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Scientists warn another mass extinction event is underway due to human-made causes. (Photo: ASA Goddard Space Flight Center Image by Reto Stöckli)

Humans Driving Planet's New Mass Extinction, Say Scientists

New study finds human-made climate change and habitat loss largely responsible for likely die-off of terrestrial species

Sarah Lazare

The planet appears to be at the early stages of its sixth mass extinction, and humans are responsible, a new study finds.

Published last week in the journal Science, the study incorporates scientific literature review and data analysis by a team of international scientists, led by author Rodolfo Dirzo, a professor of biology at Stanford.

Scientists say that the Earth has already sustained five mass species die-offs, the most recent having occurred millions of years ago. But unlike the mass extinction events prior, the one likely underway is caused by human-made climate change and habitat loss.

Over 320 vertebrates have gone extinct since 1500, and today, between 16 and 33 percent of vertebrates are endangered or threatened, the study notes.

Large vertebrate animals (megafauna), which include elephants, zebra, and polar bears, face the steepest decline, because they require large habitats and are targeted by human hunters for their more plentiful meat.

The loss of this megafauna throws ecosystems off-kilter, leading to problems like rodent infestations that then impact the well-being and stability of a broad swath of animal species—including humans.

According to the study, the especially steep fall of megafauna is a characteristic of prior mass extinction events.

Animals without backbones are also showing signs of decline. Over the past 35 years, the number of invertebrate animals has decreased by 45 percent as the human population has increased two-fold. This ripples throughout ecosystems. Falls in beetles, butterflies, worms, and others impact crops growth, the decomposition of organic substances, and more.

The authors conclude that the trends point to another mass die-off of terrestrial life.

"We tend to think about extinction as loss of a species from the face of Earth, and that's very important, but there's a loss of critical ecosystem functioning in which animals play a central role that we need to pay attention to as well," Dirzo said in a press statement. "Ironically, we have long considered that defaunation is a cryptic phenomenon, but I think we will end up with a situation that is non-cryptic because of the increasingly obvious consequences to the planet and to human wellbeing."


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GOP 'Silence Speaks Volumes,' Says Ilhan Omar as Boebert's Bigotry Goes Unpunished

"Normalizing this bigotry not only endangers my life but the lives of all Muslims. Anti-Muslim bigotry has no place in Congress."

Brett Wilkins ·


Africans Should Be 'Applauded, Not Punished,' Say Advocates Amid Omicron Travel Ban

"What is going on right now is inevitable," said African Union Vaccine Delivery Alliance co-chair Dr. Ayoade Alakija. "It's a result of the world's failure to vaccinate in an equitable, urgent, and speedy manner."

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Biden Drilling Report Blasted as 'Shocking Capitulation to the Needs of Corporate Polluters'

"Greenlighting more fossil fuel extraction, then pretending it's OK by nudging up royalty rates, is like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic," said one campaigner.

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UNESCO Members Adopt First Global AI Ethics Agreement 'To Benefit Humanity'

"We're at a critical juncture in history," said Ethics in Tech founder Vahid Razavi. "We need as humans to come together and decide what is the best course of action to take with these technologies before they surpass us in their abilities."

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Progressive US Lawmakers Mark Black Friday With Calls to Pass the PRO Act

"The right to organize, fight for better working conditions, and fair pay must always be protected."

Jessica Corbett ·

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