‘Anthropogenic climate change is predicted to be a major cause of species extinctions in the next 100 years’ – Cahill et al. (2013)
The word anthropogenic refers to the geological epoch which we are currently in, for the last 12,000 years of human history we have lived through the Holocene epoch which signified our balance with nature and human life on Earth. When exactly the anthropogenic epoch started is still debated but what is certain is that the increase in human population and use of fossil fuels has created an era of uncertain instability.
This instability has resulted in many foreseen and unforeseen consequences, one of which is the decline of certain marine, animal and plant species. A famous report released by the UN in 2019 stated that over 1 million species are at risk of extinction which was supported by hundreds of renowned scientists. The different factors which decrease certain species population can be both isolated incidents and connected through the negative consequences of human accelerated climate change. Outlined below are some the ways humans are threatening many different organisms with extinction.
The main causes of deforestation is often to make room for cattle farms, mining or illegal deforestation whereby people harvest exotic timbers for profit.
How deforestation decreases species populations is somewhat simple to understand. Forests are cut down leading to the loss of certain foods and shelter which animals rely on to survive. With the loss of habitats these animals either migrate or die due to their environment no longer being able to sustain them. Some struggle to adapt quick enough to a rapidly changing environment.
Deforestation also decreases the amount of biodiversity within that area, biodiversity is integral for wildlife to survive. With so many interconnected systems of plants, insects and mammals, without certain organisms able to survive others will die as a result.
With temperatures rising each year due to the amount of carbon emissions in our atmosphere, many different species are having to adapt to rising temperatures. However, evolution is a slow process and many species cannot keep up with the rapid advances in temperature.
Rising temperatures has also affected certain species in unpredictable ways. Since the 1990s rising temperatures has caused many coral reefs to die, turning white as a result. This coral bleaching means that they can no longer support local marine life which relied on these areas for sustainable survival.
This is troubling as we are already seeing the affects of species extinction in relation to current temperatures, with predicted temperatures being a lot more severe, this issue can only spiral if we continue on our current trajectory.
One of the greatest threats to marine life is fishing, more specifically overfishing and illegal fishing. Not only do these hauls decrease populations massively, they disrupt other marine life dependable on those organisms to survive. Also, the practice of bottom trawling and the carbon emissions used to power these massive freighters damage the environment in numerous ways.
The integration of Marine Protected Areas (MPA) is not a quick fix to all problems involving marine life, especially when taking into account the livelihoods of local communities that rely on fishing as a main source of sustainability. However, with policies such as MPAs and sustainable fishing practices we can begin to repair the damage that has been done to marine life before it’s irreversible.
The demand for multi-purpose crops such as soy or palm oil is profitable but involves a questionable practice known as monocropping agriculture. This practice being so profitable makes it very popular but can damage the environment in numerous ways.
Generally, monocrop agriculture causes soil degradation so farmers need to use fertilizer to sustain the nutrients in the soil. This can lead to pollution and desertification. As seen by examples in Brazil with soy and in Indonesia with palm oil plantations, monocrop agriculture can lead to mass deforestation and reduce biodiversity due to large areas of land only containing one species of crop. This causes certain species to desert areas or struggle for survival in what was once an abundance of biodiverse wild landscape.
Illegal wildlife trade
How the illegal wildlife trade threatens species extinction is somewhat obvious, through the killing and trading of specific animals for ivory or exotic pelts reduces their numbers the more the demand for these materials increase. According the a report conducted by Interpol, the illegal wildlife trade is estimated to be worth approximately $20 billion, demonstrating the scale of the issue.
Water pollutants is another way many species are being threatened with extinction. Whether it involves dumping toxic waste into the ocean or the amount of plastic that is being found in our oceans, these destructive actions are seriously threatening other species as well as the characteristics of the world around us.
The dumping of toxic waste is often a practice used by countries or large corporations as a cheaper method of disposing of their waste. Not only does this practice pollute waterways in developing countries but it can also affect local communities which live nearby.
Plastic pollution in our oceans is now well-known and everywhere we look. Examples like the great garbage patch in the Pacific ocean or the increase in plastic waste recently due to people wearing disposable masks during the current pandemic.