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THE ANTHROPOCENE IS UPON US

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Credit: Louis Agassiz Fuertes

Credit: Louis Agassiz Fuertes

Credit: Louis Agassiz Fuertes

Perla Limon, Editor-in-Chief

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The human race is incredibly reliant on the success of surrounding organisms in our environment, and although it may not seem urgent, human-caused changes to the background extinction rate will be affecting humanity’s chances of survival within the next 50 years. If we don’t reduce our negative impacts soon, we’ll start to feel them reflected upon ourselves within a lifetime.

 

However, before we can discuss solutions to this ongoing problem, it’s critical that one understands the entireness of the problem. The extinction rate is just as much an issue of decreasing biodiversity as it is an issue of human overpopulation and overconsumption of natural resources. As such, it’s difficult to discuss the current extinction rate without addressing the causes and consequences of our actions.

 

Biodiversity is a measure of the variety of life in a particular habitat or ecosystem, and as such, decreases are essential to measure and understand. Anthropocene defines the most recent geologic time period as being human-influenced, based on massive amounts of global evidence that dozens of natural processes and cycles (provided by trees, plants, decomposers, etc.) have now been shifted drastically by human activity.

 

To clarify, Anthropocene means “the age of humans,” which has many implications. Firstly, this implies that humans are currently the most influential and dominant species on the earth. Second, this indicates that we are shaping our environment, and our earth, by what we do. However, though this may sound like a commendable achievement, nothing sums up our new reign quite like the extinction rate.

 

Although Extinction is a natural phenomenon, it should be occurring at the “background extinction rate”the extinction rate of species before humans aroseof one to five species a year. Currently, scientists estimate we’re now losing species at 1,000 to 10,000 times the background rate, with dozens going extinct every day. According to the Center for Biological Diversity, a third or more of all the 6,300 known species of amphibians are at risk of extinction at a whopping rate of 25,039 to 45,474 times the background extinction rate.

 

Posters of endangered species in Babbey’s classroom

 

As a trade-reliant people, we have hunted, logged, and used plant and animal species for medicine, food, souvenirs, and luxury items. The exploitation of these resources is nowhere near sustainable, and eventually, we will run out, leaving us struggling to adapt to a scarce environment. Not only that, but our overuse of shared resources on this planet is causing a shortage for the other inhabitants of this world, especially those without an opposable thumb.

 

According to Becky Babbey, an AP Environmental Science teacher at SCPA, “As rainforests and other forests are cut down for lumber or to clear land for agriculture, plants and animals lose important habitat. Without a place to live and resources like food, water, and shelter, it is harder for them to live and reproduce, thus putting them in danger of becoming endangered or going extinct.”

 

As of now, forests cover 30% of the planet, but thanks to the intensive deforestation that we are combatting, rainforests could disappear within the next hundred years. Rainforests are the richest biome in terms of biodiversity, and their destruction will not only affect the species who live there but us as well. Trees undergo photosynthesis and store carbon on a daily basis, but that carbon is quickly released when trees are cut. According to the EPA, 25% of the world’s total greenhouse gas production comes from deforestation alone.

 

With enormous, cheap energy at its disposal, the human population grew rapidly from 1 billion in 1800 to 4 billion in 1975, and over 7.5 billion today. If we don’t take measures to actively decrease our growth rate, we’ll reach 8 billion by 2020 and 9-15 billion by 2050 (Center of Biological Distribution — CPD).

 

No population of a large vertebrate animal in the history of the planet has grown that much, that fast, or with such devastating consequences to its fellow earthlings. And yet, among the hundreds of thousands of species which share the earth with humans, they utilize significantly less of the earth’s resources in comparison to Homo Sapiens. In total, humans have converted 50% of Earth’s land mass for human use (CPD).

 

Babbey’s AP Environmental Science class watching a Documentary about humanity’s lasting effects on the earth.

 

Though the future seems bleak for us, there are things we can do to at least conserve the little-unchanged land and species we have left. Babbey says, “In order to stabilize extinction rates, laws need to be put in place (or enforced if already written) to protect the habitat of sensitive species.” One option is to have fewer children or adopt instead, and this would, on a mass scale, slow down our rate of growth, and reduce agriculture production needed to feed us all. People can also cut down on meat consumption, especially beef consumption. Cattle grazing takes up 2 acres per cow, but in comparison, 10,000 people can be sustainably fed with veggies and fruits grown on just 3 acres of land (Will Allen). You can also ensure that the products you buy are sustainably made and harvested, to promote the production of products without depletion.

