The Sixth Mass Extinction The mass extinction of certain animal species and plants that is facing the Earth today has been compared to, although some scientists suspect worse than, the extinction of the dinosaurs. The annihilation of the dinosaurs was caused by the collision of a large asteroid with the Earth. This current mass extinction, however, is different than any of the five mass extinctions that have been seen by the earth because this extinction is manmade, not natural. With the search for new resources to support mans ever-growing population and new resources to develop medicines, the habitat that has protected so many of the worlds creatures is now being destroyed. Not only are humans destroying the earth’s biodiversity but also what most humans fail to realize is with this extinction life, as humans know it will forever be changed. (Cooper) The earth has witnessed five other mass extinctions. The first extinction was the Ordovician, 440 million years ago, which is speculated to have been caused by glaciations. This caused the destruction of 25 percent of the animal species and plants. The second extinction was the Devonian, 370 million years ago. This caused the demise of about 70 percent of the plant and animal species. This was probably caused by a climate change. The third extinction was the Permian, 250 million years ago. “The most catastrophic of all mass extinctions may have wiped out 96 percent of all marine species and more than three-fourths of the vertebrate families on land. Scientists speculate that the cause may have been volcanic activity, a change in ocean salinity or climate shifts. ” (Cooper) The forth extinction was the Triassic, 210 million years ago, the cause of which is unknown. It caused the extinction of “sponges, insects, and vertebrate groups. ” (Cooper) The final extinction was the Cretaceous, 65 million years ago. This caused the extinction of the dinosaurs and 85 percent of all the species. A large asteroid hitting the earth on the Yucatan in Mexico caused this. (Cooper) The introduction of animals not indigenous to the environments that they are brought to drives the native animals to extinction. For example, when “rats, cats and snakes” were brought to “Hawaii and Guam’ they drove away and hunted most of the indigenous birds to those islands. Also, just as Christopher Columbus and his men introduced small pox to the Aztecs, foreign animals introduce different diseases to animals whose immune systems are not designed to fight them resulting death. The over hunting of the dodo bird was one of the two reasons why they became extinct. The second was the introduction of pigs into the dodo birds environment. Although the pigs did not transfer any diseases to the dodo birds, they contributed by consuming all the birds offspring, eggs (Cooper). With climate change and pollution growing rapidly, a lot of animals are choosing to migrate out of their natural environment and onto more suitable environments (Cooper). The polar bear is an excellent example of this. Throughout history it has been observed continuously that polar bears spend a majority of their lifetime onto of “glacial masses”, such as ice bergs. With recent climate changes due to global warming, the ice has begun to wither away, causing the polar bears to move onto more stable environments (Rice). It was not until recently the severity of the polar bear population was recognized. (Adler). Polar bears depend on sea ice to hunt for ringed and bearded seals, their main food source. “The ice is a platform to hunt seals, and if they don’t have that platform they are in big trouble,” says Ian Stirling, research scientist emeritus at Environment Canada in Edmonton. The bears are poor swimmers, and in the open water seals can easily evade them. “(Adler). The over-use of greenhouse gases is the primary cause of global warming. Although, greenhouse gases do occur naturally and have been being released for millions of years, with the dawn of the industrial revolutions these gases became mass produced and over used. The invention of automobiles brought about a new standard of living in America. Cars were mass produced and with that an “increased emissions” began to seep into the atmosphere and wither away the ozone. During the 70s and 80s, teasing ones hair became ridiculously popular, which resulted in the overuse of hairspray. The use of this product is only one of dozens of examples as to why greenhouse gases got so out of hand and resulted in a drastic climate shift known as, global warming (Lerner). Another loss to global warming is about twenty frog species in Costa Rica. This makes about 45 perecnt of the frog population (Cooper). “This disappearance coincided with a sudden reduction in moisture levels on the continental divide atop Monteverde in Costa Rica’s central highlands. ” (Cooper) Hunting and over fishing is another cause for this mass extinction. Poachers hunt for the most rare of animals despite the risk of imprisonment solely because the price they are paid for these “goods” can reach into the millions. We all grew up