Mass Extinction is a Global Threat

Biodiversity is essential to healthy and functional ecosystems across the globe and a critical resource for food, clothing, and shelter. Because of deforestation, climate change, and human pollution, the threat of a sixth mass extinction is accelerating, leaving over 500 species at risk.
People Impacted
$ 31B
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the problem
Nature and Context

Using data from the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species and BirdLife International, scientists identified approximately 515 species of mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians with populations under 1,000. These species are all disappearing at 100 times faster than the average rate. The animals facing extinction currently span every continent on the planet, except for Antarctica, and include the golden lion tamarin, the Ethiopian wolf, the Javan rhinoceros, and the Spanish imperial eagle. Scientists warn that this upcoming mass extinction could have a domino effect on other wildlife species and even on humans, who rely heavily on biodiversity for its health and well-being (Global Citizen).

Symptoms and Causes

Because of the growing human population, wildlife faces threats in nearly every corner of the world. If we do not make attempts to curb these direct and indirect attack on nature, the world may not recover.

  • Habitat Loss (NWF):

    • Habitat destruction: A bulldozer pushing down trees is the iconic image of habitat destruction. Other ways people directly destroy habitat include filling in wetlands, dredging rivers, mowing fields, and cutting down trees.

    • Habitat fragmentation: Much of the remaining terrestrial wildlife habitat in the U.S. has been cut up into fragments by roads and development. Aquatic species’ habitats have been fragmented by dams and water diversions. These fragments of habitat may not be large or connected enough to support species that need a large territory where they can find mates and food. The loss and fragmentation of habitats makes it difficult for migratory species to find places to rest and feed along their migration routes.

    • Habitat degradation: Pollution, invasive species, and disruption of ecosystem processes (such as changing the intensity of fires in an ecosystem) are some of the ways habitats can become so degraded, they no longer support native wildlife.

  • Climate Change (NWF):

    • Temperatures are increasing: The most striking evidence of a climate change trend is closely scrutinized data that show a relatively rapid and widespread increase in temperature during the past century. Average temperatures in the United States over the last century have already increased by more than one degree Fahrenheit, and the Earth's atmosphere has warmed by 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit since 1900. The 10 warmest years on record have all occurred since 1998, with 2016 being the warmest year on record. The rising temperatures observed since 1978 are particularly noteworthy because the rate of increase is so high and because, during the same period, the energy reaching the Earth from the Sun had been measured precisely enough to conclude that Earth's warming was not due to changes in the Sun.

      Sea levels are rising: Global sea level has increased by roughly eight inches over the past century, and the rate of increase is accelerating. Climate change causes sea level rise in two ways: ocean water is expanding as it warms, and land-based ice in glaciers and ice sheets is melting. Sea level rise has been happening even faster than scientists anticipated a few years ago. If recent projections are accurate, 2 to 3 degrees Fahrenheit warming could bring about three feet of global sea level rise by 2100, displacing approximately 56 million people in 84 developing countries around the world. Coastal habitats also face major changes as low-lying areas are inundated with saltwater.

      Sea ice is melting: Declining sea ice is one of the most visible signs of climate change on our planet. Since 1979, Arctic sea ice extent in September (when the annual minimum is reached) has declined by more than 30 percent, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center. The ice extent has been declining in other seasons too. Despite slightly larger ice extents in 2009, recent observations indicated the ice is thinner and much younger (less multi-year ice) than it used to be. Covering an average of 9.6 million square miles, these areas of ice floating on ocean waters play an important role in regulating our climate, by reflecting some sunlight back to space, and in the life cycles of many polar species, such as polar bears, seals, and walruses.

      Precipitation patterns are changing: Some places are getting more rainfall and others are getting less. Nearly everywhere is experiencing more heavy rainfall events, as warmer air is able to hold more water vapor. Right here in the United States, we are already seeing some important trends in precipitation. The Southwest appears to be shifting to a more arid climate, in which Dust Bowl conditions will become the new norm. Annual precipitation totals in the Northeast, Midwest, and Plains have increased by 5 to 20 percent during the last 50 years. The southeastern United States is having both more drought and more floods. Read more about how climate change is causing extreme weather.

      Oceans are acidifying: The ocean has absorbed a large fraction of the carbon dioxide that fossil fuel burning has pumped into the atmosphere, slowing the rate of climate change. But all this extra carbon dioxide is impacting the ocean, too. The pH of surface seawater has decreased by 0.1 units since 1750 and is projected to drop another 0.5 units by 2100 if no action is taken to curb fossil fuel emissions. These changes would take tens of thousands of years to reverse.

  • Diseases (NWF):

    • Chytrid FungusBatrachochytrium dendrobatidis (or “chytrid” for short), is a fungus that grows on the skin of amphibians, interfering with their ability to breathe or take up water through their skin. It has spread across the globe, infecting and decimating frog populations. It's a global killer of amphibians.

    • Fibropapillomatosis: Sea turtles worldwide are becoming infected with this disease, possibly caused by viruses, which causes tumors to appear on the skin or internally. These tumors can make it difficult for a turtle to swim, eat, or see, and they weaken immune systems.

    • White-Nose Syndrome: Hundreds of thousands of bats in the Northeast and mid-Atlantic states have been infected or have died from the white-nose fungus. The disease affects hibernating bats, making them appear to have a white substance on their faces and wings.

