The Sixth Mass Extinction Is Upon Us: Can Humans Survive?

large planet of the apes blu-ray11Annalee Newitz writes at the Daily Beast/Newsweek:

Over the past four years, bee colonies have undergone a disturbing transformation. As helpless beekeepers looked on, the machinelike efficiency of these communal insects devolved into inexplicable disorganization. Worker bees would fly away, never to return; adolescent bees wandered aimlessly in the hive; and the daily jobs in the colony were left undone until honey production stopped and eggs died of neglect. Colony collapse disorder, as it is known, has claimed roughly 30 percent of bee colonies every winter since 2007.

If bees go extinct, their loss will trigger an extinction domino effect, because crops from apples to broccoli rely on these insects for pollination. At the same time, over a third of the world’s amphibian species are threatened with extinction, and Harvard evolutionary biologist and conservationist E.O. Wilson estimates that 27,000 species of all kinds go extinct per year.

Are we in the first act of a mass extinction that will end in the death of millions of plant and animal species across the planet, including us? Proponents of the “sixth extinction” theory believe the answer is yes.

Our planet has been through five mass extinctions before. The dinosaur extinction was the most recent, but hardly the most deadly: dinosaurs were among the 76 percent of all species on earth that were extinguished, but 185 million years before that, there was a mass extinction so devastating that paleontologists have nicknamed it the Great Dying. At that time, 95 percent of all species on the planet were wiped out over a span of roughly 100,000 years.

The climate change that occurred during the Great Dying—most likely involving megavolcanoes that erupted for centuries in Siberia—was similar to the one our planet is undergoing right now. Regardless of whether humans are responsible, the sixth mass extinction on earth is going to happen. We have ample evidence that earth is headed for disaster, from elevated rates of extinction among birds and amphibians to superstorms and the recent Midwestern drought, corroborating the idea that we might be living through the early days of a new mass extinction.

Assigning blame is less important than figuring out how to prepare for the inevitable and survive it—not just as humans alone on a world gone to hell, but along with the planet’s myriad ecosystems as well. The long-term goal for Homo sapiens as a species right now should be to survive for at least another million years. It’s not much to ask. As we know, a few species have survived for billions of years, and many have survived for tens of millions. Our ancient ancestors started exploring the world beyond Africa over a million years ago and lived through harsh conditions while another human group, the Neanderthals, did not. This isn’t just because we are lucky. It’s because as a species we are extremely cunning when it comes to survival. And so it seems fitting to pick the next million years as the first distant horizon where we’ll set our sights.

There are, of course, things we can do in the short term to help us along: modeling natural disasters and pandemics; building cities that are safer and more sustainable; bringing food sources closer to home. Key, too, is controlling our carbon output. But beyond that we’re going to have to use all our technological know-how to make dramatic changes to the planet we live on—and then to find ways of escaping it to build cities on the moon and on other planets. Ultimately, our future is among the stars.

Read more here.

59 Comments on "The Sixth Mass Extinction Is Upon Us: Can Humans Survive?"

  1. The same decision-makers who got us into this mess (the .001% and the politicians and movements they control) are suddenly going to make the wise, far-sighted decisions required to get us out of it? They personally control the resources they have used government to extract from us with the help of tax avoidance required to solve humanities current and future problems.

    With the money they have extracted and accumulated, they aren’t paying for infrastructure required to do business now (note bridge collapses), they are not paying for social stability (offshore jobs, lower wage jobs, trying to dismantle the safety net), they’re not paying to protect ecosystems, and have you heard of cutbacks in science research funding? The real sequester is not the Federal budget, it’s the money trapped in the .1% bank accounts which they won’t use to pay the bills required to maintain and support the system that makes it possible to accumulate wealth.

    We know a large part of what must be done, but the elites who by definition make the society-wide decisions needed to make human survival possible are making things worse for short-term profit.

    They might change their minds when climate and other disasters hit them personally. It’s very likely that this will be too late for everyone, the elite included. This script has played out a number of times before. (Jared Diamond’s “Collapse” has case studies.)

