Earth 'on brink of mass extinction event'

Deforestation and climate change drive extinction rates to 1,000 times their normal level

The view of Earth in handout image provided by NASA
(Image credit: NASA via Getty Images)

Earth is on the brink of a "mass extinction event" which could be equivalent in scale to the one that killed off the dinosaurs 65 million years ago, a landmark study by an international group of scientists has concluded.

Researchers warned that deforestation, climate change, and overfishing have driven extinction rates to 1,000 times their normal level, Reuters reports.

Duke University biologist and conversation expert Stuart Pimm says that "time is running out" to avert the threat of mass extinction.

Subscribe to The Week

Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.


Sign up for The Week's Free Newsletters

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign up

If the crisis is to be avoided, humans need to make large scale changes immediately, Pimm says.

"When you look at the range of unsustainable things we are doing to the planet – changing the atmosphere, global warming, massively depleting fisheries, driving species to extinction – we realise we have a decade or two," Pimm warned. "If we keep on doing what we are doing by the end of the century our planet will really be a pretty horrendous place."

The study compared historical extinction rates with contemporary data collected from around the world.

"We can compare [modern data] to what we know from fossil data and what we know from DNA data… DNA differences between species give us some idea of the time scale over which different species are born and die. When we make those two comparisons we find that species are going extinct a thousand times faster than they should be."

According to Pimm, the last time the planet faced such a significant extinction event was 65 million years ago, when, he says, a third to a half of all animal species on Earth died. "If we continue on our present course, that's how much we will lose," Pimm said.

The report notes that with the right intervention, the crisis could yet be averted. Conservation, education and "targeted preservation efforts" could slow down extinction rates, the report concludes.

To continue reading this article...
Continue reading this article and get limited website access each month.
Get unlimited website access, exclusive newsletters plus much more.
Cancel or pause at any time.
Already a subscriber to The Week?
Not sure which email you used for your subscription? Contact us