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Earth Science

Era of 'Biological Annihilation' Is Underway, Scientists Warn (theguardian.com) 359

Tatiana Schlossberg reports via The New York Times (Warning: source may be paywalled, alternate source): From the common barn swallow to the exotic giraffe, thousands of animal species are in precipitous decline, a sign that an irreversible era of mass extinction is underway, new research finds. The study, published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, calls the current decline in animal populations a "global epidemic" and part of the "ongoing sixth mass extinction" caused in large measure by human destruction of animal habitats. The previous five extinctions were caused by natural phenomena. Dr. Ceballos emphasized that he and his co-authors, Paul R. Ehrlich and Rodolfo Dirzo, both professors at Stanford University, are not alarmists, but are using scientific data to back up their assertions that significant population decline and possible mass extinction of species all over the world may be imminent, and that both have been underestimated by many other scientists. The study's authors looked at reductions in a species' range -- a result of factors like habitat degradation, pollution and climate change, among others -- and extrapolated from that how many populations have been lost or are in decline, a method that they said is used by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. They found that about 30 percent of all land vertebrates -- mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians -- are experiencing declines and local population losses. In most parts of the world, mammal populations are losing 70 percent of their members because of habitat loss.
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Era of 'Biological Annihilation' Is Underway, Scientists Warn

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  • by courteaudotbiz ( 1191083 ) on Wednesday July 12, 2017 @10:36PM (#54798283) Homepage
    Earth will survive. If we are dumb enough to destroy everything, then maybe a more intelligent lifeform will thrive. Or if we do not get entirely extinct, Darwinism will be the rule once again. Only the best will survive. Only those who can adapt.
    • Sort of... the carboniferous period isn't going to happen again now that there are enzymes to digest lignin, so any future life will be much worse off than us at developing the tech needed to leave Earth. "Well, we won't kill all the ants" is kind of a Pyrrhic victory.
      • But if you think in the millions and billions of years (well not too many billions, or the sun will get too hot), anything could happen. We're not the most perfect thing that could exist. Maybe the most overall intelligent species right now, but certainly not perfect. I don't think mammals will be the dominant genus until Earth is engulfed into the Sun... Mammals have proven to have a hard time adapting to hot temps.
        • by MrL0G1C ( 867445 )

          The sun's getting hotter, it might not be billions of years, we may have just screwed the pooch by both increasing CO2 and killing enough life that was the balance to deal with that.

          We may well have just rocked the boat for the last time, the planet isn't going to last forever.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        Since this is all about habitat loss, which is mainly caused by people clearing land to make way for farmland, we already have a well known proven effective solution to minimize the need for all of that: GMO. Unfortunately, groups like Greenpeace and pretty much every European government have dashed all hopes of that ever seeing global adoption, and the Democrats in the US figure it would be awesome if we made agriculture even less efficient and more wasteful than what we have now by pushing for everybody t

        • by arth1 ( 260657 ) on Thursday July 13, 2017 @01:46AM (#54798877) Homepage Journal

          Since this is all about habitat loss, which is mainly caused by people clearing land to make way for farmland, we already have a well known proven effective solution to minimize the need for all of that: GMO.

          There's another solution: Population control. Growth cannot be sustained indefinitely, and yield increases in food is only postponing an inevitable, and ensuring it is worse when it happens. Until we stop breeding as rabbits and depending on population growth to pay for our debts, GMO and similar "solutions" are like peeing your pants to keep warm.

          And if you had bothered to read TFA, you would have realized that GMOs kills biodiversity. We end up with fewer and fewer plant species, and fewer and fewer animals who can survive as other plant species have to give way. That's putting all your eggs in one basket. There's nothing to fall back on if the crops fail due to e.g. new diseases. Because all we have are a few GMOs, because it's the only thing profitable. Potato Famine 2.0 will happen one day. And it will be worse, because we have no biodiversity to fall back on.

          • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 ) <mojo&world3,net> on Thursday July 13, 2017 @07:14AM (#54799579) Homepage Journal

            Until we stop breeding as rabbits

            We already did: http://data.worldbank.org/indi... [worldbank.org]

            The continued population growth is because people are living longer, but it's levelling off. We are on target for about 10-11bn by the end of the century, which is sustainable with modern farming methods. The main issues now are all to do with the politics of handling the increase.

          • by rtb61 ( 674572 )

            The smarter move is GMO algae only. Fully genetically customised kelp, as the food source. Pretty much near anything is possible, with customised flavour, texture and trace elements, designed to grow in low light conditions. Large, multi story growing tanks, producing very high volumes of food, with hugely reduced land use and largely recycling water. Don't think stupid soylent green, think customised leaves large, plate sized, thick, with adjusted flavour and texture, peel and you have a steak. Storage pod

          • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

            by geekmux ( 1040042 )

            Since this is all about habitat loss, which is mainly caused by people clearing land to make way for farmland, we already have a well known proven effective solution to minimize the need for all of that: GMO.

            There's another solution: Population control.

            That solution is already in place and is being improved on every single day. One only has to look at our exiting laws to blatantly see that.

            Think governments care about preventing death? Fuck no. The legal status of a product like tobacco that kills over 400,000 Americans every year, ten times more than all other illegal products, paints a clear fucking picture as to its role in population control. Same goes for alcohol.

            Think we're really doing something about the obesity epidemic? Fuck no. We're mere

          • Until we stop breeding as rabbits

            We've already stopped breeding like rabbits. Virtually all the developed world now has sub-replacement fertility. So do less-developed countries like China and Brazil and Indonesia and Bangladesh, while India is pretty close to replacement. About the only place left that currently breeds "like rabbits" is sub-Saharan African. Allow for a few more decades of development, and their birthrates will probably plummet as well.

        • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 13, 2017 @02:48AM (#54799019)

          Again this idiocy. There is no shortage of food. There is an excess of population growth and rampant capitalism. GMOs only solve the cash problems of some corporations.

          • There is no shortage of food.

            Depends on how you consider the details :

            - Indeed, there's no shortage of food, if your target is just to feed the population and keep it alive.
            The planet can more or less roughly procude enough food to keep everyone alive.
            We *currently* are not at risk of becoming Soylent Green movie.

            - BUT if every single human being decided to eat as much (both in terms of volume, caloric intake, composition (meat vs. veggies), etc.) as the typical westerner, and use as much resource for everything else, you'd need about

        • Buying new seeds with a patent license every season instead of having them from your crops is a solution? Only for Monsanto's revenue growth. Ordinary crops can be grown without having to sign any license.
          • The vast majority of farmers already buy seeds every season, Monsanto or no Monsanto.

            It's simply the most efficient way to do it.

            • It's simply the most efficient way to do it.

              The most effective way to produce seed is to grow seed crops, not to try to save some percentage of seed from normal crops. But the corollary is that the cheapest seed crop ain't one that you've paid someone else to grow.

              • No farmer has unlimited land available. You also need to rotate crops for maximum yield, and it gets exponentially harder the more different crops you need to grow.

                Can you grow seed crops slightly cheaper yourself? Probably, but that is also one field that doesn't create any profit for you. It is cheaper to grow crops for consumption on every field, and buy seeds from someone who specializes in growing seed crops.

                • by drinkypoo ( 153816 ) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Thursday July 13, 2017 @07:59AM (#54799745) Homepage Journal

                  Can you grow seed crops slightly cheaper yourself? Probably, but that is also one field that doesn't create any profit for you. It is cheaper to grow crops for consumption on every field, and buy seeds from someone who specializes in growing seed crops.

                  That someone else is making a profit on the same activity in which they would engage. It doesn't use any more or less land when someone else does it. Maybe their farm is so small they don't have room for that activity, in which case if they're not already making a value-added product from their crop, they might as well bend over and kiss their own ass goodbye because their days as a farmer are numbered, and the number is small.

