Saving Threatened Species

by John Scales Avery – TRANSCEND Media Service

Loss of Biodiversity

All of us know that the relentless growth of human population, agriculture and industry has led to great losses in biodiversity. At present, the rate of extinction is about 1000 times the normal background rate. Great efforts have been to focus public attention on this serious problem by such organizations as The World Wildlife Fund, and by individuals such as Sir David Attenborough, Jane Goodall, E.O. Wilson, James Lovelock and Dian Fossy. The United Nations General Assembly has declared 2011-2020 to be the UN Decade of Biodiversity. Individual species, such as the panda, the California condor and the mountain gorilla have become iconic in the struggle to save threatened species. Today dams are built in such a way as to minimize their impact on fish and waterfowl.

Less well known, however, is the fact that our enormous emissions of greenhouse gases threaten to produce a human-caused 6th geological extinction event. The concentration of CO2 in the earth’s atmosphere recently passed 400 parts per million. Commenting on this event, Dr. Charles Miller of NASA said:

“Current [atmospheric] CO2 values are more than 100 ppm higher than at any time in the last one million years (and maybe higher than at any time in the last 25 million years)… These increases in atmospheric CO2 are causing real, significant changes in the Earth system now, not in some distant future climate, and will continue to be felt for centuries to come. We can study these impacts to better understand the way that the earth will respond to future changes, but unless serious actions are taken immediately, we risk the next threshold being a point of no return…”

Humans Are Also a Threatened Species

Geologists studying the fossil record have observed 5 major extinction events. These are moments in the earth’s history when a very large percentage of the species then living become extinct. The largest of these was the Permian-Triassic extinction event, which took place about 252 million years ago. In this catastrophic event, up to 96 percent of all marine species, and 70 percent of terrestrial vertebrates vanished forever. It is believed that this mega-disaster was caused by the greenhouse gases from massive volcanic eruptions in Siberia. But human greenhouse gas emissions could also cause such an event, if prompt steps are not taken to limit them. We must therefore make an all-out effort to switch from fossil fuels to renewable energy.

Here is a link to an important and clear short video, made by Thom Hartmann and his collaborators, which discussed this danger:

As pointed out in the video, feedback loops, such as the one involving melting of methane hydrates on ocean floors, might lead to tipping points, beyond which human efforts to control climate change would have no effect.

It is not only the California condor and the panda that we must save: It is ourselves. Humans might become extinct as the result of out-of-control climate change; or if not extinct, so much reduced in numbers that the enormous, complex and vulnerable edifice of human civilization would not survive.

The Mainstream Media Are Failing Us

Despite the severity of these threats to human civilization and the biosphere, and despite the fact that wide public discussion and prompt action are needed if we are to avert disaster, the mainstream media are completely silent, and they refuse to touch the subject. Discussion of the dangers is confined to the scientific community. The public is left in ignorance by the mainstream media, whose goal seems to be to reassure us that we can continue indefinitely to destroy the environment for the sake of economic growth. Short-term profits of big coal and oil companies are placed above concern for the long-term future.

The Canadian environmentalist and broadcaster David Suzuki has made an interesting video in which he introduces the idea of intergenerational crimes. Here is th link:

We must not commit crimes against future generations. We must not commit crimes against the other living creatures with which we share our beautiful world. We must save threatened species. We must save ourselves.


John Scales Avery, Ph.D., who was part of a group that shared the 1995 Nobel Peace Prize for their work in organizing the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs, is a member of the TRANSCEND Network and Associate Professor Emeritus at the H.C. Ørsted Institute, University of Copenhagen, Denmark. He is chairman of both the Danish National Pugwash Group and the Danish Peace Academy and received his training in theoretical physics and theoretical chemistry at M.I.T., the University of Chicago and the University of London. He is the author of numerous books and articles both on scientific topics and on broader social questions. His most recent book is Civilization’s Crisis in the 21st Century