Up to 1 million animal species may be at risk of disappearing - yet another sign we're in the middle of a sixth mass extinction
- The world may be in the throes of a mass extinction - the sixth time in the planet's history that species are experiencing a major, global collapse in numbers.
- Historically, mass extinctions have been caused by catastrophic events like asteroid collisions. This time, human activities are to blame.
- Research suggests that the average rate of extinction over the last century is 100 times higher than normal. Frogs and insects are dying off at record rates, animal species are experiencing " biological annihilation."
- According to an early draft of a United Nations report obtained by the AFP, up to 1 million species are projected to be threatened with extinction, many within decades. The full report comes out May 6.
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An ever-growing body of evidence suggests the planet may be in the midst of a sixth mass extinction.
The phrase "mass extinction" typically conjures up images of the asteroid crash that led to the twilight of the dinosaurs. But another devastating (though perhaps less obvious) extinction event appears to be taking place today. The trend is hitting global fauna on multiple fronts, as hotter oceans, deforestation, and climate change drive animal populations down on an unprecedented scale.
Next week, yet another report is expected to back up that idea.
On Monday, the United Nations is scheduled to release a report from its Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) that assesses the state of the planet's biodiversity. That document, the first such analysis since 2005, evaluates how many species are threatened by extinction and why, how many species have already been lost, and looks at other metrics like population growth and greenhouse-gas emission increases.
The 1,800-page document aggregates research from more than 15,000 academic papers and research publications, and it aims to inform policy makers about how to better address the impacts of climate change.
The AFP appears to have obtained an early draft of the report, and according to their characterization of its findings, things may be even worse than we thought.
The AFP reported in April that the draft describes "an imminent rapid acceleration in the global rate of species extinction," and goes on to say that "half-a-million to a million species are projected to be threatened with extinction, many within decades."
The UN is set to release a summary of the full report after it gets finalized at a summit in Paris this weekend.
Getty Images/Mark Kolbe
Getty Images/Mark Kolbe
According to the AFP, the draft it obtained also concludes that 75% of land, 40% of oceans and 50% of rivers already "manifest severe impacts of degradation" from human activity. Much of this has to do with greenhouse-gas emissions from energy production, manufacturing, and transportation. Since 1980, the rate of man-made emissions has doubled, leading to a global temperature rise of at least 0.7 degrees Celsius (about 1 degree Fahrenheit).
Although we have yet to read the full report - in-depth coverage from Business Insider will follow its release Monday - the trends that the AFP reported align with other studies about the falling populations of many animal species.
A 2017 study found that species around the world are experiencing a "biological annihilation" and that our current "mass extinction episode has proceeded further than most assume."
Roughly 40% of the world's insect species are in decline. A 2019 study found that the total mass of all insects on the planets is decreasing by 2.5% per year. If that trend continues unabated, the Earth may not have any insects at all by 2119.
Already, there is consensus on one key driver of of these alarming extinction trends: human activities. According to a 2014 study, current extinction rates are 1,000 times higher than they would be if humans weren't around.
The impending UN report will likely confirm that conclusion.
According to the AFP, the report "depicts a planet ravaged by rampant overconsumption and drowning in pollution."