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Byron Shire
April 11, 2021

Plague of humans

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Over Easter I visited a friend who’s spent decades doing her best to protect old growth forests, preserve human connection with nature in the raw and help save our planet from the climate emergency.

Warren Kennedy, Mullumbimby

I think Lindy Stacker has misunderstood my point regarding extinction. I simply argued that a rational approach precludes attempting to save every threatened species. Extinction’s a natural process which occurred for millions of years before we arrived and would continue even if humankind made no impact at all on the planet.

If it’s true that a million species are at risk that’s all the more reason to be selective in the species we try to support individually. There are about 1.3m known species of an estimated 8.7m species in existence – so 85 per cent of endangered species haven’t been discovered yet.

And if a million species are at risk then, as Lindy said, we might be seeing the start of earth’s sixth mass extinction. Previous mass extinctions were caused by volcanic activity or meteor strike but the next, if it’s happening, will be caused by us, homo (as it turns out, not so) sapiens. 

And it’s not just climate change accelerated by the gasses we pump into the atmosphere that’s the problem. We also have to deal with human overpopulation. The one amplifies the effects of the other. 

We must drastically reduce our atmospheric emissions but we must also curb population growth which is out of control. It took more than 200,000 years for the human population to reach a billion and only 200 years to add six billion more. In 1800 there were a billion of us. Now there are 7.7 billion and we’ll reach 10 billion by 2050. 

It’s a plague of humans. Many of the issues raised by Lindy are a result of over population. Land clearance, for example, which destroys habitat and accelerates climate heating, makes way for homes and food and clothing for the increasing number of people. The more of us there are the more oil will be burnt, the more waste will be produced, and the more pressure will be put on other species.

As new species are constantly evolving other species are being extinguished. That’s what Darwin meant by ‘the survival of the fittest’; the species that survive are those that are adaptable and fit their biome best. The problem with humans is that we don’t adapt to the biome we adapt the biome to us, and that threatens other species.

Things have gone too far; if we want to prevent mass extinction we have to be selective in the species we try to rescue. 

Not all species will survive and we shouldn’t be trying to save individual species unless they have a special value. For example, species living on and around coral reefs depend on the coral so maybe coral polyps are species worth trying to save as a group but other reef species will have to take their chances. 

The only way we can mitigate large-scale anthropogenic extinction is to reduce dramatically our greenhouse emissions and curb population growth. Addressing just one of these issues won’t be effective and getting concerned about every individual species will be counterproductive. 

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