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Doom and gloom
June 19, 2014 9:14 AM   Subscribe

Study says Earth on brink of mass extinction event The new study focused on the rate, not the number, of species disappearing from Earth. It calculated a "death rate" of how many species become extinct each year out of 1 million species.

Species of plants and animals are becoming extinct at least 1,000 times faster than they did before humans arrived on the scene, and the world is on the brink of a sixth great extinction, a new study says. (Link to Stuart Pimm's study)

The study looks at past and present rates of extinction and finds a lower rate in the past than scientists had thought. Species are now disappearing from Earth about 10 times faster than biologists had believed, said study lead author noted biologist Stuart Pimm of Duke University.


Pimm and Jenkins said there is hope. Both said the use of smartphones and applications such as iNaturalist will help ordinary people and biologists find species in trouble, they said. Once biologists know where endangered species are they can try to save habitats and use captive breeding and other techniques to save the species, they said.
posted by KokuRyu (44 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

 
Brink?
posted by the man of twists and turns at 9:24 AM on June 19 [7 favorites]


Midst.
posted by mrjohnmuller at 9:24 AM on June 19 [13 favorites]


Ok, after a quick glance I didn't see Humans on there any where so we're going to be good. Phew.
posted by Our Ship Of The Imagination! at 9:27 AM on June 19 [3 favorites]


Nothing a little PR can't tidy up - - eg: Edge Of Tomorrow is the safer name given by Hollywood producers to the Hiroshi Sakurazaka' original graphic novel All You Need Is Kill.
posted by fairmettle at 9:29 AM on June 19 [1 favorite]


I didn't see Humans on there any where so we're going to be good. Phew.

Yes, a planet with nothing but humans would be awesome. We're gonna be just fine.

Oh, and robots. I'm sure we'll have robots.
posted by ikahime at 9:31 AM on June 19 [2 favorites]


See? That sounds so exciting doesn't it, ikahime-sempai?
posted by Our Ship Of The Imagination! at 9:39 AM on June 19


Oh I thought this was metatalk and about mods.
posted by Namlit at 9:39 AM on June 19


One thing that's not on the brink of extinction is slugs in my garden. And motorcycle-driving neighbor kids. Otherwise: scary.
posted by Namlit at 9:40 AM on June 19 [2 favorites]


These species have got to stop playing brinksmanship with the Earth.
posted by dhartung at 9:44 AM on June 19


Since we interact with so few of the extant species, we could have a mass extinction event and not even notice it.
posted by smackfu at 9:44 AM on June 19 [5 favorites]


alas, smackfu is probably right. that and our amazing ablity to both compensate for and tolerate progressively more horrible situations.
posted by lodurr at 9:53 AM on June 19 [2 favorites]


hahahahah smartphones! HAHAHAHAHA
posted by Dr. Send at 9:53 AM on June 19 [10 favorites]


Obligatory motivation from Denethor
posted by philip-random at 9:57 AM on June 19 [1 favorite]


Both said the use of smartphones and applications such as iNaturalist will help ordinary people and biologists find species in trouble…

…and post pictures of them to Facebook.
posted by mazola at 10:11 AM on June 19 [7 favorites]


It's a pretty exciting time in history - the end!

Nothing can stop this train now, humans tore the brakes off long ago. I am grateful I'll be dead during the worst.
posted by agregoli at 10:22 AM on June 19 [3 favorites]


Doom was it in that twilight to be alive, but to be young was very depressing and I'm going to have some whiskey for not unrelated reasons.
posted by forgetful snow at 10:24 AM on June 19 [3 favorites]


Goddamn it
posted by Fists O'Fury at 10:35 AM on June 19


Always worth repeating...

The world and nature will go on long after the Mass Extinction that includes Homo Sapiens. It'll just be... different. (And the cockroaches will RULE)
posted by oneswellfoop at 10:36 AM on June 19 [2 favorites]


A useful term for thinking about this kind of global change is the Anthropocene, the current epoch defined by the rise of modern human culture a few thousand years ago. The Economist has a good treatment of it. We have had a phenomenal impact on the entire globe: extinctions, new species through agriculture, climate, soil, literally creating new metals that are even being flung out from Earth's gravity well. It's a sort of awesome shift when you look at it that way.

