In this 1st part of 3, we are going to explain the facts behind why the world is now facing a 6th mass extinction, and how humanity is the cause for it. Told beautifully with narrator David Attenborough through a program called ‘Extinction: The Facts’, aired first on the BBC in 2020.
In this 1st part of 3, Attenborough explains the facts behind why humanity is the cause of and now in global mass extinction. Told using a transcript from a program aired first on the BBC called, Extinction: The Facts. Over the course of an hour, David, with the help of leading academics and industry experts, will explain some of the causes of the extinction. And the short version of that explanation goes as follows:
Biodiversity is vanishing at rates never before seen in human history. The cause, human activity which is generating a climate extinction, threatening one in four species on earth with animal extinction. David speaks of how scientists have linked man’s destructive relationship with nature to the Covid-19 virus, habitat loss leading to disease transference from animals to people. And with that habitat loss, vertebrate animals are the first to face species extinction, many unable to sustain themselves.
Extinction is noted as a normal and natural process, but the rate of extinction taking place is 100 faster than normal and accelerating. David focuses on a species of northern white rhino and how through the acts of illegal poachers only 2 remain left in the world. David goes on to discuss how 30% of the Earth’s land surfaces have been degraded, attributed to a lack of biodiversity. This has led to a potential extinction facing 25% of plant species that rely on diverse soil conditions. Humans are factually and solely blamed for this, with David and the team turning their attention to a multi-billion global industry – Illegal wildlife trading.
In 2019, over 100 tonnes of African pangolin scales were traded or 175,000 pangolins. The creature is an important pest controller, consuming 70 million ants a year. Despite traders claiming their scales have medicinal value, they are made of keratin, the same substance human fingernails are made of. in spite of such evidence, and the link between Pangolins as a potential source of Covid 19, trading of the animal has not ceased.
And that is where we finished the short version of part 1. Here are some of those stats again:
In this 1st part of 3, Attenborough explains the facts behind why humanity is the cause of and now in a global mass extinction. Told using a transcript from a program aired first on the BBC called, ‘Extinction: The Facts’. Over the course of an hour David, with the help of leading academics and industry experts, explains some of the causes for the extinction.
Our planet is home to a seemingly infinite variety of species. From ocean giants to the tiniest insects. We call this abundance of life, biodiversity. But today, it’s vanishing at rates never seen before in human history.
The evidence is that unless immediate action is taken, this crisis has grave impacts for us all.
The decisions made as we rebuild our economies are critical.
Over the course of my life, I’ve encountered some of the world’s most remarkable species of animals. Only now do I realise just how lucky I’ve been. Many of these wonders seem set to disappear forever. We’re facing a crisis and one that has consequences for us all. It threatens our ability to feed ourselves, to control our climate. It even puts us at greater risk of pandemic diseases such as Covid-19.
It’s never been more important for us to understand the effects of biodiversity loss, of how it is that we ourselves are responsible for it. Only if we do that will we have any hope of averting disaster.
Last year, the United Nations asked over 500 scientists to investigate the current state of the natural world.
Since 1970, vertebrate animals – things like birds, mammals, amphibians and reptiles – have declined by 60% in total. Large mammals have on average disappeared from three-quarters of the range where they were historically found. What’s different is that it’s happening simultaneously in the Amazon, in Africa, in the Arctic. It’s happening not at one place and not with one group of organisms, but with all biodiversity everywhere on the planet. It means that one million species out of eight million species on Earth are now threatened with extinction. 500,000 plants and animals and 500,000 insects.
Extinction is a natural process. Things come, they grow, their populations get huge and then they decline. But it’s the rate of extinction. That’s the problem. So when you look at previous groups in the fossil records, then it’s over millions of years they go extinct. Here we’re looking at tens of years.
Since 1500, 570 plant species and 700 animal species have gone extinct. Studies suggest that extinction is now happening 100 times faster than the natural evolutionary rate, and it’s accelerating. Globally, there was a shock. Because you hadn’t pulled all that data together, people hadn’t realised that we have a very serious crisis on our hands.
Many people think of extinction being this imaginary tale told by conservationists, but I have lived it. I know what it is. I am a caretaker of the northern white rhinos. We only have two left on the planet. They are mother and daughter. This is Najin, the mother, who is 30 years old. She is very quiet. And her daughter is Fatu. This is Fatu. Hey, come on. Hey, Fatu. Fatu, no, come on. She’s 19 years old. She’s pretty much like a human teenager. She’s a little bit unpredictable and can be feisty sometimes, especially when she wants something.