 

Babbey, herself, has made several changes in her life to lessen her carbon footprint, “I had only one child, I drive a fuel-efficient car, don’t eat meat, and avoid using single-use plastic. I also shop locally, so my produce is not grown and shipped in from across the country or the globe. I also attempt to spread awareness to others through education.”

 

Consumers have power, because we fuel production, demand, and the economy, it’s just a matter of mobilizing that power for the betterment of our future. You can spread the word, to your family, friends, co-workers, and social media circle that the extinction crisis is real and endangers us all. Anthony D. Barnosky from Huffington Post says “Once humans realize problems are urgent — even big problems — we tend to be very good at focusing on fixing them.” You can also reduce your carbon footprint using a carbon footprint calculator (like carbonfootprint.com). Even little changes like adjusting the thermostat; turning off the water when you’re not using it; recycling; and walking/biking instead of driving, when multiplied by millions of consumers, can have massive results. In addition, you can avoid buying anything made from ivory — or from any other product derived from threatened species for their conservation.

 

When you turn 18, register and vote for leaders who support the switch from a fossil-fuel energy system to a carbon-neutral one, who see the necessity of efficient growth of crops, whose economic agenda includes valuing the environment, and who promote women’s rights to education and healthcare. Finally, don’t give up, and maybe—just maybe— the Anthropocene can turn its influence around.

 

Even if ‘saving the animals’ isn’t your thing, ‘saving the human species’ should be.

 

 

Works Cited:

Andrew, Elise. “Current Extinction Rate 10 Times Worse Than Previously Thought.” IFLScience, IFLScience, 20 Mar. 2018, <www.iflscience.com/plants-and-animals/current-extinction-rate-10-times-worse-previously-thought/>.

Barnosky, Anthony D. “10 Ways You Can Help Stop The Sixth Mass Extinction.” The Huffington Post, TheHuffingtonPost.com, 7 Dec. 2017, <www.huffingtonpost.com/anthony-d-barnosky/10-ways-you-can-help-stop_b_5968774.html>.

“Deforestation and Climate Change.” Climate Institute, 18 Apr. 2017, <climate.org/deforestation-and-climate-change/>.

“Deforestation.” WWF, World Wildlife Fund, <www.worldwildlife.org/threats/deforestation#>.

Dell’Amore, Christine. “Species Extinction Happening 1,000 Times Faster Because of Humans?” National Geographic, National Geographic Society, 30 May 2014, <news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2014/05/140529-conservation-science-animals-species-endangered-extinction/>.  

Funke, Daniel. “Innovative Technology Aids Study in Analysis of Rising Extinction Rates.” The Red and Black, 29 Sept. 2014, <www.redandblack.com/uganews/innovative-technology-aids-study-in-analysis-of-rising-extinction-rates/article_0c055316-f0c3-11e3-b169-0017a43b2370.html>.

“Global Greenhouse Gas Emissions Data.” EPA, Environmental Protection Agency, 13 Apr. 2017, <www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/global-greenhouse-gas-emissions-data>.

“How Many Species Are We Losing?” WWF, <wwf.panda.org/about_our_earth/biodiversity/biodiversity/>.

The Endangered Species Act: A Wild Success, <www.biologicaldiversity.org/programs/population_and_sustainability/extinction/>.

The Endangered Species Act: A Wild Success, <www.biologicaldiversity.org/programs/biodiversity/elements_of_biodiversity/extinction_crisis/>.

Welch, Craig. “What Animals Are Likely to Go Extinct First Due to Climate Change.” National Geographic, National Geographic Society, 30 Apr. 2015, <news.nationalgeographic.com/2015/04/150430-extinction-climate-warming-animals-species-conservation-wildlife/>.

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About the Writer
Perla Limon, Editor in Chief
Editor-In-Chief for the school year of 2017-2018 Jack of all trades, lover of all writing formats, Perla A. Limon has attended SCPA since 6th grade. She has written for The Production since 2016 and is back for the school year of 2017-2018 as an Editor-in-Chief (EIC) and contributor alongside Ahnayah Hughes, Isaiah Lynch, and Jennifer...
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THE ANTHROPOCENE IS UPON US