How humans are driving the sixth mass extinction

  • 2015-10-28
  • The Guardian

Periodically, in the vast spans of time that have preceded us, our planet’s living beings have been purged by planetary catastrophes so extreme they make your typical Ice Age look like the geological equivalent of a stroll in the park. Scientists count just five mass extinctions in an unimaginably long expanse of 450 million years, but they warn we may well be entering a sixth.

According to a bold new paper in The Anthropocene Review, this time would be different from past mass extinctions in four crucial ways – and all of these stem from the impact of a single species that arrived on the scene just 200,000 years ago: Homo sapiens.

“There is no point in apportioning blame for what is happening,” said lead author and geologist, Mark Williams, with the University of Leicester, since humans “didn’t deliberately engineer this situation.”

“Rather we have to recognise that our impact is game-changing on this planet, that we are all responsible, and that we have to become stewards of nature – as a part of it, rather than behaving like children rampaging through a sweetshop,” Williams noted...