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How agriculture hastens species extinction

How agriculture hastens species extinction

This week on 60 Minutes, correspondent Scott Pelley reports on something scientists are calling the sixth mass extinction. There have been five great die-offs in the history of our planet, when at least 75 percent of the known species disappear. The last mass extinction was 66 million years ago, when an asteroid wiped out the dinosaurs. Now scientists think humans are hastening another mass annihilation of plants and animals. Among the causes this time are pollution, habitat destruction, over-exploitation of resources, and climate change.

Mexican ecologist Gerardo Ceballos is among the world’s leading scientists on extinction. He laid out for us how dire the situation has become over the last century.

Gerardo Ceballos: There is only 2 percent of the big fishes that were in the oceans 50 years ago. Only 2 percent are living. We have lost around 70 percent of all the animals that were in the– in the planet. All the big animals, all the mammals, bird, 70 percent are gone since 1918. In Southeast Asia, you know, we have lost 90 percent of the tropical forest of Southeast Asia since 2000. So, our impact is so massive that we are becoming this meteorite that is impact the planet. The difference with the previous mass extinction is that they took tens of thousands, hundreds of thousand, even millions of years to happen. In this particular case, this is happening so fast, now in just two, three decades — even the species that are not affected directly by the extinction crisis won’t have enough time to evolve and survive this impact that we’re doing.

Every two years, the World Wildlife Fund produces a document called the “living planet report.” It’s a biennial report card that details the health of planet earth’s wildlife, showing the average decline of species populations since they were first monitored in 1970.

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