      • by arth1 ( 260657 )

        Sort of... the carboniferous period isn't going to happen again now that there are enzymes to digest lignin, so any future life will be much worse off than us at developing the tech needed to leave Earth.

        Also, if we wipe out too many higher organisms, the lower ones won't have as much time to evolve as the first time around. The sun is getting older, and is past its prime. In terms of a human lifespan, Sol is now in early retirement age. Life on Earth has been around for longer than the time until it bloats and starts eating up the inner planets.

    • by SeattleLawGuy ( 4561077 ) on Wednesday July 12, 2017 @11:53PM (#54798577)

      The planet is a rock, I don't care if it survives unless it turns out that it is an intelligent rock. I care that we survive, or failing that that our successors survive. And I care that some of our art survives: some of the beauty we have brought into the universe should be remembered, for a time.

    • May you be the first to off yourself for the greater good of the species...
    • by houghi ( 78078 )

      Please define "best". And I see no reason that humans could not be counted as the best in the future. We might be able to kill everything off and make food from the sun directly, cutting out the middle man.
      Not now, but perhaps in a few hundred or thousand years we might be able to survive without any other life forms.

    • Earth will survive. If we are dumb enough to destroy everything, then maybe a more intelligent lifeform will thrive. Or if we do not get entirely extinct, Darwinism will be the rule once again. Only the best will survive. Only those who can adapt.

      True - well, up to a point. I think it is a misunderstanding to think that "Darwinism" (ie. evolution by natural selection) doesn't rule human evolution just because we are better at controlling diseases etc. Humans and their civilisation are part of nature, just like ants and termites with their complex societies are. Natural selection doesn't care by which means we survive - we have found ways that include technology, that's all; we are still under natural selection. And "the fittest" are not necessarily

    • by Sique ( 173459 )
      It's not the "best" per se, as "the best" is defined by the current circumstances. Whatever works now good enough to survive, will survive now. If that's enough to survive tomorrow too, then it has a chance to survive tomorrow too.

      Survival in ecological terms is mainly about chance. Your personal traits influence the chances, but they don't warrant anything. And traits that are advantageous in one situation might reduce your chances in other situations. Being flashy might help you find a mate, but it does

    • by cheesybagel ( 670288 ) on Thursday July 13, 2017 @05:32AM (#54799315)

      No shit. I particularly appreciated this though:

      "Dr. Ceballos emphasized that he and his co-authors, Paul R. Ehrlich and Rodolfo Dirzo, both professors at Stanford University, are not alarmists"

      Ahahah. Nice joke.

    • by AK Marc ( 707885 )
      Silent Spring, and other ecological works have posited that the destruction wrought will cascade. The Earth will continue to spin, but we could do something like kill off all large mammals, or something like that. It'd be nearly impossible to kill all the fish or insects, but we could give it a try. Maybe if we make grey goo, then we could wipe out everything and prevent anything from living ever again.
    • I’ve found this reasoning specious ever since it was part of a George Carlin skit. The Earth is essentially a large rock that happens to have a thin coat of delicate living goo on it. The rock of course will go on. Now if that thin goo is reduced to just some kind of primitive microbial mat, well then yes the Earth and life has gone on, and evolution will kick in to start the climb again. But the whole “Earth will go on” statement seems to imply Earth and its ecosystem are just too big

    • by skam240 ( 789197 )

      Oh how profound of you. A man made mass extinction is underway and we should just sit back and enjoy the show cause "Darwinism"? That's not even of coherent thought.

  • And it won't stop (Score:2, Insightful)

    by fredrated ( 639554 )

    until we extinct ourselves.

    • Re: (Score:2, Offtopic)

      by Obfuscant ( 592200 )

      until we extinct ourselves.

      No, Mr. Little, the extinction of species will continue as long as there are species and change. We don't need to be here for it to happen. At least that's what Rexamundo, the T-Rex I keep in my basement, tells me. He speaks quite fondly of his boyhood chums Dippy the diplodocious and Pterry (who was a star on Pee Wee's Playhouse.)