    As for Annalee’s assertion that we must not look for people to blame, a major reason for Futurist media and movements is to distract us with bright, shiny techno-objects from noticing the world is turning to shit and the reason is mainly the .001%ers who pay Futurist media bills.

    “No blame, my ass” Robert Anton Wilson (from the Illuminatus! trilogy)

    • emperorreagan | Sep 30, 2013 at 12:30 pm |

      It’s a race!

      Will the plutocrats continue to overplay their hands and bring about civil war and the collapse of american empire, or will good old mother nature beat them to the punch?

      Either way, I call skinning Lloyd Blankfein alive then forcing Jamie Dimon to wear his skin while I serve him sushi (made out of his family and substituting hydrofluoric acid for vinegar in the rice).

      • Floy Renee Goodwin | Oct 1, 2013 at 6:38 am |

        Well… That escalated quickly

        • emperorreagan | Oct 1, 2013 at 12:28 pm |

          I used to have one of those “eat the rich” buttons, but I’m a vegetarian so I figure the next best thing is to force them to eat each other.

  2. Tchoutoye | Sep 30, 2013 at 4:50 am |

    find ways of escaping it to build cities on the moon and on other planets

    No matter how much we fuck up planet Earth (not saying we should), it will still be much easier to re-terraform it from the debris than doing so from scratch on another planet.

    Ultimately, our future is among the stars

    Meaningless platitude. We are currently as much “among the stars” as we’ll ever be, no matter where we travel in space. And with all the heat and radiation they give off, we wouldn’t want to be more among any star than we are right now to the star in our solar system.

  3. littlerippah | Sep 30, 2013 at 4:53 am |

    Lol carbon DIOXIDE output.

  4. Rhoid Rager | Sep 30, 2013 at 5:18 am |

    Silliness. Humans will survive. Industrial civilization won’t. Not all humans living on the planet are mindless capitalist-consumers. Some people (in both communities and individually) have sound strategies of living through the limitations of economic growth and the failure of industrial-agriculture life-support systems. The difficulties those survivors face comes from other humans–not ‘scarcity’ in nature. When the American Gestapo resorts to raiding raw milk sellers, that’s one sign among many that the statist death-cult is in its last throes. Let’s hope the state doesn’t thrash for too much longer, and industrial civilization implodes like the red giant it has become, releasing people from their bondage and sending productive energy back to the periphery again. Rinse and repeat ‘collapse’….best to leave a record of this centralization nonsense for the next generation this time around, though.

    • Just how far back in time do you want to go in terms of lifestyles? What you take for granted even for rural living is all built in factories from components and materials sourced all over the world. The carrying capacity of any place you live in depends on that infrastructure that gets stuff from the mines and farms to the factories and then, to you.

      The Roman Empire had that kind of infrastructure, too. Some discussion in “THE FALL OF ROME AND THE END OF CIVILIZATION” by Bryan Ward-Perkins on how losing it affected the Roman Empire’s population.

      • not all that is needed for rural living must come from industrial factories. See the Shakers for examples.
        You lack any depth of understanding concerning humanity’s ability to survive without superfluous novelties. You also seem to lack faith in nature’s gifting nature.
        Think outside the box of your conditioning. When(not if) we return to simple living, it won’t be the pain and suffering we are told it will be. For the greedy and boring, maybe it will. But for the giving and creative/resourceful it will be paradise regained. Or as close as we can achieve in the material cosmos.
        What you propose is an endless war with the Earth and eventually, the cosmos, for that which is futile(an endless and unchanging material existence totally dominated by the egoic self). Accept Fate, and through acceptance you may achieve a true transcendence.

        • Have you ever lived outside a major city?

          The life you advocate has been tried by our ancestors. It was nasty, brutish, and short and was abandoned as quickly as they could manage.

          The biggest advance in rural living in 19th Century America happened when the Sears mail-order catalogue which gave farmers access to cheap manufactured goods from all over the world was invented.

          • Rhoid Rager | Sep 30, 2013 at 5:46 pm |

            Who invited Thomas Hobbes on here?

