Let us get out the crystal ball and the tarot and tealeaves as this decade hasteneth to its end.
Depending less on tealeaves but not pretending to certainty, a number of scientists addressed the 2010s in Cosmos Magazine in 2006.
HUMANS WILL not be the only ones facing uncertain futures as changes sweep our planet: Earth’s plants and animals are also in for a grim time over the next 15 years. “Basically, humanity has taken over nearly all the low-lying land that can be farmed on Earth today,” says ecologist Stuart Pimm of Duke University, North Carolina. “Wild creatures have survived by holding on in highland areas, but now these are threatened; not by agriculture, but rather by climate change. And when these mountain refuges are destroyed as they warm up, there will be nowhere else for these creatures to go.”
A classic example of this double whammy, land clearance and climate change, is provided by the case of the ptarmigan, a distinctive flightless bird found in Scotland. It likes cold weather and has survived nicely in the Cairngorms for aeons. But now the area is warming up and ptarmigan numbers are dwindling fast. Its chances of making it to 2020 are therefore slim – as are those of Australia’s Thornton Peak nursery frog which now clings to life on a single mountain in Queensland’s tropical forests. When that refuge goes, there will be no more frog…
But it is hard to calculate how many species will be lost by 2020, for the simple reason that we still do not know how many exist now. Lord Robert May, the Australian population expert and former head of the U.K.’s Royal Society, estimates there are around 7 million different species in the world, of which we have studied about 1.5 million.
“If we just consider birds and mammals, however, we have only about 14,000 different species of these and we are losing on average one species a year,” says May. “That may not seem much, but it is about a thousand times the natural background rate and, more importantly, it is going to increase as climate change worsens.
“There will not be the wholesale, instant slaughter that some activists have predicted,” he adds. “But species losses will accumulate over the century until we reach a level equal to the wave of extinctions that destroyed the dinosaurs and so many other creatures 65 million years ago. That was one of the five great extinctions that have affected life on Earth over the past few hundred million years. We are now entering the sixth.”
I am doing some related reading at the moment, so expect more posts.
— Acknowledgement for image: IT’S GOOD TO MOCK.