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A golden lion tamarin, which is listed as endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Speacies. (Photo: Jo Christian Oterhals/cc/flickr)

'The Cause Is Us': World on Verge of Sixth Extinction

Species loss soaring at 'pace not seen in tens of millions of years'

Andrea Germanos

A new study showing that the human activity has driven current rates of species extinction to 1,000 times faster than the natural rate is "alarming" and "should be a clarion call" to work towards greater conservation efforts, an environmental group charges.

The study, published Thursday by the journal Science and led by conservation expert Stuart Pimm, also warns that without drastic action, the sixth mass extinction could be imminent.

From habitat loss to invasive species to climate change to overfishing, humans are contributing to the plummet in biodiversity.

"This important study confirms that species are going extinct at a pace not seen in tens of millions of years, and unlike past extinction events, the cause is us," stated Noah Greenwald, endangered species director with the Center for Biological Diversity, who was not involved in the study.

While new technology like smart phone apps and crowd-sourcing have increased the amount of data collected on species, much still remains a mystery.

"Most species remain unknown to science, and they likely face greater threats than the ones we do know," Pimm said in a statement.

"The gap between what we know and don't know about Earth's biodiversity is still tremendous," added study co-author Lucas N. Joppa, a conservation scientist at Microsoft’s Computational Science Laboratory in Cambridge, UK, "but technology is going to play a major role in closing it and helping us conserve biodiversity more intelligently and efficiently."

While the study illustrates a dramatic pace in biodiversity loss, Greenwald emphasized that it also highlights the successes of conservation efforts, such as the 50-year-old Wilderness Act and the Endangered Species Act.

"Were it not for the huge effort over the past 50 years to protect wilderness, we would have had a 20 percent higher extinction rate," Greenwald told Common Dreams. "Protecting places, standing up for places, leaving some places untouched does make a difference," he said.

As for what people can do to help those conservation efforts, Greenwald said people should let their legislators know that they support protecting areas as wilderness or parks, "because that is really what this study shows" — that the conservation laws and efforts over the past several decades have helped thwart further losses.

"The findings of this study are alarming to say the least," Greenwald's statement continues. "But it also shows we can make a difference if we choose to and should be a clarion call to take action to protect more habitat for species besides our own and to check our own population growth and consumption."

As Greenwald said, the cause of the problem is us, but the solution, too, lies with us.

"We are on the verge of the sixth extinction," Pimm told the Associated Press. "Whether we avoid it or not will depend on our actions."

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