What if nobody on earth died?
Will humanity survive the sixth great mass extinction?
There are those who say that we are already in the middle of a sixth mass extinction. What do you think?
In all honesty, this is one of the discussions that I think we are focusing on the wrong things. By the time we have finally answered this question, three quarters of all species may have disappeared from the earth. We don't even want to get to the point where we can definitely answer the question.
One thing is beyond question: We live in a time with very, very high extinction rates. They are in an area that could correspond to a mass extinction, which can extend over many thousands of years.
Are there habitats, species or groups of animals that are particularly endangered by the changes taking place?
Island populations are much more at risk of extinction for a variety of reasons. They usually lived in isolation. But we are removing the borders that protected this island species. Land mammals did not originally exist in New Zealand. The species that evolved in the absence of these predators were extremely delicate. As a result, vast numbers of bird species have become extinct in New Zealand, and those that remain are critically endangered.
So places that have been isolated for a long time are vulnerable. The same is true of species that exist in a very limited area in only one place in the world. If their habitat is destroyed, they cannot evade and simply have no chance.
What evidence is there that we humans are responsible for the sixth mass extinction?
I think there is no doubt that we are responsible for the high rates of extinction. We are hardly aware of any species deaths from the last 100 years, perhaps even at all, that would have taken place without human intervention. I've never heard anyone say: "Oh, extinction is completely natural, it would exist without humans." It's impossible to deny that.
We fire a weapon that we have loaded with a wide variety of ammunition.
There are thousands upon thousands of scientific articles on the subject. We go hunting. We introduced invasive species. We are changing the climate according to geological standards in an incredibly fast way. We are changing the chemistry of all oceans. We are changing the surface of the planet. We cut down forests and plant monocultures, which harm many species. We're overfishing. The list is endless.
There is no end of ammunition and we have a pretty large arsenal.
Can we still slow down species extinction?
We have talked about numerous factors in how we are changing the planet, and for each individual case I can give an endless number of reports that tell us what we can do better. For example, there are the dead zones in the ocean. They are caused by our irresponsible use of fertilizers. We apply nitrogen to the fields in the American Midwest, which washes over the Mississippi into the Gulf of Mexico and creates these dead zones.
The basic question here is: Can 7.3 billion - and soon 8 or 9 - billion people live on this planet along with all the species that currently exist? Or are we on a collision course, which is also due to the fact that we consume a lot of resources that other living beings would also like to consume? I cannot answer that question.
How long did it take for the planet to recover from the other five mass extinctions?
It will apparently take several million years until the original biodiversity is restored.
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