The Anthropocene doesn't have to all be doom and gloom. It's certainly been good for humanity, for instance, lifespans increasing 4x or more. And if you believe human intelligence is unique and special and destined to do something greater, maybe it's worth sacrificing some delicate tree frogs and corals in order to bolster sentience. Also there's hope that human engineering can ultimately improve the planet. Nuclear power will eventually produce an abundance of free energy, or else solar power will figure out how to harness existing free energy. Even terrible things like global warming are concievably fixable with geoengineering, although it's a frightening prospect and still science fiction.

It'd be nice if we could figure out how to continue the development of our species without killing all the other ones though.
posted by Nelson at 10:44 AM on June 19 [7 favorites]


DONT WORRY, WEVE GOT AN APP FOR THAT!
posted by nathancaswell at 10:45 AM on June 19 [4 favorites]


Human beings: not so much a species, more a cosmic disease.
posted by Grangousier at 10:52 AM on June 19


Agent Smith might have been on to something.
posted by JaredSeth at 10:55 AM on June 19 [1 favorite]


They mentioned how smartphone apps will help (RETWEET TO SAVE THE DELTA SMELT!!!1), but I think they forgot to mention how much self-driving cars will also help prevent extinctions.
posted by entropicamericana at 10:56 AM on June 19 [1 favorite]


As seen on TV in your 6th grade science class. (At least mine.)
posted by maxwelton at 11:06 AM on June 19


maybe it's worth sacrificing some delicate tree frogs and corals in order to bolster sentience.

Who says frogs and corals are not sentient? Is it simply that we equate sentience with the human, and thus exclude other forms at the outset? Just because a form of sentience is different from the human doesn’t mean it is inferior in any sense. There is no objective reason to favour one form of sentience over another. Subjectively, humans do favour their own sentience, and have the power to impose their high opinion of themselves on other forms. Maybe this is the true heart of the problem.
posted by No Robots at 11:06 AM on June 19 [7 favorites]


One way or another each of us will be dead within a relatively few decades. The world might not end, but yours sure will.
posted by blue_beetle at 11:10 AM on June 19


It'd be nice if we could figure out how to continue the development of our species without killing all the other ones though.

I honestly don't think humans can survive without recognizing both how important many of those species are to ecosystems that support human activities (air, agriculture), and how psychologically important Nature is to humans. As we move more and more into cities, and more and more of our social space is taken up by the needs of Business, it's hard to see how we're going to conserve very many species. Capitalism is simply antithetical to any alternative mode of conduct, and animals/nature either represent a resource to be consumed (generally till it's used up) or an obstacle to development to be bulldozed when the time comes. After all, corporations have a legal obligation to make decisions in favour of profits for their shareholders. How can salmon, frogs and corals compete with that?

I'm firmly with No Robots in thinking that all life on the only planet we've ever known is sentient in some way (many ways), and that we evolved as part of a larger whole.
posted by sneebler at 11:22 AM on June 19 [4 favorites]


maybe it's worth sacrificing some delicate tree frogs and corals in order to bolster sentience.

We're not sacrificing them to bolster sentience, we're sacrificing them because the Koch Brothers apparently need to hoard more billions than they already have.
posted by Foosnark at 11:27 AM on June 19 [10 favorites]


Perhaps I should use the word "intelligence" instead of "sentience", that's more precise to what I mean. The idea that humanity is something special, beyond other species. That's hardly a new idea, and used to justify all sorts of horribleness, but it's still one I believe has noble qualities to it.

I like tree frogs and corals too. (I like bacteria even more, and we're killing off a lot of those species too.) I think it's idiotic that we're killing all sorts of random species without thought or care. And foolish, biodiversity can't be recovered once lost. But the point of the Anthropocene is that humanity is a new kind of force shaping the earth. And it's not all bad. We've shown a remarkable talent for converting stored chemical energy into useful energy to do work, and that's produced a whole lot of good for humanity. Like, say, human culture. Or medicine. Or the green revolution. Even smartphone applications like iNaturalist. Our energy production is also producing global warming and that's a disaster.

