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The Planet

MASS EXTINCTION HAS STARTED

An unprecedented biological collapse has begun worldwide according to a Worldwatch Institute report, "Life Support: Conserving Biological Diversity," by John C. Ryan. Furthermore, climate change from carbon dioxide emissions is likely to accelerate the massive wave of extinctions.

Among the report's Findings:

  • Three-fourths of the world's bird species are declining in population or threatened with extinction.
  • Amphibians (frogs, salamanders, and related species) are declining worldwide.
  • In Indonesia, 1,500 local varieties of rice have disappeared in the past 15 years. Nearly three-fourths of the rice grown today descends from a single plant.
  • In the United States, about 3,000 plants, nearly one in every eight native species, are considered in danger of extinction. More than 700 are likely to disappear in the next 10 years.
  • American oysters, once so numerous in the United States' Chesapeake Bay that they could filter all its water every three days, have declined in population by 99 percent since 1870. Now it takes a year for oysters to filter the same amount of water.
  • Industrial nations have decimated their wetlands: Italy, New Zealand, and California have all destroyed more than 90 percent of their wetlands.

Without immediate reductions of greenhouse gas emissions, however, the impacts of global warming will probably make the world's current biological collapse pale in comparison. Rapidly rising temperatures will overwhelm many species' and ecosystems' ability to adapt. Widespread die-offs of forests, tundra, and coral reefs, disruption of animal migrations, and the loss of mangroves and other wetlands to rising seas are likely in coming decades if actions are not taken soon to slow global warming.

Biological diversity is no luxury: like every species, ours is intimately dependent on others for its well-being. Only if biodiversity becomes a central concern in our mainstream economic activities as well as our protected areas will we avoid squandering our biological inheritance.

Limiting the amount of the planet we dominate, and tolerating diversity more in the places we do dominate, will entail tackling two of the most intractable forces in the modern world: galloping per-capita consumption and rapid population growth. No conservation strategy, however ingenious, can get around the fact that the more resources one species consumes, the fewer are available for all the rest.

CONTACT: Clyde Dilley; E-mail: dilley.2@osu.edu, phone: 614 488-5366


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