with Tony the Tiger telling us how “grrrr-eat! Frosted Flakes are but in reality tigers are being hunted for their skin, bones, and body parts. The giant panda’s population is 1,000 because of the demand for them in oversea zoos. In an effort to save the panda population the Chinese government has a plan to clone the giant pandas. The Sumatran rhinoceros’ population is under 300 because of its use in traditional medicine. The other seven of the top ten most endangered species are the hawksbill sea turtles, the Asian ginseng, the Asian box turtles, the Tibetan antelope, the horned parakeets, the whale sharks and the Javan pangolins. The hunting for sport brought about the extinction of the passenger pigeon, which once held a population in the billions. In 1914, the last known passenger pigeon died. Her name was Martha (Cooper). The black-footed ferret faced extinction in the 1970s. These furry creatures are native to South Dakota and Wyoming. When their prey of choice, the black tailed prairie dog, was nearing extinction, they were headed in the same direction. Scientists thought they had gone extinct in 1979, but when one was found dead in 1981, they were proved wrong. They ended up finding a colony of 130. The scientists took them into captivity and went on to breed around two thousand of the black footed ferrets. The scientists have reintroduced small groups of them back into their native environment. Scientists are somewhat reluctant to release more ferrets into the wild sadly because their favorite prey, the black-tailed prairie dog occupies less than one percent of what they previously did. Although the black footed ferret is still considered an endangered species they are in better shape today than they have been in nearly fifty years! Cooper) “The business community is reluctant to support government regulations that restrict development to protect plants and creatures that seem to have little significance. That was dramatically illustrated in the late 1980s and early ’90s, when loggers heatedly protested plans to set aside forests that were habitat to the rare northern spotted owl. ” (Cooper) Their argument was that they refuse to spend tens of billions of dollars to protect something that holds very little profit to man because it would be cheaper and way easier to develop n an important habitat than it would be to work around it (Cooper). “[Peter H. ] Raven, who is director of the Missouri Botanical Garden and a leading advocate for protecting biodiversity, warns that the same pattern is being repeated around the globe, threatening to impoverish human society on a vast scale because scientists constantly turn to nature to develop new foods, medicines and other products. ” (Cooper) According to Raven, there are three reasons as to why major world leaders need to contribute there all into the preservation of endangered species and ecosystems. His reasoning states are that these species (i. e. “plants and animals”) provide humans with their basic necessities (i. e. “food, clothing, shelter and medicine”) (Cooper); the stability of ecosystems depends on the abundance of its native plant and animal life, without which the order that ecosystem relies on would be disrupted and cease to exist; and lastly, it is the responsibility of humans having caused this destruction to fix it. The counter-argument to these reasons is that all species are meant to “live and die and evolve”. The disruption of this balance by trying to preserve these endangered species is unnatural and a waste of money and resources. After all, because of past extinctions humans evolved into what they are today (Cooper). Scientists are now trying a different approach to try and save many of the animals nearing extinction. They are even trying to reproduce some creatures that have been extinct for hundreds of years through the use of cloning. Many people have mixed feelings on whether this approach is ethically and morally correct. Even if scientists were successful in their efforts, the natural environment of these creature may be long since gone. Another effort many zoos are taking is using invitro-fertilization and hormone injections in order to increase the population of some endangered species, such as the giant panda. This is ironic because the demand for the giant pandas as attractions in said zoos is one of the major reasons they are now in danger of extinction. Because of these expensive procedures, a few rare animals have pulled a 180 and come back from nearing extinction, such as “the American condor and the black-footed ferret” (Cooper). The Endangered Species Act of 1973 was passed in the United States on December 28, 1973. The ESA’s primary responsibility is to prevent the further extinction of endangered animal and plant species. Its second priority is to restore and conserve those species by preserving their natural habitat and or removing any threats causing their extinction. (Cooper) “Since its passage, more than 1,200 species in the United States have been listed as either endangered or threatened. Of that number, just 11 species have