October 16, 2008

Global Financial Collapse? Maybe—but we’ll recover. Global Ecosystem Collapse? Maybe—& it’s happening now.


Excerpt: EDITORIAL OBSERVER, nytimes.com
Watching the Numbers and Charting the Losses — of Species by VERLYN KLINKENBORG

“…The first ones to go will be the big ones. And among the big ones, the first to go will be primates, which are already grievously threatened. Nearly 80 percent of the primate species in southern and southeastern Asia are immediately threatened.

The causes are almost all directly related to human activity, including, for marine mammals, the growing threat of ocean acidification, as the oceans absorb the carbon dioxide we emit.

The numbers are not much better for other categories of life. At least 22 percent of reptile species are at risk of extinction. Perhaps 40 percent of North American freshwater fish are threatened. In Europe, 45 percent of the most common bird species are rapidly declining in numbers, and so are the most common bird species in North America. Similar losses are expected among plants. What is especially worrying is how much the rate of decline has increased over the past half-century as the human population has increased.

These numbers are shocking in their own right. But they don’t begin to tell the whole story. These are projections for the most familiar, best studied, most easily counted plants and animals, which, all told, make up less than 4 percent of the species on Earth. It is only reasonable to assume that many, if not most, of the legions of uncounted species are doing as poorly.

What complicates matters further is a simple lesson we might also draw from the present financial crisis: everything is connected. No species goes down on its own, not without affecting the larger biological community. We emerged, as a species, from the very biodiversity we are destroying.”

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