  • by Tablizer ( 95088 ) on Wednesday July 12, 2017 @11:05PM (#54798407) Journal

    They haven't decided whether to call it the "Holocene extinction" or "Anthropocene extinction".

    How about the Covfefecene extinction?

    • The paper defines the period as 1900-2015. TFA lists the causes as "habitat loss, overexploitation, invasive organisms, pollution, toxification, and more recently climate disruption." Attributing it to climate change denial exclusively is a gross mischaracterization.
  • ... is that what we destroy, we can replace. We are at the beginning of a revolution in bioscience, the likes of which will dwarf the digital age. Plants and animals that can't adapt to the new world will be replaced with organisms that are ideal. Perhaps more importantly, we will adapt. Humans 100 years hence will little resemble ourselves. Our bodies will be much smaller and more efficient, our brains will be enhanced in several ways, our metabolism will be optimized and our lifespan will be vastly impro

    • by Boronx ( 228853 )

      I don't think we have the imagination to come up with the dog, for example.

      • by arth1 ( 260657 )

        I don't think we have the imagination to come up with the dog, for example.

        Sony AIBO.
        Or even more ideal, the pet rock.

    • the beauty of science ... (Score:2)
      by swell ( 195815 ) Alter Relationship on 07-12-17 21:18 (#54798469) ... is that what we destroy, we can replace.

      The beauty of not beginning a comment in the subject line is that repliers don't have to hack all that shit out to quote you. Asshole.

      Anyway, what you said is as stupid as how you said it. It's always easier to destroy a thing than to create a thing because entropy is on your side when you break things, but you have to fight it every step of the way when you create things.

  • What I wish to know is what they propose to do to stop this from proceeding. I hear a lot about, Oh My God, but not what to do? My 2 cents ;)
    • by arth1 ( 260657 )

      What I wish to know is what they propose to do to stop this from proceeding. I hear a lot about, Oh My God, but not what to do? My 2 cents ;)

      It's a little more than 2 cents, but putting a rubber on your schlong is a good start. Human population growth is the main cause of habitat loss and reduced biodiversity for other species.

      • I did not have children, did you or do you intend to? So your for schlong control, lol right like that works. Elites (No I am no way in that club) don't have many kids. others do. What do YOU propose we do about that, since your so concerned? Your subject not mine ;)
        • by arth1 ( 260657 )

          Instead of like now, taxes from everyone going towards children (schools are often the biggest expense for towns), do the opposite - a parental tax.
          Subsidize sterilization, birth control and abortion. Stop giving tax breaks to religions that oppose either.

          In other words, hit people where it really hurts - their wallet.

          • So, encourage reproduction among the upper classes, then? Only the "Right People" should have kids? How very Nineteenth Century British of you....
      • It's a little more than 2 cents, but putting a rubber on your schlong is a good start. Human population growth is the main cause of habitat loss and reduced biodiversity for other species.

        The problem is that the people who are actually listening to you could have twice as many kids and nobody would notice, compared to all the people who don't give a shit.

  • So, what, humanity isn't a natural phenomena?

    • by skam240 ( 789197 )

      You must be new to the english language so I'll help you.

      Humanity is typically seperated from the natural world in contexts like this due to the conscience nature of our actions. An asteroid or a volcano are considered natural as they are events that literally just happen "naturally" where as humans choose to do or not do things.

  • I wonder if those have considered have noted how the highest fall first and hardest.
    even within a species.
    not quite the same, but 1789. come to mind.
  • As foretold by Methus- I mean, George Carlin
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?... [youtube.com]

  • by Arzaboa ( 2804779 ) on Thursday July 13, 2017 @12:34AM (#54798713)
    Some species will take advantage of this new world, some won't. Opportunistic species will take over, whether it be slime in the ocean, or mosquitoes on land. Viruses are primed to hit hard with all of the meat on the planet. We are just in a period of massive flux. What shakes out may very well be less people, with a lot of technology.
  • by oldgraybeard ( 2939809 ) on Thursday July 13, 2017 @03:30AM (#54799087)
    If the human race does not move in to space WE will go extinct.
    • If the human race does not move in to space WE will go extinct.

