May 18, 2011
Recent decades have seen an accelerated extinction of wild plants and animals throughout the world, the scope and speed of which is unprecedented. We are bombarded with bad news about this on a daily basis across all media. One day, we are asked not to eat tuna or cod. The next, the focus shifts to who will pollinate our fruit trees if the world’s bee population dies out. How will we make our furniture in the future if climate change wipes out all of our spruce trees? And where can we enjoy some recreational snorkeling if entire coral reefs are transformed into dead haunted castles?
This loss of biodiversity is not a natural catastrophe; it has been caused by a single, massively dominant species of mammal: humankind. More than 10 million plant and animal species currently inhabit our planet. Each year, thousands of them disappear even before biologists have a chance to name them. The global causes of this mass extinction include the deforestation of large areas of rainforest, pollution and warming seas. The Living Planet Index 2008, produced by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and based on trends in 4,000 populations of 1,500 known species, shows an overall decline of 27 percent in the world’s biodiversity between 1970 and 2005. The decline is most noticeable in the Asia-Pacific region.
The Red Lists of endangered species published by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) provides the most accurate information on the global decline in the diversity of species. The figures in the 2009 report give cause for alarm: 17,291 species – more than one third of the 47,677 species that were studied – are threatened with extinction. Among vertebrates, for example, one in eight birds, one in five mammals and one in three amphibian species were considered at risk; 277 known species (excluding fish) have already disappeared in the last few hundred years, but not one single new species has emerged.