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In February of this year, a small brown rodent, Melomys rublicola, was officially declared the first mammal on the planet to be extinguished because of climate change. The mouse was endemic to Bramble Island, which lies between Australia and Papua New Guinea. It disappeared when its habitat was engulfed by the waters due to the rising sea level. Last month, it was the giraffes that entered the list of endangered species: according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (UICN), their population was reduced by approximately 40% from 1985 to 2016. According to UICN, nine species of mammals may disappear from the face of the earth this year: the white-rhinoceros, the Chinese tiger, the amur leopard, the mountain gorilla, the saola, the black rhinoceros, the vaquita and the red wolf .
It is quite possible that the human being enters the list. Or does anyone believe that we are capable of surviving this catastrophe?
The planet is heading for its sixth mass extinction, and the cause this time is not a meteor, like the one that decimated the dinosaurs, or some natural cataclysm: behind it is human activity. According to an alarming report released by the UN, out of the 8 million species of plants and animals that exist, from 500 thousand to 1 million are threatened to disappear. Unsustainable development commands destruction because it brings the inconsequential exploitation of soil and seas, climate change, pollution and invasive species – such as the Aedes aegypti mosquito itself, a plague that came from Egypt to torment the entire world.
But the damage goes a long way: since 1900, the average native species in most of Earth’s major biomes has declined by at least 20 percent, and at least 680 vertebrate species have become extinct since the 16th century. However, over the past 40 years the total number of endangered species has grown considerably: today, more than 40% of amphibian species, almost 33% of corals and 1/3 of marine mammals and sharks are threatened. “The extinction rate is hundreds of times greater than the natural rate,” says Paul Leadley, a professor at the Université Paris-Sud in Orsay and director of the Ecology, Systematics and Evolution laboratory.
Leadley is one of the authors of the UN Intergovernmental Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) report. The survey was drawn up by 145 experts and 310 employees from 50 countries, based on about 15,000 scientific articles, and is the most complete ever produced on the subject. According to the document, from 1980 onwards CO2 emissions have doubled, making the planet’s temperature rise by about 0.7 ° C, for example. “For the first time, we have a photograph of the process of environmental change on the planet,” says Eduardo Brondizio, professor of anthropology at Indiana University and a researcher at Unicamp’s Center for Environmental Studies, one of the coordinators of the IPBES report.
Other relevant data: approximately 25% of greenhouse gas emissions are caused by deforestation and agricultural production, and industrial fisheries already dominate more than 55% of the ocean. In addition, there has been a 10-fold increase in plastic pollution since 1980, and fertilizers and other agricultural inputs that reach the coast, driven by the contaminated waters of the rivers, have already created more than 400 ocean “dead zones”. These cover 245,000 km², an area larger than that of the United Kingdom.
It is estimated that almost 1/3 of the Earth’s forest area has gone down after the Industrial Revolution; and from 1970, deforestation increased by 45%. “Ecosystems, species, wild populations, local varieties and breeds of domesticated plants and animals are dwindling, deteriorating or disappearing. The essential and interconnected network of life on Earth is getting smaller and more and more worn out, “says Josef Settele, a researcher at the German environmental research center Helmholtz, who also participated in the project.
According to Eduardo Brondizio, it is still possible to avoid the worst, but it is necessary to rely on the knowledge of the traditional peoples: “They manage large hydrographic basins and ecosystems, with implications far removed from those where they live. They contribute to the quality of water and to the diversity of habitats, lead the effort for reforestation and monitor illegal activities, “he explains. “We are in a critical moment, not only not recognizing indigenous populations but, in some cases, condemning their way of life. We forget the potential of local knowledge. “
While the parliament of countries like the United Kingdom and Ireland declare “climate emergency,” announcing action plans in sectors such as heating, transport, industry and agriculture, to intensify the response to climate change and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and the so-called G7 Environment (France, Canada, Germany, United States, Italy, Japan and the United Kingdom) meets to discuss concrete measures against the fight against deforestation and pollution by plastics, the adoption of clean refrigeration systems and the protection of corals, Brazil continues in the opposite direction.
The government has just announced the revision of the 334 areas of environmental protection and a ruralist MP asks for the extinction of the Campos Gerais National Park, created in 2006 to protect, mainly, the araucaria, a tree that is a symbol of Paraná. According to a study developed by the Federal University of Santa Catarina (UFSC), the State University of Santa Catarina (Udesc) and the University of São Paulo (USP), the araucaria had almost disappeared 2,000 years ago. Who would have saved her from extinction were precisely the pre-Columbian peoples who inhabited the region at the time, promoting their replanting.
The loss of biodiversity “is a direct result of human activity and constitutes a direct threat to human well-being in all regions of the world,” says researcher Josef Settele. Humans should really pay attention, because the extinction line moves and they may be before the end.