Your choice: human-caused mass extinction


Paul Moon, Managing Editor

Countless birds fly out of the woods as a fire rages in the middle of the Amazon, destroying hundreds of acres of trees and burning up all life in its path. A few months later, a plain of grass and a herd of cattle raised for their meat will replace the once biodiverse lands of the Amazon rainforest. 

When thinking of the term “mass extinction,” you might picture a mountain-sized asteroid hurtling into Earth, killing everything explosively upon impact, or a sudden ice age that kills off flora and fauna due to an uninhabitable climate, as seen in Hollywood movies such as “Don’t Look Up.” Indeed, in all five of the confirmed major extinction events recorded in history, these natural disasters were the primary causes. However, the sixth mass extinction currently underway is unique in that the fault lies in us humans and our ignorance.

The definition of mass extinction is known as a rapid and widespread loss of biodiversity on Earth. From this standard, the sixth mass extinction has begun since the mid-20th century. The Holocene Extinction, otherwise known as the human-caused extinction, is the result of decades worth of human interception with the ecological equilibrium, whether it is from releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, overfishing, or cutting down entire rainforests.

Currently, the rate of extinction is approximately 1,000 times the normal amount, which is 8.7 species per year. Humans and our livestock are responsible for 96 percent of the mammal biomass. Right now, there are 7,079 unique species labeled as critically endangered and the figure grows every single year.

It is difficult to blame a single cause that has led to a drastic reduction of biodiversity, as the Holocene Extinction is the culmination of ignorant human actions. 17 percent of the Amazon Rainforest has been destroyed in the last 50 years, for instance, a majority of which has been due to humans burning entire sections of the rainforest to make room for cattle. Though the rural farmers residing in Amazon did not intend to cause harm, their actions jeopardize the Earth’s oxygen. 

Overfishing is yet another factor—in fact, the leading cause—of mass species extinctions. The consequences of overfishing have put over one-third of all shark, ray, and chimera species at risk of extinction, and many claim there is no easy way to reverse it. The issue extends beyond annihilating a single species, for the effect can reverberate through food chains. 

Whether you know it or not, you have contributed to the Holocene Extinction. If you have ever eaten meat or fish, you have contributed. If you have ever purchased goods made from animals, especially exotic ones, you have contributed. If you have ever thrown away a plastic bottle, turned on the air conditioner, or used the Internet, you have contributed. 

It might seem overwhelming as every action that you have taken and are still taking is contributing to the mass extinction. You may even feel as though any change you attempt to make is futile. However, this is definitely not the case. Simply purchasing products from more eco-friendly brands, reusing durable plastic-cotton bags for shopping instead of single-use bags, and refraining from purchasing luxury goods made from exotic animals are all changes you can make right now that will make a difference. 

Choices that are slightly more difficult to make such as reducing your meat/fish intake and actively reducing your carbon footprint by not using the heater make the most difference over time. Although it might seem like these difficult choices are made in vain, if you can get yourself and other people to do the same, your choice can truly make the difference. If you want to take a more direct approach, you can donate to non-profit organizations like the World Wildlife Fund that help conserve endangered species.

The fault of the sixth mass extinction falls heavily on mankind’s shoulders. However, with your choice, the Holocene Extinction can be stopped.