The Fastest Mass Extinction in Earth's History

By Ayres, Ed | World Watch, September-October 1998 | Go to article overview

The Fastest Mass Extinction in Earth's History


Ayres, Ed, World Watch


Seven out of ten biologists believe the world is now in the midst of the fastest mass extinction of living things in the 4.5 billion-year history of the planet, according to a poll conducted by the American Museum of Natural History and the Louis Harris survey research firm. That makes it faster even than the crash which occurred when the dinosaurs died some 65 millions years ago. Unlike that and other mass extinctions of the pre-human past, the current one is the result of human activity, and not natural phenomena, say the scientists.

The scientists surveyed rated biodiversity loss as a more serious environmental problem than the depletion of the ozone layer, global warming, or pollution and contamination. A majority (70 percent) said they believe that during the next 30 years as many as one-fifth of all species alive today will become extinct, and a third of the respondents think as many as half the species on Earth will die out in that time. "This survey is a dramatic wake-up call to individuals, governments, and institutions that we are facing a truly formidable threat not only to the health of the planet but also to humanity's own well-being and survival - a threat that is virtually unrecognized by the public at large," commented Museum of Natural History president Ellen V. Futter.

The Biodiversity in the Next Millennium survey was administered to 400 members of the American Institute of Biological Sciences. Respondents included experts in biochemistry, botany, conservation biology, entomology, genetics, marine biology, microbiology, molecular biology, neuroscience, physiology, and other fields. A parallel survey was given to 100 middle-school and high-school science teachers drawn from the National Science Teachers' Association (NSTA) and to 1,000 members of the general public, in order to gauge differences in their views on biodiversity issues. …

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