recovered sufficiently to be taken off the list; nine were removed because of improved data, such as the discovery of additional populations; and seven have become extinct” (Cooper) The bald eagle is one of the ESA’s success stories, having been removed from the endangered species list on August 8, 2007. It was once near extinction with its population being less than 500 in the 1960s. In 2007, their population was nearly 10,000. Through the ESA’s regulations, the use of pesticides was significantly reduced. These pesticides, mainly DDT (which is now banned), were causing a decreased amount of reproductive advance among the bald eagles. Although the bald eagle has been removed from the EAS’s endangered species list, they are still preserved by the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act and also the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. (Martin) Some think that environmentalists are going to far to achieve their primary goal. The law itself was originally passed to save important animals, but environmentalists state that it is important to try to save all living species in order to preserve its ecosystem in its entirity. There is no way having predicting how the extinction of a fly may affect its native ecosystem. Because of this reasoning some property owners, on whose land resides an endangered specie or plant, are restricted from further construction. This at times backfires and property owners do the opposite of what they are told to do, they demolish the home of the said specie. (Cooper) As hard as the ESA tries to preserve rare animals and the habitats they reside in the ESA, as showed in the previous example, is not always successful. In the 1970s the ESA attempted to stop the construction of a dam on the Little Tennessee River because it was the natural habitat of the snail darter trout. The attempt held off the construction but did not stop it. (Jost) The leading critics of the EAS in the United States are housing and shopping mall developers. Energy companies want to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas drilling despite the concerns that a move like that could damage the native populations of caribou and other animals. Business leaders state that the best preservation strategy is to keep the economy growing so the country will have enough money to support a clean environment. Despite the tensions between business and environmentalism, they remain allies. Businesses will support conservation efforts because they wish to appear to be the good guys. Negative environmental practices reflect badly and do not go unnoticed. (Cooper) When the golden-cheeked warbler migrates to Texas they nest in its juniper trees. Because the property owners did not want to be put on the ESA’s list of critical habitats they decided to demolish them. (Cooper) With this in mind a collaboration of “conservation groups, developers, and government officials” (Jost) have found a way to compromise, the Balcones Canyonland Conservation Plan. They have made a plan to build 60,000 of juniper trees so that the golden-cheeked warbler is able to breed without getting in the way of development. (Jost) Satellite mapping technologies are now being used to help preserve the important habitats of endangered species. Government agencies and environmental groups” are making attempt to compromise by using satellite mapping technologies to locate certain rare animals and plants and steer construction away from a needed habitat without restricting development. Their ultimate goal is to create minimal impact of developmental growth on important habitats (Cooper). Homo sapiens assume that they are immune to this extinction, however, that is false. With the depletion and extinction of rare animals, plants and minerals the human race will have to alter their way of living. A lot of traditional medicines come from endangered animals and with the extinction of these animals goes these precious medicines. The United States consumes more resources than virtually any other country. The result of the loss of these resources will change everything from food supplies to medical breakthroughs to the weather (Cooper). Global warming continues to be a growing threat to the environment. It has already begun destroying the earth’s biodiversity, and humans add to this disaster by the continued use of harmful chemicals and the overuse of cars. If a drastic change is not made to society’s current lifestyle, the consequences will completely alter human’s way of life (Lerner). Man views himself as ruler of this world and thinks that he knows how to best rule his land, because of this ignorance and overuse of the earth’s resources, the world is currently facing a mass extinction. The likes of which have never been seen before. Because the ever-growing population the earth may not be able to sustain it. The loss of biodiversity could negatively affect the well-being of civilization because it may become harder to grow crops and develop new medicines or even our traditional medicines.
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