Sorry, I don't mean to de-rail, extinction is terrible and this research has done a great job giving us new insight into the rate of extinctions. It's terrifying news. But it also fits into a context of the rise of humanity, it's not just a tradeoff of Koch brothers profits vs. corals. Think about that while you're pondering these lit-up pixels transmitted to you over a phenomenal engine for cultural evolution.
posted by Nelson at 11:47 AM on June 19 [1 favorite]


It's amazing how quickly all this happened. Humans have been around for about 200,000 years right? (I may be a wiki anthropologist). So the question is when the extinction wheels started turning. If we are generous and start the doomsday clock at the dawn of civilization, that's still just a small fragment of the time we've been here.

That's why I leery of misanthropic sentiments, I don't think there was anything inevitable about this. Perhaps in a fairer alternate universe we were enslaved by elephants.
posted by gorbweaver at 11:54 AM on June 19


oh dude, of course it was inevitable. all things end.
posted by agregoli at 12:03 PM on June 19


maybe it's worth sacrificing some delicate tree frogs and corals in order to bolster sentience.

When we remove ourselves from nature, we become something different. A different kind of human. If you've never spent weeks or months out in the wilderness with nothing to do but observe the world around you you don't realise how exquisitely, perfectly good you are at it. You're basically optimized to observe your immediate surroundings and react to them. Kids can spend hours observing ants or playing in the creek for a reason. Indoors or even outdoors in a city or suburb you don't have to do that, everything is the same and you walk around obliviously and we lose something essentially human in the process. A big chunk of your brain just atrophies.

That's why we need to stay connected to the natural world, we did not develop on a vacuum and we need it.
posted by fshgrl at 12:10 PM on June 19 [9 favorites]


There is no objective reason to favour one form of sentience over another.

No, but there are precious few objective reasons for anything. We are humans, though, and so it does make some sense to identify with humans.

But that also opens up a can of worms when you have to figure out exactly what it means to be "human"....
posted by lodurr at 1:09 PM on June 19


(and of course that's before you even start to think about whether you can sensibly separate humans from the world they integrate with.)
posted by lodurr at 1:12 PM on June 19


Let me channel Henry Miller for a while. These quotes is from The Time of the Assassins, his book about Rimbaud, from 1962.
Whose voice is it that now makes itself heard, the poet’s or the scientist’s? Are we thinking of Beauty, however bitter, or are we thinking of atomic energy? And what is the chief emotion which our great discoveries now inspire? Dread!

[...]

And fools are talking about reparations, inquisitions, retribution, about alignments and coalitions, about free trade and economic stabilization and rehabilitation. No one believes in his heart that the world situation can be righted. Everyone is waiting for the great event, the only event which preoccupies us night and day: the next war.

[...]

The age of electricity is as far behind us as the Stone Age. This is the Age of Power, power pare and simple. Now it is either heaven or hell, no in between is possible any longer. And by all indications we will choose hell.

[...]

The heart registers a shock before the rest of the body. It takes time for doom to spread throughout the corpus of civilization.

[...]

I speak as though the atom itself were the monster, as though it exercised the power and not us. This is the sort of deception we have practised on ourselves ever since man began to think. And this, too, is a delusion—to pretend that at some distant point in the past man began to think. Man has not even begun to think. Mentally, he is still on all fours.

[...]

Maybe adaptation, harmony, peace and communion are varieties of mirage which will forever delude us. The fact, however, that we created these concepts, that they have the deepest meaning for us, means that they are realizable. They may have been created out of need, but they will become realities through desire. The man of genius usually lives as if these dreams were possible of fulfillment. He is too charged with the potency of them to live them out for himself; he is, in this sense, akin to those supreme renunciators who refuse Nirvana until all men are able to realize it with them.

[...]

And now forever through the ages the song expands, warming all hearts, penetrating all minds. At the periphery the world is dying away; at the center it glows like a live coal.

[...]