      While that's true on a long timescale, on the immediate timescale, there is not enough time to get enough of humanity off the planet in order for it to survive. The only way to make enough time is to address the environmental damage that we're not only ignoring, but actually increasing.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Baron_Yam ( 643147 )

        >there is not enough time to get enough of humanity off the planet

        Sure there is. If we discovered the Earth was doomed (say, a Mars-sized rock was headed our way but we had a few decades), we could (in theory) put a massive concrete cylinder in orbit, spin it for artificial gravity, build a city inside, have a few hundred years' worth of spares and replacement volatiles, and put a big-ass nuclear Orion drive on the back end and ship off a sustainable breeding population to an extra-solar planet.

        > in

        • Oh. Well, if you're going to be THAT picky...

          I really must insist on survival, and not merely shipping a container of bacteria into space with human sludge to feed upon. I mean, I still think that would be an interesting experiment, but I'm not going to pay for it.

          • I really must insist on survival, and not merely shipping a container of bacteria into space with human sludge to feed upon. I mean, I still think that would be an interesting experiment, but I'm not going to pay for it.

            I'll happily pay for it. After all, something similar is my explanation as to how life appeared on earth in the first place (transported from Mars on asteroids)

            • >After all, something similar is my explanation as to how life appeared on earth in the first place (transported from Mars on asteroids)

              Panspermia just moves the problem of how biogenesis happened one step further back. I also find the idea of Mars as a better warm wet rock on which life could form than Earth to be very iffy.

              After all, it may not even have been potentially habitable for as long as we believe it took life to appear on Earth, a few billion years ago the Sun was a bit cooler, and we don't

  • by SCVonSteroids ( 2816091 ) on Thursday July 13, 2017 @09:58AM (#54800525)

    From TFS : "The previous five extinctions were caused by natural phenomena."

    Why are we acting like human's aren't natural? Yes it might be our fault that this is happening, but we as a species are a "natural phenomena". We're not some extra-dimensional beings or anything special. We're as much a part of nature as nature is a part of us. We just choose to abuse and ruin it for our own means. Not to say any other species that reached our level of intellect wouldn't naturally end up doing the same.

  • by holophrastic ( 221104 ) on Thursday July 13, 2017 @10:53AM (#54800971)

    "mammal populations are losing 70 percent of their members because of habitat loss"

    except I'll bet that there are more mammals today than last year. humans count too.
    so it's really just that there is less mammal diversity. that's something else altogether.

    and what of all of the animal species that prefer the new world climate? lowering the temperature, the pollution, and the acidity would set back the jellyfish population by decades.

    So really, this is just an argument of preferring giraffes over jellyfish. So which ones do we eat, which ones clean our dirty oceans, and which ones look prettier?

    Personally, I prefer it a little warmer. My country benefits immensely from global warming -- agriculture, tourism, and land. You in Florida have had your time in the sun. Now it's your turn to have the hostile seasons.

    And what of solar power? Isn't hotter better? Sorry, that's the hole-in-the-ozone thing. I meant greenhouse effect. Isn't that good for plants? And therefore for agriculture? I like food. And hurricanes? Wind power, soon lightning power.

    This planet has many deserts. Between arid-north, snowy south, and sandy middles, plenty of earth is hostile to humans. So isn't this just a shift? If you live at the equator, plan to move north in a generation or two. Florida will become as hot as jamaica. But virginia will become the new florida. And the arctic circle will become the new new york.

    For a group of scientists looking to colonize the moon, and mars, global warming ought not seem so hostile by comparison.

Nothing will ever be attempted if all possible objections must be first overcome. -- Dr. Johnson

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