Rethinking Extinction: Toning down a pop-market recipe for panic and paralysis

C C Offline

EXCERPT: [...] Viewing every conservation issue through the lens of extinction threat is simplistic and usually irrelevant. Worse, it introduces an emotional charge that makes the problem seem cosmic and overwhelming rather than local and solvable. [...] the trends for conservation in this century are looking bright. We are re-enriching some ecosystems we once depleted and slowing the depletion of others. Before I explain how we are doing that, let me spell out how exaggerated the focus on extinction has become and how it distorts the public perception of conservation.

Many now assume that we are in the midst of a human-caused ‘Sixth Mass Extinction’ to rival the one that killed off the dinosaurs 66 million years ago. But we’re not. The five historic mass extinctions eliminated 70 per cent or more of all species in a relatively short time. That is not going on now. ‘If all currently threatened species were to go extinct in a few centuries and that rate continued,’ began a recent Nature magazine introduction to a survey of wildlife losses, ‘the sixth mass extinction could come in a couple of centuries or a few millennia.’

[...] How should we gauge the health of ecosystems? Biodiversity – the sheer number of species present – is one important measure, widely used.

[...] The island conservationist Josh Donlan estimates that islands, which are just 3 per cent of the Earth’s surface, have been the site of 95 per cent of all bird extinctions since 1600 [...] Those are horrifying numbers, but the losses are extremely local. They have no effect on the biodiversity and ecological health of the continents and oceans that make up 97 per cent of the Earth.

The frightening extinction statistics that we hear are largely an island story, and largely a story of the past, because most island species that were especially vulnerable to extinction are already gone. The island ecosystems have not collapsed in their absence. Life becomes different, and it carries on. Since the majority of invasive species are relatively benign, they add to an island’s overall biodiversity.

[...] The trends are favourable. Conservation efforts often appear in the media like a series of defeats and retreats, but as soon as you look up from the crisis-of-the-month, you realise that, in aggregate, conservation is winning. The ecologist Stuart Pimm at Duke University in North Carolina claims that conservationists have already reduced the rate of extinction by 75 per cent. Getting the world’s extinction rate back down to normal is a reasonable goal for this century. Restoring full natural bioabundance in most of the world will take longer, however. It would mean bringing wildlife populations back up to the marvellous level of ecological richness that existed before human impact. That could be a two-century goal.

But a perception problem stands in the way. Consider the language of these [inaccurate] news headlines [...] Lazy romanticism about impending doom becomes the default view.

No end of specific wildlife problems remain to be solved, but describing them too often as extinction crises has led to a general panic that nature is extremely fragile or already hopelessly broken. That is not remotely the case. Nature as a whole is exactly as robust as it ever was – maybe more so, with humans around to head off ice ages and killer asteroids. Working with that robustness is how conservation’s goals get reached....
Mr Doodlebug Offline

[Image: ExtinctionAndPopulation_430.jpg]

[Image: ExtinctionAndPopulation_430.jpg]

I don't see much cause for optimism.

The point about the mass of extinctions taking place on three percent of the land mass.
These places were an earthly paradise.

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