“Humanity is very busily sitting on a limb that we’re sawing off.”
Tony Barnosky, a Stanford biologist whose work involves using fossil records to map changes in ecosystems over time, told CBS that his work suggests that extinction rates today are moving at roughly 100 times the rate typically seen in Earth’s four-billion-year known history of supporting life.
According to Barnosky, such rapid population loss means that Earth is currently experiencing the worst mass extinction episode since the dinosaurs. And while Earth itself has repeatedly recovered from mass extinction events, the vast majority of the life existing on our planet at the time has not.
Unfortunately, that may well include us humans — or, at least, the trappings of our technological civilization.
“I and the vast majority of my colleagues think we’ve had it,” Barnosky’s Stanford colleague Paul Ehrlich, who also appeared on the show, told Pelley, “that the next few decades will be the end of the kind of civilization we’re used to.”
That grim reality, according to the researchers, means that even if humans manage to survive in some capacity, the wide-reaching impacts of mass extinction — which include habitat destruction, breakdowns in the natural food chain, soil infertility, and more — would cause modern human society to crumble.
“I would say it is too much to say that we’re killing the planet, because the planet’s gonna be fine,” said Barnosky. “What we’re doing is we’re killing our way of life.”
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