Rebecca Pollard, Culture Editor
The world has gone through a total of five mass extinctions in the past. They have been caused by extreme climate change, massive erupting volcanoes, and most famously, a several-mile-wide asteroid that brought a conclusion to the period of the dinosaurs. Each of these natural, dramatic occurrences wiped out thousands of species, leaving a nearly empty planet to begin slowly creating life again.
Now we are in the midst of the sixth mass extinction. If this extinction were occurring due to natural phenomena as the past ones were, more people would be aware of it. However, terrifyingly, the sixth mass extinction is the first that isn’t occurring due to a natural disaster — its causes are purely anthropogenic. In other words, humans are the sole cause of our planet currently losing species at an alarming rate.
In fact, “alarming rate” is a vast understatement. To constitute a mass extinction, the planet must lose greater than 70 percent of its species in a relatively short period of time. This is, of course, speaking in geological time. Although thousands of years may appear like a very long time to humans, the Earth’s two billion-year old history constitutes otherwise. The background rate for species loss, or the average rate that species naturally go extinct, is somewhere between the figures of 0.000001 percent and 0.00001 percent each year. Currently, the extinction rate is between 100 to 1,000 times greater than this.
Edward O. Wilson, the author of The Future of Life, uses the acronym HIPPO to explain how humans are negatively impacting the planet in huge ways. The H stands for habitat loss and degradation, which comes with the building of our artificial homes, towns, and cities. The I is for invasive species, that are often times brought out of their original habitats by humans and into ones where they cause harm. Be it by accident or on purpose, humans were never meant to play Mother Nature by moving species from their place of origin. The first P is for pollution, caused through human industrialization and the throw-away culture that creates more waste than people know how to handle. The second P, and the most important point Wilson makes, stands for population. The O is for over-harvesting, as people have been taking more from the planet than it can naturally replenish in a reasonable time-span.
Back to the second P, population is the root of the other issues Wilson mentions. All of these things contribute to the current disquieting species loss. However, population trumps them all. If it weren’t for people, none of the other issues mentioned would be occurring. Humans are at the bottom of every hurtful practice to this planet, making people the foundation of every environmental issue.
Of course, it wasn’t always this way. The world can support a great amount of people in a sustainable fashion. However, the current population of 7.4-billion is way too much for this planet to be able to sustainably provide for each person, especially in the way countries have divided up and are using planetary resources. All of these problems should be of concern and actively worked on, but population is the root and should be tackled by every citizen that would like their descendants to have a functioning planet.
The main way to tackle this problem, without the mass-killing of people already on this planet, is to stop reproducing past the replacement rate of 2.1 children. I am a Neo-Malthusian, a doomsayer of the 21st century, who actively believes that no one should be having more than two children during their lifetime. Our planet simply cannot sustainably provide for the current population, and with a lessening of the population comes the much-needed relief of all other environmental issues.
To halt the sixth mass extinction in its tracks, we need a halt of population growth. To halt population growth, we need to stop procreating past the replacement rate. When you start having kids, remember my mantra: stick to a family of four, so that your children can have more.