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One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness. The other, to total extinction. Let us pray we have the wisdom to choose correctly.
October 7, 2008 9:01 PM   Subscribe

A massive global study concludes a quarter of the 5,487 wild mammal species on the planet are threatened with extinction, according to a report released Monday at a World Conservation Congress in Spain.

The researchers conclude that not only are one in four mammal species threatened with extinction, but more than half of all mammal populations are declining... The scientists sum it up saying of the 4,651 species for which enough data is available, 1,139, or 25 per cent, are now threatened with extinction. Marine species are a particular concern, with an estimated 36 per cent of species threatened. Species not classified as threatened are not necessarily safe, they say, noting 323 mammals are classified as "near" threatened. And for 52 per cent of all species for which data exist, trends show the populations declining.

The scientists say it is unfortunate environmental issues are taking a back seat to the economic crisis in the federal election campaign. "The economy will recover, it always does," says Derocher. "But whether the planet will recover is a totally different question, and one I think is much more profound."


Summary list (xls) of 2008 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species + video

Case studies
posted by KokuRyu (7 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

..also, another different but related long-term study has found birds in decline around the world .

We are living in the middle of a mass extinction. This is what it looks like.
posted by stbalbach at 9:30 PM on October 7, 2008

Humans are doing just fine, though, right? Pas de problème!
posted by you just lost the game at 10:08 PM on October 7, 2008

The interesting thing is that as much as this seems like a no-brainer (yeah, save the rainforests, floss your teeth, love your mother), tons of small decisions are constantly being made that screw over animals. In the big picture, everyone's like "save the whales!" But when it comes down to any single decision (say, at a government agency), it just doesn't happen, from a combination of government corruption, industry profit motive, lack of government funds, ideological hostility, fear, cynicism, human entitlement, "you can't be serious," and "what do we care about the white-crested wood rat anyway?"
posted by salvia at 10:10 PM on October 7, 2008

Combines nicely with the previous post:
A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century
JUNE 5, 2070: Wolves in Canada begin hunting humans at an alarming rate. Shark attacks increase 40 percent. Jungle animals begin successfully infiltrating urban areas; a panther kills at least nine people in downtown Dallas. "I don't know why the animals are getting smarter," says zoologist Eli Sperle-Cho, "but it's definitely happening."

OCT. 19, 2071: An army of panda bears attacks Beijing, killing twelve hundred people and wounding thousands more during a bloody four-day onslaught.

APRIL 5, 2072: Animals are banned from the moon. House cats now kill more people than heart disease.

MAY 29, 2073: In a consolidated effort, America, China, Great Britain, and Russia declare war against the animals. It is decided that all military maneuvers will be conducted by robots.

2074 TO 2078: Robot vs. Animal War.

MAY 4, 2079: The Robot vs. Animal War concludes with the Kenya Peace Accords. The animals get Africa, Asia, North and South America, and Australia. Europe and Greenland are conceded to humans and nonhuman mechanical life. Antarctica is a free zone. The majority of remaining Earth people migrate to the moon, where overpopulation becomes an immediate problem.
So, if they can just hang on 71 more years...
posted by salvia at 10:24 PM on October 7, 2008

I have a couple of issues with the Red List. On the one hand, the list is constructed by the scientists who know the target species best. That's good, because the more data the better. It's problematic, of course, because if your species is listed as vulnerable (or, jackpot!) endangered, you get more research money. It is undeniably a conflict of interest. IUCN has done a good job over the years of tightening up the guidelines for categorizing species, so that's certainly improving, but it's still a problem.

Not only that, but the criteria for listing a species are probably, but not definitely, correlated with extinction risk. The criteria are based on our best guess for what makes a species vulnerable: yeah, if its population has dropped 90% in the past 10 years, it's obviously in need of help. But that doesn't necessarily mean it's going to go extinct. In the past 500 years, with all the habitat we've converted, we should've lost thousands and thousands of species. Where are the bodies? Only a few hundred species have been confirmed extinct.

That is really the other side of the coin. The key phrase in this post is about the species "for which data is available." If the criteria are followed explicitly when the scientists involved conduct the workshop, any species for which there is no clear consensus on status should be listed as "data deficient." That means that if you go out in the field, discover a new species but know nothing about it, it's listed as data deficient. If anything, I would have to guess that the data deficient species are skewed towards being more vulnerable/endangered. If we don't know much about them, they're probably not terribly abundant, and probably range limited. Those are pretty good criteria for being listed, but because of the tightening of the criteria, they're not.

So... are lots of species going to go extinct in this century? Almost certainly. (Did you hear about the polar bears turning to cannibalism for hunger? God that's horrible). Are most of the species listed as endangered going to go extinct? Probably. Though, as has been said, our ability to predict what's going to go extinct is most likely lagging behind our ability to observe the extinctions. I've got mixed feelings: this list has to exist, but it's not perfect.

I'm curious how it plays with the public: does it just sound like more chicken littling from environmentalists, that makes people working in conservation seem tone deaf given everything else that's going on in the world these days? Or is it a useful tool to convince people that there are horrible things going on in the world of biodiversity that do not, and are not likely to get enough attention?
posted by one_bean at 11:52 PM on October 7, 2008

The interesting thing is that as much as this seems like a no-brainer (yeah, save the rainforests, floss your teeth, love your mother), tons of small decisions are constantly being made that screw over animals.

I know a gentleman who likes to point out that voters in every "developed" country in the world list "the environment" as one of their top 10 political issues, but none of them list it as the top issue.
posted by one_bean at 11:54 PM on October 7, 2008

Environmental Destruction Could Cost World $5 Trillion -- Each Year
posted by homunculus at 9:21 PM on October 10, 2008

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