It\u0026#039;s official: the planet is entering a \u0022sixth great extinction\u0022 that even the most conservative estimates show is killing off species at rates far higher than the previous five mass die-offs—and humanity is both at fault...and at risk.A joint study by scientists from several North American universities published last week in Science found that the rate of extinction for species in the 20th century was up to 100 times higher than it would have been without impacts of human activity, such as climate change, deforestation, and pollution.Moreover, if those rates are allowed to continue, \u0022life would take many millions of years to recover, and our species itself would likely disappear early on,\u0022 said lead author Gerardo Ceballos of the Universidad Autónoma de México.\u0022[The study] shows without any significant doubt that we are now entering the sixth great mass extinction event,\u0022 said co-author, Paul Ehrlich, the Bing professor of population studies in biology and a senior fellow at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment. \u0022There are examples of species all over the world that are essentially the walking dead.\u0022We Interrupt This Article with an Urgent Message!Common Dreams is a not-for-profit news service. All of our content is free to you - no subscriptions; no ads. We are funded by donations from our readers.Our critical Mid-Year fundraiser is going very slowly - only 902 readers have contributed so far. We must meet our goal before we can end this fundraising campaign and get back to focusing on what we do best. If you support Common Dreams and you want us to survive, we need you now.Please make a tax-deductible gift to our Mid-Year Fundraiser now! Scientists have long agreed that extinction rates have reached unparalleled levels since the last mass extinction, when the dinosaurs were killed off 65 million years ago, likely by a meteor crashing into Earth. For years, conservation groups have warned of increasing extinction risks faced by mammals, birds, and amphibians, which Harvard University ecologist Edward O. Wilson in 2010 called \u0022the backbone of biodiversity.\u0022But Friday\u0026#039;s study shows \u0022even with extremely conservative estimates, species are disappearing up to about 100 times faster than the normal rate between mass extinctions, known as the background rate.\u0022The Stanford Report elaborated:Focusing on vertebrates, the group for which the most reliable modern and fossil data exist, the researchers asked whether even the lowest estimates of the difference between background and contemporary extinction rates still justify the conclusion that people are precipitating \u0022a global spasm of biodiversity loss.\u0022 The answer: a definitive yes....As species disappear, so do crucial ecosystem services such as honeybees\u0026#039; crop pollination and wetlands\u0026#039; water purification. At the current rate of species loss, people will lose many biodiversity benefits within three generations, the study\u0026#039;s authors write. \u0022We are sawing off the limb that we are sitting on,\u0022 Ehrlich said.\u0022We were very surprised to see how bad it is,\u0022 Ceballos told the Guardian on Friday. \u0022This is very depressing because we used the most conservative rates, and even then they are much higher than the normal extinction rate, really indicating we are having a massive loss of the species.\u0022\u0022It\u0026#039;s really signalling we’ve entered a sixth extinction and it\u0026#039;s driven by man,\u0022 Ceballos said.Avoiding a \u0022true\u0022 sixth mass extinction, the researchers concluded, \u0022will require rapid, greatly intensified efforts to conserve already threatened species, and to alleviate pressures on their populations—notably habitat loss, over-exploitation for economic gain and climate change. All of these are related to human population size and growth, which increases consumption (especially among the rich), and economic inequity.\u0022There is still time to take fast action to conserve species, ecosystems, and populations—but that window is rapidly closing, the researchers warned.