Scrolling through Facebook the other day, I found an Australian news article that explains why some scientists think Earth is in the early stages of a mass extinction of species. There have been 5 mass extinctions in Earth’s history (see here), defined as a abnormally large number of species loss in an very small time frame. In the past these extinctions have been caused by natural events, such as asteroid impacts, volcanic eruptions and natural climate change events for example ice ages, and have destroyed over 75% of species in each instance. The most famous extinction is the Cretaceous-Tertiary mass extinction, where an an asteroid or comet struck Earth near Mexico and wiped out the dinosaurs, along with many plant species.
As we all know, particularly in the last century, human activity has caused the extinction of many species and endangered many more (check out the WWF website for a list of endangered species). But for human activity to be wiping out enough species at a fast enough rate to be considered a mass extinction, in the same category as a gigantic space rock decimating the planet, that is an incredible indicator of the power we possess over our environment, and the attitudes we have towards it.
This makes me think critically about the complexity of the relationship between the environment and people. Throughout the BSc/BA Geography course so far I have learnt a lot relating to this subject. In the first term Environment Nature and Society module there are a series of lectures about what humans value as ‘a resource’ and resource availability, how human land use is changing and the consequences of this for global biodiversity. This module really helps you to gain an understanding of the economic reasons for human interaction with the environment. The second term Environment Nature and Society module, we look more closely at the human impacts on ecosystems, biodiversity, and current methods of restoration. Using the example of the conflict between the Indigenous and ‘settlers’ in Australia, we also look at the different ways that people value the environment which affect the way they treat it.
From the course so far, I have learnt there is no simple solution to conserving species and maintaining global biodiversity. There are simple too many conflicts and differences in the way that people value the environment. For example, some people such as those who wrote the article, hold a ‘deep green’ view of the environment, where the environment has an intrinsic value, a value for its own sake, regardless of any human usage it may have. With this viewpoint, there comes a desire to protect and preserve the environment from all but recreational uses. However other people view the environment instrumentally, as a resource to be exploited, so what cause do they have to preserve it? These differences in opinions can cause many economic, political and social problems for governments. In the second year the Environment and Development module looks further at the contested nature of the environment and conflicts that occur in environmental governance.
The article concludes that we have a century to change our ways before the ‘mass extinction’ point is reached and that we do have the potential to, but is it really possible? Are we powerful enough to collaborate, find new ways to live and save fellow species? Or due to human nature, our values and our history of destructive behavior which has put these destructive systems in place, can we only ever walk the path in which we destroy them?