Physicist Peter Russell explains1 with the compelling logic of physics that our species is whirling toward the plughole of extinction. Similarly, scientific data of the Holocene extinction (caused mainly by human activity) show that this ecological collapse is accelerating,2 a key driver of the destructive human activity is increased human population and per capita consumption,2 and the outlook for life, including human life, is dismal.3
Examples of this human-caused catastrophe
Big cat populations have severely declined and are facing extinction. In 2011 the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)4 estimated that over the past 50 years:
- Lions are down from 450,000 to 25,000
- Leopards are down from 750,000 to 50,000
- Cheetahs are down from 45,000 to 12,000
- Tigers are down from 50,000 to 3,000
The collapse is likely much worse by now. A December 2016 study5 found that there are only 7,100 cheetahs remaining in the wild, i.e. 41% less than the IUCN estimate. Further, these cheetahs are crammed within only 9% of their historic range.
Other large mammals
Other large mammals predicted to become extinct in the near future include:
- Nonhuman primates7
- African elephants9
Smaller mammals and amphibians
Species predicted to become extinct in the near future include:
- Bats — in the US bat population drops due to a fungal infection have been as great as 90% within five years, and extinction of at least one bat species is predicted.12
- Amphibians — this is now the most endangered vertebrate group.13
Pollinators (necessary for 75% of food crops) are declining globally in both abundance and diversity.14 For example, in protected areas over 27 years there was a decline of more than 75% in total flying insect biomass in Germany.15 As one of the researchers observed, humans are approaching ecological Armageddon due to them making large parts of the planet uninhabitable for wildlife, and if we lose the insects then everything is going to collapse.
In England the total abundance of widespread butterfly species declined by 58% on farmed land between 2000 and 2009.16
Bees. There has been a drastic rise in reports of disappearances of honey bee colonies in North America,17 in most European countries,18,19,20 and globally.21 Proposed reasons for this colony collapse include infections, various pathogens, and loss of habitat.22
The most significant drivers in the decline of insect populations are associated with intensive farming practices.23
“Since 1970, bird populations in the United States and Canada have declined by 29 percent, or almost 3 billion birds, signalling a widespread ecological crisis [due to] human activities. . . . These data are consistent with what we’re seeing elsewhere with other taxa showing massive declines, including insects and amphibians.”24
In Ireland 40% of the country’s waterbirds, or half a million, were lost in the prior 20 years due to loss of habitat. One of every five Irish bird species is threatened with extinction. Lapwing numbers are down 67% in 20 years and there has been an almost complete extermination of farmland birds, e.g. the Corncrake. The Curlew is on the verge of extinction in Ireland.25
Within the UK, 41% of the species of animal, plant and fungus whose numbers we can estimate are declining moderately or strongly. For most taxonomic groups the level of decline in the most recent decade is as steep or steeper than the longer term trend. Agricultural change has had the most significant, and largely negative, impact on plants and other wildlife over the past five decades.26
There has been a “shocking” rate of plant extinctions in South Africa. The main drivers for extinctions in South Africa were found to be agriculture (49.4%), urbanization (38%) and invasive species (22%).27
Marine organisms. Fishing has had a devastating effect on marine organism populations, especially since the destructive and highly effective fishing practices like trawling.28
Reasons for this ecological collapse
According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) 2016 Living Planet Report,29 global wildlife populations have declined primarily due to habitat destruction, over-hunting (see also 30,31,32) and pollution. In their 2018 report,33 the WWF found that over-consumption of resources by the global population has destroyed 60% of animal populations since 1970, and this continued destruction of wildlife is an emergency which threatens the survival of human civilization. As was noted above, the IPBES report2 records that a key driver of this destructive human activity is increased human population and per capita consumption.
Wireless radiation and 5G. As if humans have not been destructive enough, we now inflict toxic wireless radiation on surviving creatures and ourselves. For more information about the biological harm of wireless radiation (wireless Internet, cell phones, ‘smart’ devices, smart meters, Internet of Things) — especially 5G — see research publications such as those listed in the references.34
A sad ending
“For the first time since the demise of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago, we face a global mass extinction of wildlife. . . . they are the barometer that reveals our impact on the world that sustains us” (Mike Barrett, director of science and policy at WWF’s UK branch, 2017).35
“When people make mistakes, they tend to expect they can reverse things; fix things. But very often we cannot.”36 As Peter Russell said,1 when the reality of our demise hits home, we will see widespread and profound grief at what has befallen us. Humans are part of an interconnected web of life on Earth — we cannot live without the animals and plants we are destroying. We will follow them into oblivion. However even at this late stage in our disastrous abuse of nature, we can show respect for our remaining ecosystems and exit with grace.
