ALERT director Bill Laurance and conservation icon Paul Ehrlich, author of The Population Bomb, have recently argued that we are now entering a sixth mass extinction -- one that could rival the great extinctions on Earth that claimed the dinosaurs and many other species.
Laurance and Ehrlich's essay is going viral: you can read it here.
The authors summarize the evidence that current extinctions are accelerating and -- while it is not too late to change our ways -- mass species losses could soon become unstoppable unless we take dramatic action.
More Alarming News
And a new study has added one more element of concern: It turns out that data on endangered species may actually be too optimistic.
Led by Natalia Ocampo-Peñuela at Duke University, the study assessed the status of nearly 600 bird species found in biologically diverse and imperiled forests in Latin America, Madagascar, and Southeast Asia.
According to the IUCN Red List, which provides the best estimates of species endangerment, 18 percent of these bird species are currently threatened with extinction.
However, when Ocampo-Peñuela and colleagues looked in detail at the geographic distributions of the birds, they found that 43 percent of the species were actually threatened.
Thus, at least for rare forest birds, there were about two and a half times more threatened species than suggested by the IUCN Red List.
A key conclusion of the study is that the maps of species distributions used by the IUCN contain many areas where habitats are unsuitable or have been so badly degraded that the species don't actually occur there.
That is alarming news indeed, and it suggests that we may be underestimating the number of species verging toward extinction on the Earth today.
Still Time to Act
But the worst thing we can possibly do is throw up our hands and conclude that everything is hopeless.
Laurance and Ehrlich argue that this is precisely the wrong thing to do.
In fact, they suggest, there is still time to head off a mass extinction if we begin moving aggressively to (1) slow human population growth, (2) halt the destruction of remaining wilderness areas and biodiversity hotspots, (3) limit harmful climate change, and (4) staunchly defend our protected areas.
These kinds of actions can make an enormous difference.
Sure, we have lost some amazing species already and many more are in trouble. But it's nothing like the number that we could lose if we fail to act now.