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The Crisis of the Natural World

The Crisis of the Natural World

Mountain Goat, North Cascades National Park. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

The natural world is in a state of crisis, and we are to blame. We are in the midst of the Sixth Extinction, the biggest loss of species in the history of humankind. So many species are facing total annihilation. Nearly one-third of freshwater species are facing extinction. So are 40 percent of amphibians84 percent of large mammals; a third of reef-building corals; and nearly one-third of oak trees. Rhinos and elephants are being gunned down at rates so alarming that they could be completely wiped out from the wild by 2034. There may be fewer than 10 vaquita—a kind of porpoise endemic to Mexico’s Gulf of California—due to illegal fishing nets, pesticides and irrigation. There are 130,000 plant species that could become extinct in our lifetimes. All told, about 28 percent of evaluated plant and animal species across the planet are now at risk of becoming extinct.

The rapid decline in species has occurred in recent years: 60 percent of the planet’s wildlife populations have been lost in just the last 50 years. Scientists warn that in the coming decades, if we don’t take action, more than 1 million species may vanish from the Earth forever.

Our fellow Earthlings are being overhunted, overfished and overharvested for our food, clothing and medicines. And the ones that we don’t kill are losing their homes as we destroy their natural habitats to make space for our farms and cities and to extract fuels, minerals, timber and other resources for human society. And the habitats that we don’t completely eradicate we pollute with a vast array of toxic elements, from pesticides and plastics to carbon dioxidefracking chemicals and invasive species

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