Escaping the sixth great extinction event

The protection of our planet and its people cannot slide off the political agenda


Scientific research conducted by a partnership of three universities has revealed that vertebrates are disappearing at significantly quicker than 100 times the regular rate, with our own species at substantial risk.

Among the causes identified by the study are pollution and climate change, with blame attributed to human activities. If current and future generations are worth considering, with regard to the potential extinction of both humanity and a great number of our fellow animals, it is time to act.

The problem could hardly be of a greater magnitude, and it is at hand. We can, however, avert the danger, at least to a large extent. Our species is innovative, resourceful and caring – but the will to take action must be present.

To outline the predicament, in the 4.5 billion years of our planet’s existence, there have been five widely agreed-upon (hitherto discovered and delimitated) major ‘extinction phases’. The last of these great phases (or ‘events’) – relatively very short periods of time in which varying percentages of taxonomic families, genera and species were wiped out – put paid to, amongst others, the dinosaurs. It occurred something in the ballpark of 65 million years ago, most likely triggered by the impact of a comet or asteroid.

We are in the midst of the sixth great extinction event – right here, right now – say researchers and scientists from the universities of Stanford, Princeton and Berkeley.

The dinosaurs and many of their contemporaries could neither conceive nor do much about their impending doom but, thankfully, we can. The means are available to prevent the demise of ourselves and the diverse, stunning animals that we share the planet with; but we must be willing to use the tools at our disposal. The Green Party possesses that will.

Protecting our planet and the life that inhabits it begins locally. In the United Kingdom, the traditional Westminster parties have failed, and continue to fail, in their duty to act as guardians of our planet, as rises in temperature drive native species to extinction. The whim of large corporations that aim to frack the countryside and pollute the air and waterways, is bowed to and their self-interested agendas are met.

In London – a global capital and the chief city of one of the most advanced states on Earth – a staggering 4,000 premature human deaths per year are caused by air pollution. In June of 2014, King’s College researchers identified Oxford Street as the single most polluted place on the globe. Also last year, the European Union launched legal action against the British government for failing to meet its targets for reducing air pollution, a little under 12 months after the EU’s Supreme Court ruled that the latter is failing to protect its citizens.

The warning signs are up in lights but somehow going unrecognised or being conveniently ignored.

The ignorance, the parochial interests, the inaction, the callousness – it is these that desperately frustrate the Green Party, but also serve as a source of inspiration and determination.

A tough stance against fracking companies and investment in renewable energy technologies will reduce greenhouse gas emissions and give us a weapon with which to battle climate change. Responsible and accurate monitoring and reporting of air pollution can facilitate reductions to safer levels. Cleaner forms of transport can transform London and its fellow UK cities into cleaner, healthier environments.

We have the ability to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels through a committed programme of investment in solar, wind and tidal energy, to lessen our dependence on private vehicles by means of providing world-class public transport, to protect our natural spaces by securing necessary funding, and to report, reveal and react to levels of air pollution.

In London and across the world, we are now unmistakably witnessing the impacts of pollution and long-term climate change, the disastrous effects of which have never been more dramatically underlined than through the Stanford-Princeton-Berkeley study (which followed a set of similarly worrying conclusions reached by a 2014 Duke University report). Whether inaction is due to a denialism that appears increasingly bizarre, a head-in-the-sand lethargy or a selfish focus on profit and gain, that idleness must now and finally end.

The protection of our planet and its people cannot slide off the political agenda, and the Green Party will not allow it to do so.

Although, finds the tri-university study, the “evidence is incontrovertible that recent extinction rates are unprecedented in human history and highly unusual in Earth’s history,” we still have the ability and means to avoid “a true sixth mass extinction”.

However, the “window of opportunity” to dodge being consigned to history as players in one of the planet’s great periods of biological demise – if, that is, there’s anyone around to document it – is “rapidly closing”.

It is time to take note, to care, and to act. Join with the Green Party in identifying, sourcing and utilising the means to, before it is too late, save ourselves and our fellow creatures from annihilation.

David Maher is a journalist and member of the Green party

Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.