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In the past, extinctions were caused by natural disasters, such as volcanic eruptions during the Permian period, and asteroid impact during the Cretaceous extinction. These major events caused global warming by increasing CO2 in the atmosphere, and shut down photosynthesis by blocking sunlight with a huge cloud of debris. Both of these catastrophes altered the Earth’s climate radically, which caused the extinctions (Campbell 521-522). The current extinction is not being caused by natural factors, but by us. “Rates of species extinction have increased rapidly since the early Holocene epoch, chiefly due to activities of humans; further acceleration of extinction rates began approximately 1600 AD, with the onset of accelerated human population growth and expanded scope of agriculture” (Hogan 1). We have caused this destruction by overfishing/hunting, destroying habitats, increasing global warming with fossil fuels and pollution, and a general disregard for the rest of the life on Earth (Coyne 1).
For many years it was thought that humans had hunted the Wooly Mammoth to extinction. It has been found that “the wooly mammoth went extinct primarily because of habitat loss due to changes in temperature, while human hunting acted as the final straw” (“Climate Change and Human Hunting Combine To Drive The Woolly Mammoth Extinct” 1). Animals have been hunted for food, trophies, medicines, and souvenirs. Many of the endangered species are targets, such as the Chinese tiger, which has been hunted for medical use over the last 1000 years (Hogan 3). Overfishing has caused the populations of large fish to be only 10% of the levels found in 1950.
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It is clear that we are the main cause of this sixth major extinction. “Every year, up to 30,000 species disappear due to human activity alone. At this rate, we could lose half of earth species in this century. And, unlike with previous extinctions, there’s no hope that biodiversity will ever recover, since the cause of the decimation- us- is here to stay” (Coyne 5). Just like our mothers taught us, if we cause a mess we have to clean it up. Humans have to stop being the problem, and start being the solution.
One thing that might get us motivated is that the extinction has a negative economic impact. Healthy ecosystems provide services such as waste disposal, soil formation, water purification, and oxygen production. “In fact, the global value of ‘hidden’ services provided by ecosystems … has been estimated to be as much as $50 trillion per year, roughly equal to the gross domestic product of all countries combined” (Coyne 12). Since diverse ecosystems are much better at doing these jobs, we have an economic incentive to stop decreasing biodiversity (Coyne 11). We also rely on plants and animals to provide medicines, food, and fibers. More than 25% of the medicines we use today are from plants. “Given current extinction rates, it’s estimated that we’re losing one valuable drug every two years” (Coyne 15). As mentioned above, overfishing has eliminated most of the breeding stock that would provide food for future humans. Not only will we lose a large source of food, we also will lose the livelihood of all those involved in the seafood industry.