It’s occurring right now. Richard Leakey wrote about it in his 1995 book, Sixth Extinction: Patterns of Life and the Future of Humankind. Elizabeth Kolbert wrote about it in her Pulitzer-winning 2014 book entitled The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History. Prominent figures like Harvard biologist E.O. Wilson have expressed their concern about it; celebrities bridging the worlds of unpopular science and popular media, such as David Attenborough, have expounded on it. They all agree: the sixth extinction is occurring at this moment – and for the first time the culprit is us.
Extinctions one-through-five were caused by natural catastrophes, like the devastating asteroid strike that wiped out 76 per cent of life (including the dinosaurs) in number five; and a cataclysmic eruption that blasted CO2 into the atmosphere, causing a perfect storm of consequences that killed 96 per cent of species in number three. Life almost ended right then – but for the 4 per cent that survived, we would not be around.
We obviously came from hardy stock, emerging from the primeval ooze progressively stronger, smarter… arguably better looking(!). We followed the natural course of things, one of which is to find the path of least resistance. So, instead of hunting and foraging, we planted crops and bred animals. We became sedentary.
Wonderful things came of this agricultural revolution about 10,000 years ago: reliable harvests; the care and security of community; better health; and larger families. Now we number over seven billion and our agricultural land covers more than 38 per cent of the world’s terrestrial surface – land that would have once supported a vast number of wild species is now used exclusively for single-species plants or animals.
Add urbanisation, pollution and climate change to the equation, and humanity is clearly responsible for the current devastating scale of species loss – E. O. Wilson estimates that 30,000 species per year are being driven to extinction.
We couldn’t have known we would be responsible for this 10,000 years back; and in the last few centuries our focus has been on building nations and advancing society, rather than protecting the environment. This is all very new and very daunting. But it’s not all bad news: some of the fruits of human advancement can also help preserve what remains – and one of them is the share button. Here’s how you can use it.
Be an Influencer
Easy access to media means you can find out more information about the sixth extinction and related environmental concerns than has ever before been possible (Google it). Sharing it might make some of your friends bury their heads in the sand, but you will undoubtably reach a few interested individuals who might, in turn, spread the news. The potential is that this will inspire awareness and change behaviour. And if you can’t reach the denialists with that, there’s always this…
Sure, she had twins and she named her son ‘Sir’; but there are thousands of other species producing far more impressive young. For example, did you know that giraffes are standing and running within an hour of their birth? Sorry, Sir, but you’re not that impressive. Share content about the world’s other creatures – we already outnumber them, so let’s give them some much-needed respect and attention.
Be the Joneses
Let’s face it, one of society’s fundamental truths is that we indulge in a good deal of one-upmanship: the house, the car, and that other big ticket item, the vacation. If you want to really impress your friends, change the way you travel. Forget the beach or city holiday; rather, take adventures into deep wilderness and share those images of rare creatures, pristine environments and mind-blowing wildlife migrations (just make sure you choose ethically responsible tour operators). Not only will you become the Joneses that your friends want to keep up with – you’ll also enhance your knowledge and appreciation of the wild; contribute directly to the wildlife organisations that benefit from tourism; and you might just inspire your friends to travel to the wilderness to do the same.
Previously a freelance journalist and editor of Africa Geographic, Anton Crone is CEO of Safarious, an online travel portal to the world’s wild places. Anton not only focuses on wildlife, he also finds himself drawn to the people he meets on his travels. He looks at journalism as a way to connect people of differing creeds and cultures, and through his writing and photography he tries to uphold the importance of the communities that live side by side with wildlife.