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Posted on Wednesday, April 05 - 2006

" by Richard Leakey and Roger Lewin (Doubleday, 1995) Our planet has been shaken by five major extinctions in the four billion year history of life. The first, 450 million years ago, occurred shortly after the evolution of the first land-based plants and 100 million years after the Cambrian E..."

by Richard Leakey and Roger Lewin (Doubleday, 1995)

Our planet has been shaken by five major extinctions in the four billion year history of life. The first, 450 million years ago, occurred shortly after the evolution of the first land-based plants and 100 million years after the Cambrian Explosion of animal life beneath the seas.

The second extinction spasm came 350 million years ago, causing the formation of coal forests. Then the Earth experienced two mass extinctions during the Triassic period, between 250 and 200 million years ago. The fifth mass extinction, probably caused by a giant meteor collision, occurred 65 million years ago, at the end of the Cretaceous period, and ended the reptilian dominance of the Earth. This led to the current mammalian domination of the Earth.

So what is the Sixth Extinction? When is it coming? And what is its cause? "It's the next annihilation of vast numbers of species. It is happening now, and we, the human race, are its cause," explains Dr. Richard Leakey, the world's most famous paleoanthropologist. Every year, between 17,000 and 100,000 species vanish from our planet, he says. "For the sake of argument, let's assume the number is 50,000 a year. Whatever way you look at it, we're destroying the Earth at a rate comparable with the impact of a giant asteroid slamming into the planet, or even a shower of vast heavenly bodies." The statistics he has assembled are staggering. Fifty per cent of the Earth's species will have vanished inside the next 100 years; mankind is using almost half the energy available to sustain life on the planet, and this figure will only grow as our population leaps from 5.7 billion to ten billion inside the next half-century. Such a dramatic and overwhelming mass extinction threatens the entire complex fabric of life on Earth, including the species responsible for it: Homo sapiens.

Chapter 13: The Sixth Extinction: AN ACCIDENT OF HISTORY we may be, but there is no question that Homo sapiens is the single most dominant species on Earth today. We arrived late on the evolutionary scene and at a time when the diversity of life on the planet was near its all-time high. And, as we saw in chapter 10, we arrived equipped with the capacity to devastate that diversity wherever human populations travelled. Blessed with reason and insight, we move toward the twenty-first century in a world of our own creation, an essentially artificial world in which (for some, at least) technology brings material comfort and leisure brings unprecedented artistic creation. So far, unfortunately, our reason and insight have not prevented us from collectively exploiting Earth's resources-biological and physical-in unprecedented ways...


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