          • Well played, and thanks for sourcing the chunk of quote I extracted. It shows that the attempt to kill the “idealized primitivism” meme goes back at least to the 1600s. But still it persists.

          • Rhoid Rager | Sep 30, 2013 at 6:28 pm |

            I don’t adhere to that narrative on the grounds that centralized society is the most inefficient way for humans to organize themselves. Maintaining hierarchy is extremely energy costly. A dispersed social structure supported by locally distributed production is a much more energy efficient way to organize. I recommend Kropotkin’s Fields, Factories and Workshops. He gives a rough outline of this kind of society over a 100 years ago. There’s no fall back on the simplistic dichotomy of primitive or modern, all or nothing. There’s nuance to localized production and life-support systems. Further, this society is not some unobtainable utopian vision, but a thermodynamic inevitability. There is an order of interconnectedness and mutuality in nature that cannot be bypassed for long without consequences. There’s a reason that rope always frays at the ends first.

          • What metals can you locally source? Petrochemicals? What can you grow locally in what your local climate will become in a decade? I think you can come up with your own examples. But a model that doesn’t make it possible to turn coltan lumps grubbed by African natives into finished computers somewhere else means not only giving up high tech, but retreating a lot further in terms of tech. Where did what was in the 1906 Sears-Roebuck catalogue come from?

            Without a worldwide vendor network, carrying capacity of any given area will dramatically decrease. Who wants to volunteer to be one of the people who don’t make the survival cut?

            As for “centralized”, perhaps intelligence can be pushed to the network edges. All I can be sure of is that centralized society run by the current transnational elites is failing.

          • none of us will make the “survival cut”. what we ought to do is transition to primitive living, otherwise it will be forced on us and there will be undue suffering for many.
            there is no hope for the kind of world you propose. as the other commenter stated, its a battle against the laws of thermodynamics.
            who do you think will win? the laws of nature or man?
            wouldn’t it be wiser to just cooperate with her, rather than manhandle her and force her to obey our will?

          • alizardx | Oct 1, 2013 at 5:07 am |

            Your “return to nature” involves dieoff of the great majority of the human population. Civilization shields you from the consequences of your delusional belief system.

            If civilization disappeared as you hope for, imagining your attempt to feed yourself in a reality where the stores where you’d expected to buy seeds along with ag hand tools had been looted is funny.

          • Ted Heistman | Oct 1, 2013 at 6:05 am |

            I could survive in the woods. I could eat deer, turtles fish, edible plants. I ate about 25% wild plants this summer. Everybody wouldn’t die if civilization collapsed. Of course if everybody was suddenly doing it game would become scarce.

            But I agree that a collapse of Civilization would not be the best way to become sustainable. That’s why I support permaculture.

          • Rhoid Rager | Sep 30, 2013 at 7:42 pm |

            Impending crisis is a good opportunity to self-examine one’s skills, one’s needs and what one really wants out of life. If you’re into computers and view them as a necessity in your life, then it’s best to learn how to salvage, recycle and reclaim discarded items. They already do that in the ‘developing world’.

          • alizardx | Oct 1, 2013 at 4:57 am |

            Modern microchips have a use-by date. Electtromigration and other wear mechanisms mean that a device you buy today will be dead regardless of care in a decade. It’s the tradeoff for getting hundreds of millions of transistors onto a single chip. No model that involves scavenging and no running wafer fabs will keep high-tech devices going for more than a few years.

          • Rhoid Rager | Oct 1, 2013 at 5:13 am |

            Oh well?

  5. Ted Heistman | Sep 30, 2013 at 5:33 am |

    So how do know these “estimates” of 27,000 species a year aren’t just figures getting pulled out of peoples asses?

    • Bluebird_of_Fastidiousness | Sep 30, 2013 at 8:09 am |

      Have you ever flown over the Amazon? I have. The distinguishing features are increasingly billowing smoke and desert. Iraq used to be cedar forests and Saudi Arabia was an oak savannah. During the last few years of collecting prairie seed on the road sides in Wisconsin, I’ve watched the last remnants of vast oceans of life, evaporate into the monotony of invasive plants and pavement.

