We're on the brink of mass extinction—but there's still time to pull back

Earth
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Imagine being a scuba diver and leaving your oxygen tank behind you on a dive. Or a mountain climber and abandoning your ropes. Or a skydiver and shedding your parachute. That's essentially what humans are doing as we expand our footprint on the planet without paying adequate attention to impacts on other living things, according to researchers from the University of Minnesota and McGill University. Because we depend on plants and animals for food, shelter, clean air and water and more, anything we do that makes life harder for them eventually comes around to make life harder for us as well.

But, reporting with colleagues from around the world in this week's special biodiversity issue of the scientific journal Nature, the researchers also note that all is not lost, and offer specific strategies for turning that tide before it's too late.

Forest Isbell, of University of Minnesota's College of Biological Sciences, McGill biologist Andrew Gonzalez and coauthors from eight countries on four continents provided an overview of what we know and still need to learn about the impacts of habitat destruction, overhunting, the introduction of nonnative species, and other human activities on biodiversity. In addition, they summarized previous research on how biodiversity loss affects nature and the benefits nature provides—for example, a recent study showing that reduced diversity in tree species in forests is linked to reduced wood production. Synthesizing findings of other studies, they estimated that the value humans derive from biodiversity is 10 times what every country in the world put together spends on conservation today—suggesting that additional investments in protecting species would not only reduce but provide economic benefit, too.

"Human activities are driving the sixth mass extinction in the history of life on Earth, despite the fact that diversity of life enhances many benefits people reap from nature, such as wood from forests, livestock forage from grasslands, and fish from oceans and streams," said Isbell, who served as lead author the paper. "It would be wise to invest much more in conserving biodiversity."

"Biodiversity plays a big role in the UN Sustainable Development Goals that aim to ensure human wellbeing in the long-term" said Gonzalez. "Attaining the UN SDGs will require action to conserve and restore from local to global scales".

In a separate review article, Regents Professor David Tilman and colleagues from the United States, the United Kingdom and South Africa took a look at how threats to biodiversity are expected to grow as human population and GDP increases around the world. With an additional 3.2 billion people expected by 2060, most in sub-Saharan Africa, and standard of living expected to rise at the same time, demand on natural resources and extinction threats to land mammals and birds will both become more severe. However, based on reviews of multiple studies, the team concluded that by boosting crop yield, reducing the amount of animal-based protein in our diets, strategically using the most productive land for food production, and preventing overhunting and poaching, we can dramatically reduce the increase in extinction rates the world faces as a result.

"The policies and actions that we adopt now will … be instrumental in determining which, and how many, species will survive the present era of environmental change," Tilman and colleagues wrote. "With forethought and timely action, these goals can be achieved."


Explore further

Protecting life's tangled ecological webs

More information: Forest Isbell et al. Linking the influence and dependence of people on biodiversity across scales, Nature (2017). DOI: 10.1038/nature22899
Journal information: Nature

Provided by McGill University
Citation: We're on the brink of mass extinction—but there's still time to pull back (2017, May 31) retrieved 18 April 2019 from https://phys.org/news/2017-05-brink-mass-extinctionbut.html
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May 31, 2017
We're on the brink of a technological revolution that will reduce our dependency on the environment. Just like when we were hunting but couldn't get enough food from that, so we had to invent agriculture. Next thing may be vat-grown food with artificial energy and nutrients. Next thing, agriculture will become undesirable because of the far cheaper new source of food.

That would not be too far actually. If we concentrated on growing bacteria and yeasts for food, or at least on cellulose-eating insects, which are extremely efficient organisms, then cows, sheep and probably corn and wheat would be grown far less.

May 31, 2017
We're on the brink of a technological revolution that will reduce our dependency on the environment.

