A Time When A Near Wipeout Is Imminent

Gowri S, III Year B. A. English

“Nature thrives on patience; Man on impatience.” This very impatience of human beings mentioned in this Paul Boesan quote is what instigates their callous attitude towards nature. Nowadays, even without the aid of statistical data, one can easily infer the rate of deterioration of the natural world surrounding us.

Global Warming is an active contender in this race towards the end of the world, the repercussions of which are not alien to us. Owing to the fact that we belong to the 21st century, where exploitation is at its helm and sustainable development nowhere to be seen, we are experiencing a fair share of the adverse effects already.

Hence it wouldn’t be surprising to know that global warming has the ability to lead 1 out of every 13 species on Earth into extinction, according to a new study. While North America and Europe stand saved due to their relatively smaller rates of extinction, South America’s heat-triggered extinction rates are likely to ascend to an alarming 23 percentage, the worst recorded for any continent.

The analysis and compilation of the 131 peer-reviewed studies on different species by ecologist Mark Urban of the University of Connecticut have pointed out that the average extinction rate of the globe has been found to be 7.9 percent.

This figure is the average for all the regions and species and has been concluded on the basis of the assumptions made regarding the future trends of greenhouse gas emissions. Urban calls this result a sober one, which deserves immediate attention.

According to him, the calculated rate does not necessarily signal the complete wipe-out of the species. He opines that some will be just on an irreversible decline dwindling towards obliteration. Criticisms levelled against Urban say that he has underestimated the real rate of extinction, because he solely focuses on temperature and does not consider other factors which catalyse the situation like fire or interaction with other animals.

Biologists Stuart Pimm of Duke University and Terry Root of Stanford University point out that more studies have been done in North America and Europe where the extinction rates are lower.

The current calculated rate is not constant and can change with respect to time and the heat released from burning coal, oil and gas. Urban writes that at the moment the rate is as low as 2.8 percent and has a tendency to rise with increased carbon dioxide pollution and warmer temperatures.

It has also been found that if the carbon emissions continue to rise globally in the current pace, by the end of this century, 1 in 6 of the species will be treading the road to extinction. This accounts for a rate higher than the overall rate of 7.9 percent which was calculated hoping that the world would reduce or at least slow down the carbon emissions.

As the temperature increases, the species would start migrating to the poles and up in elevation, in an effort to escape the heat. But Urban says that some species like the American Pika would not be able to shift further and are likely to die in the heat.

The African Pika faces extinction. [Source: Peter Mirejovsky]
This scenario of a gradual yet obvious habitat loss is akin to that of being caught in an ever shrinking island. The extinction from warming climates has been rendered insignificant by a much higher extinction rate contributed by man.

According to Pimm, for every species disappearing for natural causes, 1000 are vanishing due to unnatural man made causes. This observation once again proves the extent of human involvement in this deterioration.  Urban declares that though the current situation is not analogous to an instance of mass extinction, it is obviously redolent of an impending wipe-out and we are undoubtedly headed in that direction.

Another study was conducted by examining 23 million years of marine fossils in order to check the extinction rates of aquatic animals. Marine animals like whales, dolphins and seals have been found to be the most vulnerable, according to this study.

Moreover the Gulf of Mexico, Caribbean Sea, Western Indian Ocean and Pacific Ocean between Australia and Japan have been found as posing extreme potential for extinction in the offing, especially the ones caused by manmade factors.

We, however, tend to conveniently ignore the fact that our avaricious nature is what contributes to most of the problems concerning the ecosystem. What we forget is that these problems would ultimately victimise us and thus rob us of all the comfort we experience now. Animals too play a vital role in balancing our ecosystem and a world devoid of them would undoubtedly pave way to a situation worse than ever.


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