      My question to you then is how can you be sure your skepticism in regards to the numbers isn’t just a coping mechanism.

      • Rhoid Rager | Sep 30, 2013 at 8:56 am |

        What’s the damned point of contradicting him?

      • Ted Heistman | Sep 30, 2013 at 11:51 am |

        I post shit on here about people are doing positive things with permaculture and nobody gives a fuck. People prefer fear mongering and apocalyptic brooding.

        • Calypso_1 | Sep 30, 2013 at 12:31 pm |

          On the contrary, not only do the members of this forum consistently show an interest in positive change, including topics such as permaculture, there has been a long term growing consensus against fear-mongering & apocalypticism.

          Perhaps it is other’s ability to balance their anti-authoritarian nature with rational perspectives in contrast to protracted intransigency of opinion that is generating such responses.

        • emperorreagan | Sep 30, 2013 at 2:30 pm |

          If I read a good article about permaculture, I try to see if it’s something I can apply to my garden at home, for example. I’m much more likely to go dig a hole or talk to my friends who have gardens than post anything .

          I’ll argue ideology or whatever on here because the internet is something I use as a break from mental work or when I’m waiting on something else.

          The article on permaculture is ultimately more appreciated, though less likely to get a response from me.

          • Ted Heistman | Sep 30, 2013 at 3:05 pm |

            What is permaculture to you?

          • emperorreagan | Sep 30, 2013 at 3:56 pm |

            An ecological design system – emulating nature.

            Where it interests me is where I can apply things to the environment I most directly influence – trying to rebuild top soil, strategies for rain harvesting, traditional planting like the three sisters – or where I can choose to purchase food from farmers who are pursuing sustainability in agriculture.

            I’m interested but strongly skeptical when it comes to larger scale things – my experience working on green building projects was that a lot of it was smoke-and-mirrors.

          • Ted Heistman | Sep 30, 2013 at 6:49 pm |

            yeah I pretty much agree. Some large scale projects have worked though:


      • Ted Heistman | Sep 30, 2013 at 3:04 pm |

        You seem like a person I can have a conversation with. Here is my point. Say you geeked out and decided the1930’s was the greatest period of time in history. So you bought 1930’s car and a 1930’s house and dressed like Charlie Chaplin and decorated everything in your house like the 30’s. That’s great if that’s what you like, but all it is is an esthetic choice.

        So you might prefer Wisconsin to be prairie and Oak Savannah circa 1491, and if you want to have little gardens like that, kind of like a theme park, I say go for it.

        But this lost golden age doesn’t exist anywhere other than in your head. The ecosystem has moved on. Looking at nature in obsolete paradigms just sets yourself up for failure and frustration. Its not going back to prairie anytime soon and making little fenced in areas of prairie is not what the prairie was all about anyway.

        These animals and plants you consider invasive live all over the place. They don’t see this false dichotomy between natural and artificial. That’s because its not real.

        • Calypso_1 | Oct 1, 2013 at 1:45 pm |

          You’re primary confusion seems to be assuming that contrary opinions are emerging from a supposed belief in a “false dichotomy of natural & artificial” when others are speaking in terms of ecological balance related to habitat destruction, extinction rates & mass unsustainable ecological practices. No one is arguing that life will not continue. But to conflate your own personal practices, ability to survive & interest in alternative viewpoints as a counter to the mass of evidence for large scale anthropomorphic ecological change is absurd.
          A golden age of permaculture is just as much in your head as other attempts at ecosystem restoration, it too is a ‘theme park’. Should we abandon Appalachian hardwood reforesting & blight resistant American chestnuts?…those ecosystems have ‘moved on’. Have you looked at reforestation of the Scottish Highlands? All failure & frustration there? The Everglades was/is ‘moving on’ until restoration efforts began. There are a broad range of endeavors from the individual to collective. The dividing line for man- made attempts to restore viable ecosystems is not mere artifice but vital to the restoration of the planet. To believe that the course of nature is best left to the rampant natural spread of invasives as a new form of biodiversity is as naive as the original destruction of habitats that allowed their spread.