Finally someone intelligent enough to understand what the exponential growth of technology means.
http://theemergin...ment.pdf
Now if you look at this pdf and you won't believe it. The study originally was done by Ray Kurzweil, a very famous scientist. Nobody believed the results, so many scientists repeated the study to show that Kurzweil was wrong. They all reached the approximately the same acceleration rate as Kurzweil.
Check it out on google using the keywords "exponential" "growth" "of technology".
I am not smart enough to figure the error rate in a 10 year projection so I did it like this.
They went back 2000 years to the present. So 10 years / 2000 years = .005 error rate over 10 years.
So you tell me in 10 years time, with a growth rate of 1024X what technology is today, which problems we can not solve. And after 20 years!

May 31, 2017
The exponential growth of technology will only help the people who can access it, the rest will be left with a barren planet.

May 31, 2017
The exponential growth of technology will only help the people who can access it, the rest will be left with a barren planet.


Sorry guy, you just don't understand what that growth rate means.
Within 10 years or less fusion reactors. Virtually free energy for everyone on the planet. Which means clean desalinated water for everyone, irrigated deserts so no more hunger for anyone. Refrigeration for everyone. No more cold people, no more hot people. No more fossil fuel, so no more global warming.
Within 10 years no more old age. The battle cry will be "Forever young!"
Forget the conspiracies theories we will have no more use for conspiracies. Scarcity of any necessity will be a thing of the past.
With that kind of growth rate we will enhance human intelligence for everyone at least 10 fold within 15 years. Hopefully by then we will be smart enough to put a end to AI before it becomes a threat.
I know you will have objections to this reasoning but think about it carefully.

May 31, 2017
The exponential growth of technology will only help the people who can access it

Right now almost everyone has access to our technology. Smart phones etc. No one has held back technology from the third world countries. The only barrier is cost and that is dropping dramatically.
No conspiracy there.

the rest will be left with a barren planet.
.

Yes, we are destroying our planet with fossil fuel but The Earth will NOT be barren in 10 years.
And then we will turn it around.


May 31, 2017
We're on the brink of a technological revolution that will reduce our dependency on the environment.


Everyone NOTE; that is NOT a valid reason to make our environment hostile to human life. That isn't a valid reason to pollute nor live unsustainable nor to not cure about the well being of other people or future generations.

May 31, 2017
We're on the brink of a technological revolution that will reduce our dependency on the environment.

Betting our future on, as yet, unrealized technological ideas isn't a good strategy. What will you do if that tech revolution doesn't arrive in time?

The first order of business should be to make sure that we can survive with the tech we have and take everything that will help us (future tech development) as a bonus/additional safeguard on top. Not already book it in a 'must have or die' plan.

That said: Tech alone isn't the answer. People must join in (mentally) for any kind of change to work.

May 31, 2017
Everyone NOTE; that is NOT a valid reason to make our environment hostile to human life. That isn't a valid reason to pollute nor live unsustainable nor to not cure about the well being of other people or future generations.


Of course it is not a valid reason. But it's happening. Anybody that argues that technology will not increase near that fast are in denial and arguing against research and statistics. I just hope they don't consider themselves anything but prophets with no scientific facts to back their beliefs up.

They are in denial and should do their own study. But be forewarned many people already have verified that growth with their own studies.

May 31, 2017
All of these effects are caused by overpopulation. The only solution is a stoppage of births, and regulating future births to only people who can adequately raise a child, and by limiting births to 3 per woman. Billy Meier has been warning us for 50 years. And nobody listened.

May 31, 2017
All of these effects are caused by overpopulation


What is the definition of overpopulation?
I would guess it is more people than the environment can sustain.
In other words overpopulation is dependent of the state of the current technology.
Overpopulation this year may not be overpopulation in 10 years, when we have much greater technology.
Plus we already know how to control population growth (without killing anyone). In a world of no scarcity there will be fewer births per household which has already been shown in studies.

May 31, 2017
Mass extinctions have happened on this planet a number of times.. yet life continues to evolve and flourish.

May 31, 2017
Mass extinctions have happened on this planet a number of times.. yet life continues to evolve and flourish.

