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Are We Already Going Extinct RIGHT NOW?

VO: Ashley Bowman WRITTEN BY: Nathan Sharp
The human race has walked the Earth for 200,000 years or more, but is our time on this planet coming to an end? With the threats of global warming, war and disaster looming large, are our days numbered? According to some of the experts, we're already in the middle of the Holocene extinction... But what does that mean? And how much trouble are we in??
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Are We Going Extinct RIGHT NOW?


Nothing lasts forever. Not even life on Earth. But with countless doomsday prophecies, should we actually be listening to any of them?
An extinction event is when there’s a sudden and rapid decline in life and biodiversity on Earth. But, while our planet is billions of years old, there have only been five recognised major mass extinction events throughout history. The first were the Ordovician-Silurian events – part of an ice age occurring around 445 million years ago and wiping out 85% of marine species. The second was the Late Devonian extinction, centred on two events between 360 to 376 million years ago. Number three was the big one; the Permian-Triassic, otherwise known as “The Great Dying”. This whopper is the largest and most destructive extinction episode to date, unfolding 252 million years ago. Experts are divided on exactly what shape the catastrophe took – meteor strike, massive volcanic activity or an accelerated greenhouse effect – but whatever it was, it took life on Earth around ten million years to recover.
The Triassic-Jurassic extinction stands as event number four, taking place 200 million years back, killing around 70% of all species, and leaving dinosaurs as one of the only major terrestrials still standing. The last, and easily the most well-known annihilation, was the Cretaceous-Paleogene event – which wiped out the dinosaurs, along with 75% of all living things.
So, it has been 66 million years since our last extinction event. Some say we’re overdue for another. Others reckon that we may actually be in the middle of one right now.
Some scientists and experts believe that we are currently experiencing (or enduring) the Holocene extinction. And, yes, this drawn-out, hypothesized Armageddon is mainly the fault of human activity. The Holocene event affects a large diversity of animal species and plant life, along with biodiverse habitats like coral reefs and rainforests, and it’s pushing extinction rates up to 1,000 times higher than what’s natural.
So, why have humans had such an impact on the Earth? Well, we’re what’s quite ominously called a “global superpredator” – which means we can overpower even the biggest and harshest adults of other apex predators, rigidly setting the food chain with us at the top. Then there’s our negative impact on the environment – from water and air pollution, to overproducing meat, overfishing, and overconsuming Earth’s natural resources due to overpopulation. Unfortunately, all of these ‘over-things’ have resulted in a planet horrifically under-nourished, out of whack and dying a quick death.
Alarmingly, it’s not as if this rapid decline in the Earth’s health and prosperity has slowly garnered traction over thousands of years. In 2016, the World Wildlife Fund found that global populations of vertebrates (which includes mammals, birds, and fish) have fallen by a massive 58% between 1970 and 2012. The WWF estimates that this could rise to roughly 66% by 2020. The stats also show that creatures living in rivers, lakes, and freshwater habitats have declined by 81% in the same period.
And the pessimistic predictions are mounting up. In 2017, a study into species populations published in the American journal “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences” stated that we’re in the midst of a “biological annihilation” and a “frightening assault on the foundations of human civilisation”. Focussing on massive species decline since 1900, the scientists involved also listed human endeavors, such as overhunting, toxic pollution, and man-made climate change as the primary cause.
And while those in the know argue that there is still time to act, the optimism is waning in certain corners, as we reportedly edge ever closer to an eventual point-of-no-return. In short, if we don’t act now (like, right now), we, and most of life on Earth, are screwed.
Another study with similar findings was completed in 2011. The lead author, paleobiologist Anthony Barnosky, theorized that up to 75% of all animal life could be extinct in just 300 years – appropriately labelling it “really gloom-and-doom stuff”. Barnosky also states that it is not too late to reverse course and save the planet. But without change things could be radically different by just the year 2300.
Of course, opinions on climate change do differ, and global warming has become the hottest of hot topics. The timeline of this apparent extinction is especially up for debate, although most scientific predictions foresee us headed for doom at one time or another. Dr. Daniel Rothman of MIT’s Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences department has calculated that the apocalypse might not yet be in full swing. However, going by the current rate of carbon being pumped into the Earth’s atmosphere, Rothman estimates that extinction could begin by 2100. But, the full significance of it wouldn’t become clear for thousands more years, contradicting Barnosky’s claim that three-quarters of everything could be eliminated in just three centuries.
There’s an ongoing lack of cohesion throughout everyone’s understanding of global warming, with mixed messages, hypocrisy and hysteria often seeming to fuel the debate more than actual facts, figures and evidence. But clearly, we’re currently in the midst of a transformative time for our planet. Science can look to the past as a means of predicting the future, but no one can be 100% sure on when an extinction event will strike, or if the catastrophe is already unfolding. Either way, it does seem a case of ‘when’ not ‘if’, and recent human history, behaviour and irresponsibility appears to be accelerating the inevitable.
You might look to the sky and wonder if an asteroid would ever end us? But our own end-of-days may not be as cut and dry as that. As for which extinction event will happen next? It’s called the Holocene extinction, and we’re probably already in it.
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