Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Presbyterian Church's Call to Halt Mass Extinction

This post is a part of our occasional series by Endangered Species Coalition Member Organizations.

By Dr. Tom English, Creation Care Educator with the Presbyterian Church USA.

Why did the Presbyterian Church issue "A Call to Halt Mass Extinction?" Isn't extinction a part of the normal lifecycle of life on this planet? Extinction is normal, however, today's situation is certainly extreme. Current extinction rates are greater than anything the planet has seen in 65 million years, when a large meteor slammed into the Earth and ended the reign of the dinosaurs. The noted Harvard professor, E. O. Wilson, has estimated conservatively that “Human activity has increased extinction between 1,000 and 10,000 times over this level [the normal rate] in the rain forest by reduction of area alone. Clearly we are in the midst of one of the great extinction spasms in geological history.”

In response to this crisis, the Presbyterian Church states: "The Creator-Deliverer calls human communities to work with God to rectify the abuses whereby human impacts upon the Earth are leading to a mass extinction of living species. This mass extinction would fundamentally alter and undermine the life and well-being of the humans and other creatures that survive. It would rob all future generations of the gifts of wholeness and diversity that God intends."

We are in the beginning of the Earth's sixth great mass extinction. This extinction is caused by a variety of factors including: habitat removal, invasive species, human population growth, pollution, and overharvesting. We are removing tropical rain forests at such a rate that they all will be eliminated within this century. More than half of all species live in tropical rainforests, and more than half of those species are endemic to the tropical rain forest. Thus destruction of tropical rain forests will drive more than 25% of Earth's species to extinction this century, unless we change our ways.

In their landmark paper, "Extinction Risk from Climate Change" (Thomas et al. Nature 427, 145–148. January 8, 2004), Thompson et al show that Global Climate Change is having a similar impact on extinction of species as the destruction of tropical rainforests. Hence, the combined impact of both the destruction of tropical rainforest and global climate change, indicate that humanity will cause a mass extinction of more than half of all plant and animal species during the 21st century, unless we change our ways.

Humans are the top-level predator of the planet today, so we will be severely impacted by a mass extinction. Randomly losing one half of the plants and animals in humanity's food web will ruin the food supply system for people over the entire Earth, leading to a collapse of the economic system of many countries. People will attempt to ease their suffering by migration to other countries. Global migration will increase international tensions causing nations to war with one another. Let's make sure that we use our intelligence to create a much better future for our children and future generations.

Dr. English is the President of the TESSI Endangered Species Institute, and an Adjunct Professor at Palomar College. He worked at the U.S. EPA and advised President Carter's Office of Science and Technology Policy.

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