This seems like an incredibly silly comment to make. No one's claiming that all life will end. Since the conditions that cause a mass extinction generally make life unpleasant for things living during that time - even if they survive - it would seem to motivate us to, you know, not cause a mass extinction.

May 31, 2017
I am on board with the idea that our technology is going to develop exponentially - and I am excited about what that means for us. I do not share the optimism that some commenters here express. We already have the technology to solve the world's problems. We have renewable energy, fission power, desalination plants, ocean farm programs (see Green Wave), desert greening programs etc. etc. We choose not to use the technologies. Instead our liar in chief (Trump) wants to defund science - and pour billions more into the war machine. Our insane violence against each other seems to grow. Most do not even seem to notice a problem. I see that the main barrier is not technological, it is organizational - and we are currently failing that one horribly.

May 31, 2017
We have renewable energy, fission power, desalination plants, ocean farm programs (see Green Wave), desert greening programs etc. etc. .


Your dreaming or are you convinced the Martians are holding us back? The only thing worse than coal and oil is fission. We don't pollute the atmosphere for a generation, instead we pollute the earth and water for a few hundred thousand years or more! Desalination plants are terrifically expensive to power. Where are third world countries going to get the money to buy the water or for that matter the food from the ocean?

We need virtually free limitless non polluting energy. That energy is fussion.

Instead our liar in chief (Trump) wants to defund science

The same way you want to slander anyone you don't agree with? I am assuming you don't even know Ivana Trump's first name is why you didn't use it. Or were you talking about one of the other numerous Trumps?

May 31, 2017
Your dreaming or are you convinced the Martians are holding us back?
Neither. I think that we have an organizational problem - that is highly complex. Why was there a bombing in Kabul today that killed 80 people. Pretty f*cking stupid thing for an intelligent species - right? Look at gang violence, incarceration rates, white supremacist hate crimes - I could go on all night. So the point I am making - is that all the technology in the universe - is not going to help us much - if we don't learn to behave more intelligently. I hope it will come through a process of evolution - but I am not optimistic about our chances. Religion has to be the first stupidity to abandon.
The same way you want to slander anyone you don't agree with?
When someone tells a lie - it is fine to call them a liar. http://www.dailyw...-berrien

May 31, 2017
When someone tells a lie - it is fine to call them a liar.


No it's not, unless your a redneck, whose goal is be ignored by the majority of society. Besides you did not make it at all clear who you were calling a liar. You thought you were showing your intelligence by cloaking someone's name in hateful language.

As far as humanity's violent streak. Perhaps that is why we(humanity) are at the top of the food chain Which is where I like to be. But I do agree it is time to move past that in this stage in our evolution. The only way I can see that happening is to end all scarcity of necessities on this planet and only fusion will allow us to do that so EVERYONE can afford it.

May 31, 2017
What is the definition of overpopulation?
I would guess it is more people than the environment can sustain.

Buckminster Fulller calculated that the Earth could sustainably accommodate 25 billion people, who could all live better than any king of old, and only need to contribute 10 years of our lives working for the common good to be able to spend the rest of our lives doing what we enjoy. It is Utopia or oblivion for humanity, there are no other options. The choice is ours.
GRUNCH of Giants
https://fullerfut...-giants/

May 31, 2017
Buckminster Fulller calculated that the Earth could sustainably accommodate 25 billion people


When he wrote that did he have knowledge of the prosperity fusion could bring? Did he envision irrigating all the desserts with GMOs that were much more productive than today's crops?
Did he envision very smart(not AI)robots doing ALL the work?

We are on the verge of Utopia! And I mean real soon. :-) Nothing can stop it, except a natural disaster, a nuclear war, or other true earth WMD. Global warming will take to long to stop us.

