Home > Local Issues > In The Ocean > Defending Planet Earth

Defending Planet Earth




4,500 million years or so ago, a small planet was formed, earth as we know it today. Circling a yellow star and embedded on one of the spiral arms of the milky way, itself part of the Virgo supercluster, one of millions of similarly vast entities dotted throughout the sky, a still largely undefined and unexplored place called Space.

Some 4,000 million years later the Phanereozoic period of life started and the birth of mammals and flowering plants as evidenced by fossils begun

It was only 65 million years ago that the formation of the Himalayas, the opening of the north atlantic and lifes miraculous biodiversity blossomed.

After all of these years the NOW, the planet as we know it only deals with the Holocene epoch which started about 10,0000 BC, or only the last 12,000 years, known as the start of the Bronze age and the Advance of man. Human life on a time scale is 3 seconds in 24 hours… a brief blip that has achieved so must but respected so little.

Since the year 2,000 it is now widely recognized that we have entered a new period of history, another age, a period of planetary change brought about by dams, mines, pollution, waste, species extinction, weather volatility, polar melts and extreme heat, a new era known the Anthropocene or the Age of man.

From the most remote mountaintops to forests, grasslands, and deserts, from river headwaters to the deepest seas, reports from around the globe tell the same story: wild places that have been stable for millions of years are in turmoil. Weather patterns and water sources are being disrupted. Plant and animal species are vanishing faster than ever before. Our cities and farms, our parks, even our backyards are changing in ways we’re only beginning to notice, but that are already affecting the health and well-being of our planet, and us.

Our planets ecosystems today are already “tattered remanants” of their original beauty (a)

During the four billion years that life has been evolving on Earth there have been five distinct periods when as much as 90% of the species alive at the time suddenly disappear from the fossil record.

Ther Permian- Triasic mass extinction was the largets in our planets history. Enormous disruptions in our planets carbon cycle led to climate change, ocean acidification and ocean anoxia with about 90% of all species dying off. This era was known as a coal gap as even the forests disappreared.

The most recent of these events ended the reign of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. Paleontologists believe that each of these earlier mass extinctions was triggered by some extraordinary event such as an asteroid impact or a period of unusual volcanic activity. Each of these extinction spasms was actually a slow decline, taking place over many centuries, yet these periods were brief compared to the many millions of years the Earth took to recover its diversity after each mass extinction had finally run its course.

Today, scientists believe that we are entering the 6th Mass Extinction. But unlike the previous five, this one will not take centuries to unfold—in fact, it will take place in our lifetimes. As scientists begin to realize the severity of the crisis and new worldwide assessments are made, the news is difficult to believe. At least half of all plant and animal species are likely to disappear in the wild within the next 30-40 years, including many of the most familiar and beloved large mammals: elephants, polar bears, chimpanzees, gorillas and all the great apes, all the big cats, and many, many others.

Bird species are similarly imperiled, songbird populations have declined by 50% in the last 40 years. One out of every eight species of plant life worldwide and almost one third of the plant species within the United States already face extinction. Populations of large ocean fish have declined by 90% since the 1950s. All around the world, birds, reptiles, mammals, amphibians, fish, and invertebrates, as well as trees, flowering plants, and other flora, are all in steep decline. The rate of extinction today could be as much as 10,000 times greater than the expected natural or background extinction rate. Scientists estimate that tens of thousands of species are vanishing every year, including many that have yet to be discovered or named.

We depend on many species directly for our basic human needs such as food, clothing, fuel, shelter, and medicine, but the complex network of all species is necessary to support those species that we depend upon directly. Ecosystems are intricately interdependent—species depend on each other for survival in complex and subtle ways that science is only beginning to understand. Biologically diverse ecosystems provide indispensable ecosystem services that we often take for granted, including purification of the air and water, climate regulation, nutrient cycling in the soil, disease control, pollination, seed dispersal, biological pest control, and prevention of erosion, to name just a few. We cannot live without these essential services that healthy ecosystems provide

When any species within an ecosystem becomes extinct, species that depend on that species are threatened and other species that depend on those species will become threatened and so on, in a cascade or ripple effect that runs through the whole system. The loss of any species within the ecosystem can potentially affect the ability of other species to thrive, or even survive. What’s more, a species does not need to become totally extinct in order to have this effect. A severe decline in a species’ population can be nearly as detrimental to the ecosystem as extinction and can weaken the entire ecosystem. As stresses due to species loss increase, eventually the ecosystem will reach a breaking point, after which total catastrophic collapse is rapid and irreversible


Researchers have identified six primary direct drivers of extinction and all are the result of human behavior:

  • habitat loss,

  • invasive species,

  • pollution,

  • climate change,

  • over-exploitation of resources, and above all—the factor that magnifies all the others—

  • human overpopulation.

Any of these drivers can wreak havoc by itself, but in combination with each other and with other social and environmental factors, their cumulative effects are devastating. The mass extinction will not be slowed or averted until each of these direct drivers is controlled or eliminated.

We face the potential of the natural world devastated beyond recognition, with the loss of human life in the billions. Yet, we still have time to avert the worst of the crisis and save much of the biosphere, if we act now.

A new movie, the Call of Life has been released and explores these messages and the above text is from their website.



(a)  Raymond Dassman, ecologist, zoologist, conservationist and author.

Comments Off