    • Chronic Wasting Disease: This disease is a highly contagious, fatal neurological disease (spongiform encephalopathy) primarily infecting deer and elk. The disease is believed to be caused by a modified protein called a prion.

    • Whirling Disease: Trout, salmon, and whitefish in 25 states have been infected by the parasite Myxobolus cerebralis that causes whirling disease. It damages nerves and cartilage, causing young fish to die and older fish to swim in a tail-chasing or whirling motion, making it hard for them to find food and increasing their vulnerability to predators.

    • Sylvatic Plague: Prairie dogs are highly susceptible to this bacterial disease, which is transmitted by fleas. The endangered black-footed ferret is at even greater risk from the effects of the disease, because not only can it be infected by the disease, but prairie dogs are also its primary food source.

the impact
Negative Effects

Rapid Increase of Species Lost

The fact is that up to a million species are facing extinction. Of those assessed, up to 25 per cent demonstrate declining population sizes and shrinking habitats. More than 20,000 populations of mammals, birds, fish, amphibians and reptiles of 4,392 species are found to be decreasing in population size by an average of 68 per cent since 1970 (iNews).

The End of Birth

As a result, the size of populations of species in the wild are becoming smaller to the point where they are no longer viable and able to reproduce at a rate of replacement. As a scientist once pointed out, loss of life is one thing, but end of birth, which is what extinction represents, is quite another (iNews).

Extinction Linked to Pandemics

Removal of natural habitats for wild species such as monkeys, chimpanzees, bats and pangolins brings them into ever closer proximity with each other and with us. This has severe consequences when disease transmission occurs between wildlife and humans, as it has with Sars, Aids, ebola and now Covid-19. Extinction, therefore, is not just about losing pretty flowers and iconic large animals, but assets critical to humankind (iNews).

Economic Impact

The fact is that our economies are entirely dependent upon the environment and the natural world. They are enmeshed entirely within nature, and cannot exist without it. Simply put, without nature, no other value is possible. Photo by Jean Wimmerlin / Unsplash

The fact is that our economies are entirely dependent upon the environment and the natural world. They are enmeshed entirely within nature, and cannot exist without it. Simply put, without nature, no other value is possible.

Unfortunately, governments and economists are largely blind to this dependency. They prefer to see nature as something entirely separate to economics, and so design our economies with no thought to how they impact upon the natural world.

Extreme weather, mass extinctions, falling agricultural yields, and toxic air and water are already damaging the global economy, with pollution alone costing 4.6 trillion USD every year. And we’re in danger of losing other indispensable natural capitals, like the insects and ecosystems which support global food production, without which organized economies cannot function.

Indeed, a healthy, diverse and complex natural environment is essential if we are to build a better, more equitable and more sustainable society for the future (GEC).

Success Metrics
  • Expand and improve tools to better examine the importance of nature to humanity and its economies.

  • Institute laws and policies that protect land are habitats.

  • Make efforts to reverse the current conditions that pose such global threats.

who benefits from solving this problem
Organization Types
  • Environmental Protection Agencies

  • Governments World Wide

  • Department of Fish and Wildlife

  • International Union for Conservation of Nature

  • National Wildlife Federation

  • Mankind

  • Environmentalists

  • Conservationists

  • Global Economists

financial insights
Ideas Description

Promote apps and tools that reduce negative effects of pollution and combat species devastation:

Miradi - a Swahili word meaning 'project' or 'goal' - is a user-friendly program that allows nature conservation practitioners to design, manage, monitor, and learn from their projects to more effectively meet their conservation goals, following a process laid out in the Open Standards for the Practice of Conservation.

You can play a key role in securing the future of our seas and marine wildlife by making more environmentally responsible choices when buying seafood. Use the Good Fish Guide to find out which fish are the most sustainable, and which are the least sustainable. Make the right choice and reduce your impact – every purchase matters! We also have tasty sustainable seafood recipes for you

CleanSwell is used to document millions of pounds of trash found during beach cleanups. It tracks the path of users during cleanup efforts, tallies miles cleaned up, and keeps a record of the total amount of trash you’ve collected. CleanSwell's data delivers a global snapshot of ocean trash, providing researchers and policy-makers insight to inform solutions.

Litterati is an app that is empowering individuals to make a significant, measurable impact on the environment. Far more than just picking up litter, the worldwide community of Litterati users are building the most powerful crowd-sourced set of data on litter ever assembled.

Coral Vita creates high-tech coral farms that incorporate breakthrough methods to restore reefs in the most effective way possible. Our scientific team has partnered with leading marine institutes, utilizing techniques to grow coral up to 50x faster while boosting their resiliency against the warming and acidifying oceans that threaten their survival.

Footprint exists to create a healthier planet. Footprint focuses on reducing or eliminating plastic use and pollution through the development and manufacturing of revolutionary technologies. Footprint has the widest range of product offerings to eliminate single-use plastics from consumer goods, frozen food packaging, produce, quick service, and more. Footprint can develop the solution you need!?

Data Sources

The Threat of a 'Sixth Mass Extinction' Is Accelerating, Study Finds-

The Economics of Extinction-

Threats to Wildlife-

A Million Species are Facing Extinction — But it’s Not Too Late to Save Them-

Extinction Crisis 'Poses Existential Threat to Civilization'-

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