Jun 01, 2017
BTW i should explain about fusion. The major scientists are saying ITER will work. The physics/science is ready now the engineering is ready now. MIT is now using REBCO superconducting magnets. The REBCO magnets will almost double the magnetic force which mean the fusion plant can be 1/10 the current size of ITER and produce much more energy. We can make it even smaller using even better magnets but we start running into materials and engineering problems constraining the greater magnetic force.
But with the kind of technological advances in the next 10 years, it's anybody's guess how small a fusion reactor can get. Obviously there are limits but nobody can foresee those limits because we can't see the technology.

Jun 01, 2017
When someone tells a lie - it is fine to call them a liar.


So greenonions1 are you a liar? Have you EVER told a lie?
I would like to meet the human that has NEVER told a lie. If it's true that we all have lied sometime in our life, then we are all liars, Therefore calling a person a liar says absolutely nothing except that they are human.

Jun 01, 2017
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Jun 01, 2017
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Jun 01, 2017
Dingbone - Have you read the article? "...SunCell works by generating electricity with hydrogen being converted to dark matter by using water in the air"... Dark Matter??? This is nonsense of the highest order, but thanks for the laugh.

Jun 01, 2017
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Jun 01, 2017
rderkis
So greenonions1 are you a liar? Have you EVER told a lie?
You miss the point derkis. We have a basic assumption of honesty in our interactions in the world (for example - when we read science articles). Of course - sometimes that assumption is incorrect - and someone is presenting false information - either deliberately, or they somehow are delusional. When someone does this enough times - they become known for being dishonest. I am reading many articles these days - that are understanding the fundamental dishonesty of the Trump administration - eg. - http://www.altern...-amnesia In science - we have a process for checking the validity of information - that is repeatability. Willie Ward repeatedly lies about renewable energy. Being able to think critically - and fact check - is the issue I am talking about.

Jun 01, 2017
Overpopulation this year may not be overpopulation in 10 years
In 10 years many religion-dominated subgroups will be 5 years away from doubling their numbers.

Even Malthus did not appreciate the power of religion to outgrow and overwhelm.

Any species will produce more offspring than can be expected to survive to maturity. This is the pressure that drives speciation. But humans are the only species that has discovered how to systematically eliminate those attritive elements that were keeping our numbers in check.

The only reason we are not rotting mush in a radioactive wasteland is because religious domination was reduced during the world wars to the point that family planning and ONE BILLION ABORTIONS could occur in western countries since the 1970s.

But those countries are now having to absorb unending waves of excess peoples from countries where religion still reigns.

Tech will not save us. Only the destruction of religion will.

Jun 01, 2017
is the issue I am talking about.


It doesn't much matter what you are talking about if you can't be objective in your thoughts.
I voted for President Trump because he CAN lie so well. This insight might be beyond you and your rigid thinking but I am sure you can understand. I wanted a parexel negotiator/poker (who seldom loses) player for president and that's what we got. A good negotiator/poker player never tips his hand because it would put him at a disadvantage to his adversary's. I want a person that at 50 to 1 odds against him, beat everyone else to become president. That in itself screams give him a chance.

It's like when he said he would not take the nuclear option off the table. That scared us all friends and enemies alike. Taking it off the table would be like a poker player with all the aces promising not to play them, even if he had absolutely no intent to play the aces he would never say so.

Jun 01, 2017
rderkis
I voted for President Trump because he CAN lie so well.
Sure - and of course it is very reasonable to read that comment as 'I do not care about truth or science.' (being that facts, and truth are fundamental to the discipline of science.) Your defense of someone who clearly has no regard for truth - especially when saying yourself that you voted for him because he CAN lie so well - seems very damning to me. Especially as Trump has just announced pulling us out of the Paris agreement. And you do all of that on a science board - in response to an article talking about the dire consequences of not applying science to our current situation.

Jun 01, 2017
I love it. The Trump voters are counting on fusion technology and exponential growth to counteract the fact that were destroying the planet. Meanwhile, our president is massively slashing scientific funding, including that to DOE... the agency doing the work to get fusion going.