  6. Ted Heistman | Sep 30, 2013 at 5:36 am |

    This is a waking nightmare people are collectively creating for themselves. I am talking about these tropes, not reality. Go outside and hear the birds singing. Life is continuing.

  7. Wasps pollinate as much if not more than bees…

    • Ted Heistman | Sep 30, 2013 at 6:01 am |

      plus there are lots of bumble bees. There are lots of leaps of logic occuring in these arguments. The missing info I have placed in quotes.

      1. (Domestic European Honey) bees are suffering
      2.Flowering plants rely on (all different kinds of)bees
      3. Therefore life as we know it is about to end so we should get all upset and freak out but still not do anything

  8. Ted Heistman | Sep 30, 2013 at 5:57 am |

    Bees aren’t going extinct. European honey bees are just getting fucked up for different reasons. Its mostly GMO farming that’s messing it up for them, not climate change.

  9. Charlie Primero | Sep 30, 2013 at 7:47 am |

    Sci-Fi writers promoting Climate Fraud is so tedious and predictable. As a cultural phenomena, it would be schadenfreude funny if it weren’t so evil.

    • Simon Valentine | Sep 30, 2013 at 10:42 am |

      and what of their schadenprahlen?

    • And how would you dismiss all the extinctions if climate change wasn’t mentioned, but only all the other forms of pollution and environmental destruction?

  10. Liam_McGonagle | Sep 30, 2013 at 8:58 am |

    First convince me that humanity is worth saving, then we might begin to discuss viable strategies.

  11. Simon Valentine | Sep 30, 2013 at 10:37 am |

    bees? cell phones.

  12. BuzzCoastin | Sep 30, 2013 at 3:02 pm |

    in the short history of humanity
    homospaians have done tremendous damage to the Earth’s ecosystems
    which has has a long term deleterious effect on human survival
    yet somehow assume that there are no consequences to this behavior
    and are surprised when Nature shows up with the bill
    how human

  13. DeepCough | Sep 30, 2013 at 11:12 pm |

    I may have quoted this before, but it bears repeating.

    “The planet is fine; the people are fucked.”
    ~George Carlin

  14. ishmael2009 | Oct 2, 2013 at 10:49 pm |

    The basic maths this “mega-extinction” argument is based on are from the racist professor E O Wilson (Google “Sociobiology study group”) and have been refuted in the pages of Nature and other scientific journals.

    The information Newsweek rely on for their “journalism” is more or less a straight take from the various web pages and PR releases of the Martin School at Oxford. Which sounds very neutral and impressive, until you realise it was set up by a reclusive billionaire with an apocalypse complex and a private island in the Bermudas. The “school” exists to look at the end of civilisation (so, no grant extensions for concluding the threat isn’t that great then).

    Check out the 0.01% funding the “research” behind Newsweek’s article here:

  15. chistletoe | Oct 3, 2013 at 7:04 am |

    Human beings have this unfortunate bias built into their pea-brains …. although they routinely claim their point of view to be “objective”, they have a strong tendency to over-estimate the importance of the events of the immediate past and then to project these events forward as proof of a “trend”.

    Mother nature, or the force, or whatever you want to call “it”, has a tendency to act just the opposite …. She likes to go in cycles, night and day, winter and summer, cold and hot, happy and sad, just like the stock market ….every time the silly human beings think that the market is going to go up forever, well, “poof”, it turns around and goes down, for awhile ….only to convince all the silly humans that it is going to go down forever, at which point it turns again and goes up …..

  16. “should be to survive for at least another million years” gee I just want to make it to next week? 😉 Seriously I suspect it maybe its to late to fix the many, and whatever things, that we “think” is wrong, no matter who or what did it.

  17. Monsanto’s Glyphosate is destroying the Bees beneficial gut bacteria. Perhaps we could supplement their diets with probiotics. Whilst the good people of the earth work at exposing Monsanto, Syngenta to name a few.

    Amor y Paz

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