The Sixth Great Extinction
Scientists say we’re in the sixth great extinction of life on Earth. Plants and animals are going extinct at a rate 100 to 1,000 times faster than what was normal for millions of years until the arrival of homo sapiens. Us.
The last great extinction was probably caused by an asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs, which had roamed the Earth for 180 million years. By nature’s time scales, our impact is also an explosion. The difference is that we have choice. We can change course. We don’t have to make flaming asteroids of ourselves.
In 200,000 years humans progressed from hunter-gatherers to farmers to genetic engineers. We went from gathering the gifts of nature to cultivating them to breeding them to re-engineering them. Our population, our technology and our impact on the natural world have grown exponentially, with major transformational changes taking place over millennia, then centuries, and now decades.
We really don’t know how many species of life inhabit this planet. It’s at least in the millions. But we do know that we’re losing species at an “unprecedented” and accelerating pace, according to a UN report. A million species are considered at risk, many within the next decades.
We too are at risk, because we depend on this incomprehensibly diverse, complex web of life for its so-called ecological services, such as providing oxygen, purifying water, stabilizing the climate and pollinating our crops.
So we seem to be at an evolutionary crossroads, where we have the choice of continuing to evolve into a presumably higher form of life or collapsing into something more primitive, perhaps going extinct ourselves. The outcome depends heavily on our food system.