1. Russell, P. Blind Spot: The Unforeseen End of Accelerating Change.
2. The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services — IPBES (May 2019) Report.
3. Ceballos, G., Ehrlich, P. R., & Dirzo, R. (2017). Biological annihilation via the ongoing sixth mass extinction signaled by vertebrate population losses and declines. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 114 (30).
4. International Union for Conservation of Nature — IUCN (2011).
5. Zoological Society of London, Panthera Corporation and Wildlife Conservation Society (Dec 2016). Sprinting Towards Extinction? Cheetah Numbers Crash Globally.
6. Platt, J. R. (2013). How the Western Black Rhino Went Extinct. Scientific American, 13 Nov 2013.
7. Estrada, A., Garber, P. A., Rylands, A. B. et al. (2017). Impending extinction crisis of the world’s primates: Why primates matter. Science Advances, 3 (1), 18 Jan 2017.
8. Sharp, R. (2017). Giraffes: a tall and disturbing tale. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), 17 Aug 2017.
9. World Wildlife Fund — WWF (2016). Huge drop in African elephant population as poaching crisis continues.
10. International Union for Conservation of Nature — IUCN (2014). Eating pangolins to extinction. 29 Jul 2014.
11. Bino, G., Kingsford, R. T., & Wintle, B. A. (2020). A stitch in time – Synergistic impacts to platypus metapopulation extinction risk. Biological Conservation, 242: 108399.
12. Blehert, D. S., Hicks, A. C., Behr, M. et al. (2009). Bat White-Nose Syndrome: An Emerging Fungal Pathogen? Science, 323 (5911): 227.
13. Kolbert, E. (2014). This is now the most endangered vertebrate group. The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History. New York City: Henry Holt and Company.
14. Dirzo, R., Young, H. S., Galetti, M. et al. (2014). Defaunation in the Anthropocene. Science, 345 (6195): 401–406.
15. Hallmann, C. A., Sorg, M., Jongejans, E. et al. (2017) More than 75 percent decline over 27 years in total flying insect biomass in protected areas. PLoS ONE 12(10).
16. Gilburn, A. S., Bunnefeld, N., Wilson, J. M. et al. (2015). Are neonicotinoid insecticides driving declines of widespread butterflies? PeerJ, 3: e1402.
17. Pennsylvania State University College of Agricultural Sciences (2007). Honey Bee Die-Off Alarms Beekeepers, Crop Growers and Researchers.
18. Dupont, G. (2007). Les abeilles malades de l’homme. Le Monde (in French), 29 Aug 2007.
19. Weakening, collapse and mortality of bee colonies. (Nov 2008, Updated Apr 2009). anses.fr (in French).
20. Minutes of Northern Ireland Assembly (2008). Theyworkforyou.com, 8 Jun 2009.
21. Independent (10 Mar 2011). Decline of honey bees now a global phenomenon, says United Nations.
22. Cepero, A., Ravoet, J., Gómez-Moracho, T. et al. (2014). Holistic screening of collapsing honey bee colonies in Spain: a case study. BMC Research Notes, 7: 649 (15 Sep 2014).
23. Seibold, S., Gossner, M.M., Simons, N.K. et al. (2019). Arthropod decline in grasslands and forests is associated with landscape-level drivers. Nature 574, 671–674.
24. Cornell University (2019). US and Canada have lost more than 1 in 4 birds in the past 50 years. ScienceDaily, 19 Sep 2019.
25. Birdwatch Ireland (Jul 2019). The Irish bird population is in dramatic decline.
26. State of Nature Report (Oct 2019).
27. Le Roux, J. J., Hui, C., Castillo, M. L. et al. (2019). Recent Anthropogenic Plant Extinctions Differ in Biodiversity Hotspots and Coldspots. Current Biology, 2019.
28. Roberts, C. (2007). The Unnatural History of the Sea. Washington, DC: Island Press/Shearwater Books.
29. World Wildlife Fund — WWF (2016). Living Planet Report.
30. Pennisi, E. (2016). People are hunting primates, bats, and other mammals to extinction. Science, 18 Oct 2016.
31. Ripple, W. J., Abernethy, K., Betts, M. et al. (2016). Bushmeat hunting and extinction risk to the world’s mammals. Royal Society Open Science, 3 (10): 1–16.
32. Benítez-López, A., Alkemade, R., Schipper, A. M. et al. (2017). The impact of hunting on tropical mammal and bird populations. Science, 356 (6334): 180–183 (14 Apr 2017).
33. World Wildlife Fund — WWF (2018). Report 2018: Aiming higher.
35. 60 percent of global wildlife species wiped out (28 Oct 2016). Al Jazeera.
36. Human mistakes that caused this ecological collapse, Russia Today, 10 Oct 2019.