Today’s Mass Extinction by khteWisconsin on Flickr.

Via Flickr:
I am concerned by a general failure of any level of government to act appropriately in response to the deteriorating environment. No where is this more evident than in the truly horrifying revelations made available through conferences on biology related to the current mass extinction – the planet’s 6th.

The rapid disappearance of species was ranked as one of the planet’s gravest environmental worries, surpassing pollution, global warming and the thinning of the ozone layer, according to the survey of 400 scientists commissioned by New York’s American Museum of Natural History.

“The speed at which species are being lost is much faster than any we’ve seen in the past – including those [extinctions] related to meteor collisions,”; said Daniel Simberloff, a University of Tennessee ecologist and prominent expert in biological diversity who participated in the museum’s survey. [Note: the last mass extinction caused by a meteor collision was that of the dinosaurs, 65 million years ago.] Seven out of 10 biologists believe the world is now in the midst of the fastest mass extinction of living things in the 4.5 billion-year history of the planet. [1]

In addition to what already has gone extinct, one-fifth, 20%, of all species currently alive is scheduled to disappear within the next 30 years. Unfortunately, the percentage of living biomass represented by these additional extinctions will not represent one-fifth. In fact, it is very likely that as a percentage of living biomass these “one-fifth of all species” will represent a shockingly high percentage of living biomass. Plankton will disappear.

These conclusions are not the consequence of a guessing game. You need to view catastrophic levels of extinction as a naturally recurring phenomenon with any one or a combination of causes. None of which is markedly different in effect from what the world is currently experiencing now for anthropomorphic reasons.

Do not take comfort in thinking it takes a once-in-a-billion-year collision with an asteroid to wipe out life on the planet. Fossil evidence suggests that a major biological convergence, or mass extinction, was well underway when the asteroidal collision of 65 million years ago wiped out the dinosaurs. The asteroid just finished the job – early and rather thoroughly. The real culprit up until the asteroid was simply a consequence of those natural forces that have always been present. For instance, (but not limited to) normal continental drift contributing to changes in weather patterns, as well as introducing previously separated species. These effects have modern synonyms. “Changes in weather patterns” can be thought of as, amongst other things, “loss of habitat” and “introducing previously separated species” loosely means there was a problem with invasive species.

These processes are now taking place at an extremely rapid rate.

Mammals, larger ones in particular, do not do well in mass extinctions. For instance, the mass extinction that brought an end to the Kazanian and Tartarian Epochs were dominated by protomammals. And then, once again, at the end of the Scythian Epoch mammalian life was wiped out. Human beings are mammals. Under environmental stress (or “when subjected to extreme evolutionary pressures”) our challenged yet warm blooded physiologies provide a perfect culture for opportunistic viruses and other diseases to thrive [2]. This can already be observed today.

What is more, consider the hygiene hypothesis where exposure to too clean a world (“too clean” being a stressed environmental state relative to the rich level of microbial biodiversity in which human beings thrived and evolved) frustrates the proper development of the human immune system in children. Mass extinctions clean life off the planet.

Are we full in the process of a very, very grave situation? The answer is, yes. Will mass extinctions bring complications beyond simply making it difficult to feed ourselves? Yes. It has happened before and it is happening now and you would be ill advised to expect a different result.

I am not going to speculate as to what unique information to the contrary you may feel you have – but you are welcome to offer it. Nor for that matter am I going to argue with you over the validity of any limitations that may preclude you from taking appropriate action. We are all aware of the coming rice shortages. We all know that the pollinating services of the honey bee account for ¾ of the food on our plate. It is imperative that the environment not be allowed to degrade further or it will only hasten a repeat of history. If you are uncomfortable with the conclusion then you need to seek additional information outside your usual sources.

This country needs to change every aspect of its conduct with respect to the environment. We have already secured ourselves a horrible environmental future. The time to suffer inconveniences on behalf of the environment has come and gone.

All levels of government need to consider putting into action drastic measures to preserve the environment regardless of what other countries, states, cities, etc. are doing. By following such an “every man for himself” policy perhaps we could then at least take solace in the fact that when the country falls into an environmental crisis - and it will – we will have at least earned the empathy and assistance of other countries. Alternatively, if another country does act in an environmentally irresponsible manner and suffers a related catastrophe they should be denied assistance.

Additionally, public lands should be viewed more as “biological and genetic preserves” than an asset solely for the use, enjoyment and benefit of the public.

In any event, to do nothing would be extremely irresponsible.

Thank you,

[1] www.well.com/~davidu/extinction.html
[2] “The Dinosaur Heresies”, Robert T. Bakker, Ph.D. ISBN 0-8217-2859-8