibians and the manner in which they respirate mean that amphibians have direct and intimate contact with their environment, making them dangerously vulnerable to even the most minute of changes in the chemical composition or the slightest change in the temperature of their habitat. Since the late 1980s, many species of frogs have been studied to determine if the decline of these animals was an actual threat or simply localized fluctuations. The results proved that forty percent of the species of frogs being studied in Costa Rica had become entirely extinct.
Humanity Can Prevent the Sixth Extinction
An immensely harmful aspect of the sixth extinction is the current low and steady extinction rates. To curb this wave of extinction, slowing the current rates of extinction is extremely important. Reducing these rates solves most environmental problems: decreasing the anthropogenic carbon footprint. For example, when the hole in the ozone layer was shown to be undergoing extremely harmful and seemingly irreversible damage caused by the emission of greenhouse gases and the destruction of forests, a movement of minding individual carbon footprints emerged. Although reducing the carbon footprint of a single household would not be impactful, if large corporations adopt more restrictive production methods, the planet could begin to heal without having to take on additional pollutants and foreign effects from humans.
As with the various other diseases that plague the planet, extinction rates are propelled by human activity and lack of care for their role in the environment. Raising awareness for the real and looming threat of a mass extinction could bring needed attention to help more people care about healing the planet.
Wake, David B., and Vance T. Vredenburg. “Are we in the midst of the sixth mass extinction? A view from the world of amphibians.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 105.Supplement 1 (2008): 11466-11473.