Northern white rhinos were once found in their thousands in central Africa but were pushed to the brink of extinction by habitat loss and hunting. By 1990, just seven known individuals survived. I’ve seen these beautiful rhinos count from seven down to two. They’re here because we’ve betrayed them. And I think they feel it, this threatening tide of extinction that is pushing on them. They feel their world is collapsing. Unless science saves them, when Najin passes away, she’ll leave the daughter Fatu alone forever.
The last northern white rhino. And their plight awaits one million more species. Once we lose these species, we do not have hope of accumulating them back on a timescale that we exist on. Unique animals with complex and varied lives disappearing from our planet forever aren’t just disturbing. It’s deeply tragic. But this is about more than losing the wonders of nature. The consequences of these losses for us as a species are far-reaching and profound.
What we now know about the natural world is that everything is joined up. From a single pond to a whole tropical rainforest. All of the biodiversity is interlocked on a global scale and all parts of that system are required to make it function. We tend to think that we’re somehow outside of that system, but we are part of it and we are totally reliant upon it.
The problem is we’re now changing those ecological systems on a massive scale, right across the globe. And it’s threatening food and water security. We’re losing many of the things that nature provides us. One of the big threats is the loss of insects. We’ve estimated 10% are at risk of extinction. Other scientists believe the number could be much larger. Driving around, we don’t have moths, butterflies, bees, all sorts of insects on our windshield any more. And that is scary. Because they form the food chain for hundreds of thousands of other species. And they are extremely important for pollination.
Three-quarters of the world’s food crops rely partly on pollination by insects to produce the food that we need.
Another threat is the loss of diversity below ground. Soil should be teeming with life. But reports have suggested that up to 30% of the land’s surface globally has been degraded and has soils of low biodiversity. One of the most important things that animals in the soil do is break down organic matter which can then be used for plant growth. So if we lose the diversity of the soil, the consequences of that can be catastrophic.
We’re seeing already that due to soil degradation and changes in the Earth’s climate, food production in some parts of the world is going down. Unfortunately, most affected would be poor people in developing countries. But there’s no question everybody in the world, one way or another, is being affected by the loss of biodiversity.
One of the really big problems is what’s happening to plants. The picture is grim. 25% of the plant species that have been assessed are threatened with extinction. One in four plants. I find that terrifying. Plants underpin almost every single thing that we require. Think about the air we breathe, the concentration of CO2 in the air, clean water.
Trees regulate water flow across landscapes. Intercept the rainfall and the roots hold the soil in place. So you chop all those trees down, there’s nothing doing that, you end up with a landslide. We’ve learnt that many, many times, and yet we carry on making the same mistake. Even in the UK, we’ve converted many areas that have been natural wetlands, which would absorb the water. What we’re now seeing are major floods.
The impacts of biodiversity loss are no longer a threat to future generations to face. We ourselves must do so. It’s never been more critical for us to understand what is driving this crisis. Scientists have identified the key ways in which we humans are destroying the ecosystems on which we depend. There are many ways to remove pieces of the puzzle. The most obvious way is to kill something, and we do a lot of that.
One of the drivers for increasing demand is increased income in China, Vietnam or elsewhere. If you have money, if you have internet, you can literally order anything that you want. It could be a status symbol or it could be for medicinal purposes. But it’s all made up. People claim these are cultures and traditions, but a lot is really just a marketing scheme by traders looking for the next animal to exploit.
Today, the most trafficked animal in the world is one few people have ever seen and many have never even heard of. Pangolins are nocturnal animals found throughout Asia and Africa. They are natural pest controllers. Each one can consume 70 million ants a year. Pangolins are the only mammal covered in scales, and this is their downfall.
The numbers of African pangolin scales that have been intercepted going into Asia has dramatically increased over the last few years. Last year, 2019, it was just over 100 tonnes of scales. That’s 175,000 pangolins that have been killed for the scale trade. We work closely with law enforcement officials. This little pangolin came in off the trade, and they’re usually dehydrated and emaciated. This pangolin’s still got the little white tips at the end of each scale which shows his use. And this is a particularly pretty little pangolin. Poaching is a brutally cruel business. I have seen video footage of them being boiled alive. It’s extremely distressing to see how these animals are killed.
Last year, when Covid-19 first emerged, pangolins were pointed to as a potential source of the virus. And everybody hoped that this would cut down the trade straight away, but unfortunately, that’s not happened. The trade is highly profitable and it’s unlikely to stop.
At One Tribe we continue to be in awe of the work of David Attenborough. We completely agree with his positivity and hope that people can and will take action to end the current climate crisis. Together, as one tribe we can protect and restore the natural world, starting with our forests. We will conclude with a few lines from David that have stuck with us over the years.
“Saving our planet is within reach. We have worked out all the problems. We are working on all the solutions. Most of them we can do now, and, over time, all of them help the economy. We have a plan. We know what to do. There is a path to sustainability.”
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