Earth is dying faster than we thought, pitted against a triple-threat

Humanity is barreling toward a “ghastly future” of mass extinctions, health crises and constant climate-induced disruptions to society — one that can only be prevented if world leaders start taking environmental threats seriously, scientists warn in a new paper published Jan. 13 in the journal Frontiers in Conservation Science.

In the paper, a team of 17 researchers based in the United States, Mexico and Australia describes three major crises facing life on Earth: climate disruption, biodiversity decline and human overconsumption and overpopulation. Citing more than 150 studies, the team argues that these three crises — which are poised only to escalate in the coming decades — put Earth in a more precarious position than most people realize, and could even jeopardize the human race.

The point of the new paper isn’t to scold average citizens or warn that all is lost, the authors wrote — but rather, to plainly describe the threats facing our planet so that people (and hopefully political leaders) start taking them seriously and planning mitigating actions, before it’s too late.

“Ours is not a call to surrender,” the authors wrote in their paper. “We aim to provide leaders with a realistic ‘cold shower’ of the state of the planet that is essential for planning to avoid a ghastly future.”

What will that future look like? For starters, the team writes, nature will be a lot lonelier. Since the start of agriculture 11,000 years ago, Earth has lost an estimated 50% of its terrestrial plants and roughly 20% of its animal biodiversity, the authors said, citing two studies, one from 2018 and the other from 2019. If current trends continue, as many as 1 million of Earth’s 7 million to 10 million plant and animal species could face extinction in the near future, according to the new paper.

Such an enormous loss of biodiversity would also disrupt every major ecosystem on the planet, the team wrote, with fewer insects to pollinate plants, fewer plants to filter the air, water and soil, and fewer forests to protect human settlements from floods and other natural disasters, the team wrote.

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