Congrats, guys. While other countries soar ahead with clean technology, we'll be investing in enriching billionaires, reviving the coal industry, and building new oil pipelines to prolong our dependence on ancient technology. It's a shame you don't think your kids and grandkids deserve the clean air, fresh water, advanced technology, and higher quality of life you've come to expect. Entitlement at its finest.

Jun 01, 2017
It should be noted that Trump doesn't lie well - it's pretty easy to tell he's lying. He just lies a lot. There's a difference - quantity vs. quality. I suspect that's why he's had difficulty making deals in the past and had difficulty getting anything accomplished as president, despite his party controlling all 3 branches of the government.

Jun 01, 2017
I love it. The Trump voters .


I guess that sums it up for you and most the others on here. You are not U.S.A. loving Americans. You had rather see America fail then have President Trump win. You had rather see America fail, rather than you admitting your wrong.

Personally I love America and had rather have been wrong about every belief I ever had then see America fail.

Jun 01, 2017
It should be noted that Trump doesn't lie well


Wow, only thing I can't figure out is why your not president, instead of a know nothing commenter on here like the rest of us.

Jun 02, 2017
Well at least the AGW Cult has no shame in going pass the brink in pushing complete and utter bullshit as science.

Jun 02, 2017
Trump... it's pretty easy to tell he's lying
Well it's hard to say isn't It? Actors do make the best politicians. Or rather, the best politicians are consummate actors who can make us believe they are genuinely committed to issues they probably could care less about.

But when this level of sturm und drang is going on I often wonder what it is we are NOT supposed to be looking at. What are reporters not able to be reporting on?

Everybody was focussed on Vietnam and Watergate, and then we turned around and saw 100s of nuclear reactors dotting the landscape.

Everybody was so focussed on woman's rights and civil rights that they failed to notice the sheer scale of ABORTIONS worldwide since roe v wade... ONE BILLION since the 70s.

And everybody still thinks that an effect of that magnitude was the chance result of the advancement of individual rights and not the purposeful effort to curb population growth that it most obviously is.

So what are we missing?

Jun 02, 2017
I voted for President Trump because he CAN lie so well.

Can he, though? I don't see anyone in the world buying his lies so far. It's not like there's any head of state (apart from Putin on occasion, but that's because Putin is puppeteering Trump) has expressed admiration - or even approval - of this bumbling amateur.

The only one he can lie to is americans (because they're so dumb on average and are probably so used to being lied to that they don't even listen anymore). I'm not sure where you see this as a valuable skill.

Jun 04, 2017
Can he, though? I don't see anyone in the world buying his lies so far
haha that's because you don't avail yourself of what a great deal of the world is seeing. Because you don't want to...
(because they're so dumb on average and are probably so used to being lied to that they don't even listen anymore)
... because of course you're an asshole bigot.

Kind of like this guy
https://heatst.co...erkeley/

-In sure he's as smart as he thinks he is as well. Yes?

Jun 07, 2017
And everybody still thinks that an effect of that magnitude was the chance result of the advancement of individual rights and not the purposeful effort to curb population growth that it most obviously is.

That makes sense partially.

So what are we missing?

On one hand, family planning and abortions are widely promoted or used in many countries with no ethical issue being put ahead, no moral problem being seen. On the other hand, sex is heavily promoted by the media and popular culture to the point that it has become an obsession. Why is that? If we are too many as some suggest, would it not be better to simply not put sex in movies and about everywhere? Why are there 2 opposing phenomena being promoted in society? To me this sounds like an attempt not to simply reduce population, but to dumbify it, to make it delve into misery, especially moral misery. And the purpose could be an old one, which appears everywhere in history: greed for power. That simple.

Jun 07, 2017
And the purpose could be an old one, which appears everywhere in history: greed for power. That simple


Or it could be just anouther example of us being our own worst enemy, with absolutely no conspiracy involved.

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