Countdown to Earth Day

April 20, 2004

"We did not weave the web of life, we are but one strand within it. Whatever we do to that web, we do to ourselves."

- Chief Seattle

A study in the mid-1990s by the World Conservation Union (IUCN) presented the frightening conclusion that nearly a quarter of all existing mammal species are "at risk" of extinction. A discussion at the 1996 annual meeting of the Geological Society of America examined what the study of Paleontology and geologic events can tell us about the consequences of today's accelerating path toward extinction of major animal groups.

1. EXTINCTION IS FOREVER. Once a plant or animal species is gone, it will not reappear, and any unique characteristics associated with that organism (e.g. medicinal properties) are lost.

2. THE TROPICS ARE ESPECIALLY VULNERABLE. Tropical species are highly specialized, and even small changes in rainfall patterns or daily temperature variations can have a disastrous effect. Rain Forest destruction in the tropical zone around the world leads to the loss of thousands of species annually.

3. DESTRUCTION IS RAPID _ RECOVERY IS SLOW. Human activities are eliminating wildlife habitat and changing the Earth's climate at rates found only in the geologic record associated with major extinction events (e.g., meteorite impact). The fossil record shows that recovery from a major extinction event is on the order of 1-10 Million years; far beyond a human time scale.

4. MASS EXTINCTION FUNDAMENTALLY ALTERS THE SHAPE OF THE BIOSPHERE. What results is not just a world minus the organisms that died, but a total change in all remaining lifeforms.

5. MASS EXTINCTION RESULTS FROM "ECOSYSTEM COLLAPSE". The message is clear _ if we are to preserve species, we must preserve their habitats.

For a fascinating personal account of the threat to animal species worldwide, check out your library for a copy of Douglas Adam’s Last Chance to See. Some of you may recognize the author as the creator of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series.