The thrill of creation is felt throughout all creation. All forms, all orders of being from the angels to the worms, are struggling to communicate with those above and below. No efforts are lost, no music goes unheard. But in every misuse of power not only is God wounded but Creation itself is halted and Christmas on Earth postponed that much longer.
Seems like we're always holding out for the time when all this progress is going to pay off in terms of freedom, happiness, and peace. Thinking about all this havoc puts it into perspective. Are we working towards something better? When will we be satisfied? Life on earth is brutal, and we've managed to create a comfort zone for some of us where we only have to work all day to get money and enjoy the bounties of civilization: food, TV shows, tourism, dating, beer, etc. Global equality is a dream, the patriarchy is alive and kicking furiously, the most modern people are the most stressed, frazzled, half-lonely, alienated. The constantly evolving frontiers of capitalism have expanded into new mental territory, reshaping our whole ümwelt to the demands of the control society. Utopian global networks turn into surveillance machines. Humanity is a frightening force. The force of humanity: power. Unequal power. Leverage through submission. Greed. They memorialize violent imperialism as if it were just an awkward historical fact, and use nostalgic distance to conceal the great violence and injustice that we inherit, that we enact. The driving force of human power, as it stands, is not a spirit of collaborative exploration, humility, kindness, helpfulness, courage, gentleness. We don't have time for that, and it doesn't fit in the budget. No, we're competing. International competition. Business, money, war. Entertainment, pleasure, fun. FIFA, damn it! Bacon farms, resistent zombie bacteria. The anthropocene is not steered by a benevolent invisible hand. It's the exhaust smoke of humanity's arrogance and incompetence. It's the roadkill of a speeding capitalism!

Sorry, someone had to say it.
posted by mbrock at 2:08 PM on June 19 [21 favorites]


>Seems like we're always holding out for the time when all this progress is going to pay off in terms of freedom, happiness, and peace.

Well, as someone mentioned up-thread, in North America health outcomes have increased significantly since 1962, while infant mortality has decreased.

Even taking local ecology into account, things have improved. When I was born in 1971, there were no cetacean whales in the Georgia Basin or Puget Sound. They had been killed off. And now they have returned.

There were no raptors here. However, over the past 25 years bald eagles and Cooper's hawks have returned (no DDT), and in the case of the eagles, are responsible in part for a decline in local gull populations. But the decline in pelagic and migratory seabirds is also related to climate change.

Many parts of North America, Europe and Japan resembled the Beijing of today. While we may have outsourced our pollution to China and the Philippines, for example, a lot of work has been done to lower emissions.

New Zealand has also shown that setting aside marine preserves can bring back vibrant fish populations.

So, to a certain extent, some recovery is possible. The real challenge is working together.
posted by KokuRyu at 4:46 PM on June 19 [2 favorites]


In order for my genetically engineered creations to thrive it is necessary to open some ecological niches for them to fill. God has his turn.
posted by humanfont at 5:33 PM on June 19


Even taking local ecology into account, things have improved.

And yet the paper we're discussing says otherwise, at least for measures not based on a quantity of humans.
posted by sneebler at 6:31 PM on June 19 [1 favorite]


I just had a fun idea, but it requires everyone (everywhere) to play along:

Just to fuck with the authors of this study, everyone kill themselves tonight! I'll go 21st.
posted by item at 8:01 PM on June 19


Maybe this is the answer to Fermi's Problem - maybe we all destroy our homes as we near reaching the stars.
posted by gingerest at 8:08 PM on June 19


So ..

This mass extinction, no doubt accelerated by the wasteful "effectiveness" of capitalism, is supposed to be solved by ... smartphones? Let's wreak havoc on the planet so we can create funny things like smartphones that can save the earth, everybody wins! Except the planet and the animals of course. Thinking that an app might save the mass extinction of species seems almost offensive to me.

I hate to be a snarky cynic here, and iNaturalist seem like a Good Thing, but misunderstanding the problem and the solution is worse than not doing anything at all, because it gives the illusion of progress (which further obfuscates the problem). This is a political issue, not an environmental or individual one really. As long as our dominant political and economical system are built on waste ("growth"), things will not end well.

Oh, and really good post, mbrock! Bleak, but good.
posted by hypertekst at 2:20 AM on June 20


And yet the paper we're discussing says otherwise

For some local populations, as stated? No. But that's the point, as I take it. It's possible for a patient to improve dramatically in some areas while declining overall.
posted by lodurr at 2:29 AM on June 20


Perhaps I should use the word "intelligence" instead of "sentience", that's more precise to what I mean. The idea that humanity is something special, beyond other species. That's hardly a new idea, and used to justify all sorts of horribleness, but it's still one I believe has noble qualities to it.

Perhaps the ultimate act of nobility is to recognize that all life forms are intelligent, each in its own way, and that humanity is not beyond them.
posted by No Robots at 10:05 AM on June 20 [1 favorite]


Yes, a planet with nothing but humans would be awesome. We're gonna be just fine.

Possibly relevant.
posted by homunculus at 5:23 PM on June 22


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