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Planet Earth Under Threat

What's up with Extinction? Well, it's because we're causing it and the next generation are going to be Peeved

  • Julian Hector
  • 23 Oct 06, 01:45 PM

Milne-edward-sifaka © Katherine Banner-Martin.jpg

Palaeontologists say that one species evolves per million species per million years - And conversely, one species goes extinct for every million species about once every million years. So it cancels and life on Earth moves on. Ecologists specialising in extinction rates, when all human activity is added up, are finding that the rate of extinction today is 100X that, probably 1000X and in the future is likely to be about 10,000X. By the end of 2100 50% of life on Earth might have vanished: that's plants, especially flowering plants, insects, birds, amphibians, mammals - groups that we know about. Little is known about the "little things that run the world" - no one knows how many bacteria, mini beasts, fungi etc might have popped it. All of this will take millions of years to evolve again (assuming we weren't on Earth). Not good.

For our first show we have just cut a story about Sifaka's. These are one of the species of Lemur that live on Madagascar. Jody went out with Gabrielle tro get this and other stories and came back with the extraordinary tale that the teeth of the old females are being worn down. Madgascar isn't a place where there's a global warming signal on land...or so they think. Lemur expert Pat Wright - who lives on site with the Lemurs - says the rain fall pattern has changed. They are getting dry spells when the females with a baby in toe desperately need the water and nourishment from succulent leaves. The upshot is they are swallowing the dry leaves whole, grinding their teeth down trying to chew them up - And their babies are perishing from dehydration and malnutrition. Pat says 20% of the lemurs are effected. A nasty way in which gloabl warming is indirectly driving a lemur species to bite the dust.

Extinction matters because we will lose the benefits that a diverse living world provides. Lemurs have a role in a tropical forest. They move tree fruits around and are part of the maintenance of a complex tropical rainforest. The ancientness of jungles in turn allows a glittering variety of life to evolve. The myriad of plants and animals pop up with cures for cancer, new generation anti-biotics and a wealth of other medicines. The forests stabilise the ground allowing indigenous communities to live sustainably. The forests also have bigger roles in gas exchange with the atmosphere.

In the oceans new medicines are being generated from the chemical defences of deep sea sponges. Coral reefs harbour many secrets valuable to us - we can't even guess what might be discovered in the future.

And there is building evidence that the aesthetic of the living world is fundamental to our well being. We are healthier and happier if we have some connection with the natural world. I could put it even more strongly...Well being, good health and happiness make you look younger. The one thing, according to a recent study, that can be correlated to longevity is how young you look for your age. So there you are, you could argue that biodiversity is linked to how long you will live.

And of course many are writing about the need to re-connect with the natural world as part of the solution to global warming.

Our activity is predicted to drive species extinctions at 10,000 x above base rate. Ed Wilson told us ["......if we don't do something to reverse this trend, future generations to say the least will be a little peeved"]

Said with a rye southern accent and a knowing twinkle in his eye, Ed knew this was the understatement of the century.

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The Next Generation will be peeved because the Earth may head in the direction of its sister planet Venus.

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  • 2.
  • At 08:54 AM on 24 Oct 2006,
  • jason wrote:

www.vhemt.org have the answer !

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This reality also raises some interesting and somewhat paradoxical questions around the proliferation of the human race. If there are more and more of us, and we all want to live longer, how on earth are we to control the exploitation and alteration of the natural world that contributes to the conditions you outline? Are those who study extinction also looking at the swarming of the human species and the ultimate conclusion that this will lead to? These are questions that most (especially politicians) do not want to even think about.
Of course people feel happier and healthier if they are closer to nature - this is no great revelation, we have known it for centuries. But how is a child brought up by a low income family in a city centre tower block to experience this? I fear that for many such children, nature is something that they might occasionally see on the television - interesting, but not quite the same as being there. For them, living close to nature is simply not an option. Yet, with the relentless proliferation of the human race, we must inevitably create such living conditions, as we congregate in centres of population. So long as we remain frightened to even think about this factor, so long shall we continue to damage the environment and affect other species - even though we know we are doing it. There are some deep philosophical questions here! Perhaps you recall the futuristic 70s film Soylent Green? It contained some interesting, if somewhat disturbing predictions - including the 'remember nature' factor. To end on a positive note, there is undoubtedly a balance to be found, if we look for it hard enough and long enough. TV documentaries might perhaps usefully promote this train of thought as part of the package...

JA

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  • 4.
  • At 09:40 AM on 24 Oct 2006,
  • Ju foster wrote:

A couple of generations down the line may not be peeved because they could be extinct themsevles.

It is better to take action and find its unecessary than to take none and find its too late.

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  • 5.
  • At 05:49 PM on 24 Oct 2006,
  • julian Hector wrote:

I've just been reviewing some interviews that will be in the series about genetic modification in the the light of climate change (evolution if you like). And it seems, those rapidly reproducing small creatures with large populations are the ones that will "find" a solution. Mosquito's for example are shifting the day length sensitivity which stimulates them to emerge from eggs. Isn't space to explain here, but essentially those adapted to southern climates are shifting happily to northern latitudes and genetically different populations are being selected. The converse - the big animals and plants, with small populations (because that's the ecological rule) - polar bears, oak trees etc won't make it. The creatures we all like won't make it. So, what would a world be like with 50% less species: mosquito's, rates, cockroaches and lots of gunge green stuff. Blog away

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  • 6.
  • At 10:57 PM on 24 Oct 2006,
  • Timbo wrote:

Interesting article. Could you let those of us following this up where the peer reviewed scientific papers are by the palaeontologists and ecologists are published? I'm sure that they'd make a interesting reading. Also, the new medicines.
Thanks

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  • 7.
  • At 09:19 AM on 25 Oct 2006,
  • marco wrote:

in my earlier years i supported ,was keenly interested in alternat lifestyles/technology....enviromental problems......mowadays as a single parent...i find myself vehementley peeved of at at all these ''do -gooders'' who have caused rules ..legislation ..to appear causeing for example the price of electricity to rise..--a lot !!i have enough to keep my head above water ..with no time or energy to worry about much else.
it would be better if people involved with the struggle for ''nature''etc to put there feet on the ground ....there is no replacement for nuclear energy at present....so make it safer..or build more hydro electric dams(where did all the swedish one's go to??)..anything..but not just tax..make rules/laws make things harder for probably- i think the majority of people ..who will in the end turn against the whole thing because threy just feel the direct pinch it causes to there immediate survival.

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  • 8.
  • At 03:13 PM on 29 Oct 2006,
  • Brooke Hassan wrote:

I don't want them to be icstinct they are so cute.

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  • 9.
  • At 03:15 PM on 29 Oct 2006,
  • Brooke Hassan wrote:

I don't want them to be icstinct they are so cute.

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  • 10.
  • At 09:55 AM on 02 Nov 2006,
  • Tanuki wrote:

Um, I think you mean a "wry" southern accent. Rye is a kind of grain.

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  • 11.
  • At 12:20 PM on 03 Nov 2006,
  • julian Hector wrote:

wry, you're right and Walden pond I have been writing as waldon I think. Wonder where other typo's are...too much txt msging. apologies.

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  • 14.
  • At 07:03 PM on 11 Jan 2007,
  • pUNKgIRL wrote:

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