In biology and ecology, extinction is the end of an organism or of a group of organisms (taxon), normally a species. The moment of extinction is generally considered to be the death of the last individual of the species, although the capacity to breed and recover may have been lost before this point.
- The beauty and genius of a work of art may be reconceived, though its first material expression be destroyed; a vanished harmony may yet again inspire the composer; but when the last individual of a race of living beings breathes no more, another heaven and another earth must pass before such a one can be again.
- William Beebe, The Bird, 1906
- It is noteworthy that human concern about human extinction takes a different form from human concern (where there is any) about the extinction of non-human species. Most humans who are concerned about the extinction of non-human species are not concerned about the individual animals whose lives are cut short in the passage to extinction, even though that is one of the best reasons to be concerned about extinction (at least in its killing form). The popular concern about animal extinction is usually concern for humans –- that we shall live in a world impoverished by the loss of one aspect of faunal diversity, that we shall no longer be able to behold or use that species of animal. In other words, none of the typical concerns about human extinction are applied to non-human species extinction.
- We are now living in the era of the sixth extinction crisis in the history of the planet, the last one occurring 65 million years ago when a meteor struck the Gulf of Mexico and annihilated half of existing species including the dinosaurs. Unlike the last five, however, the sixth extinction crisis is caused by human activity.
- This time it is we who are the meteor crashing into the earth, and we keep crashing and crashing and crashing, never allowing the planet to recover. We are a meteor storm that continuously, repetitively keeps slamming into the planet, precluding adaptation and blocking recovery. If we cannot learn how to live on this planet and harmonize our existence with other species and the biocommunity as a whole, then, frankly, we have no right to live at all. If we can only exploit, plunder, and destroy, then surely our demise is for the greater good. Whereas worms, pollinators, dung beetles, and countless other species are vital to a flourishing planet, Homo sapiens is the one species the earth could well do without.
- While certainly no cultures, peoples, and social systems have been as devastating to animals and the environment as modern capitalism, there was no Edenic time, no Golden Era, when humans lived in peace and harmony with one another, other species, and their natural surroundings. Problems like species extinction, resource depletion, desertification, and overall mindless destruction of life and ecosystems did not originate in European modernity but rather have deep roots in antiquity and prehistory.
- Steven Best, "Failed Species: The Rise and Fall of the Human Empire". Romanian Journal of Artistic Creativity. 9 (2). (2021).
- We have since built museums to celebrate the past, and spent decades studying prehistoric lives. And if all this has taught us anything, it is this: no species lasts forever.
- EXTINCTION, n. The raw material out of which theology created the future state.
- Ambrose Bierce, "Decalogue", The Devil's Dictionary (1906).
- Global biodiversity decline is best understood as growing numbers of people and their rapidly expanding economic support systems crowding out other species. Conservation biologists standardly list five main direct drivers of biodiversity loss: habitat loss, overexploitation of species, pollution, invasive species, and climate change. The Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services found that in recent decades habitat loss was the leading cause of terrestrial biodiversity loss, while overexploitation (overfishing) was the most important cause of marine losses. All five direct drivers are important, on land and at sea, and all are made worse by larger and denser human populations.
- Philip Cafaro, Pernilla Hansson, Frank Götmark, (2022). "Overpopulation is a major cause of biodiversity loss and smaller human populations are necessary to preserve what is left". Biological Conservation 272. DOI:10.1016/j.biocon.2022.109646.
- Much less frequently mentioned are, however, the ultimate drivers of those immediate causes of biotic destruction, namely, human overpopulation and continued population growth, and overconsumption, especially by the rich. These drivers, all of which trace to the fiction that perpetual growth can occur on a finite planet, are themselves increasing rapidly.
- Gerardo Ceballos, Paul R. Ehrlich and Rodolfo Dirzo, "Biological annihilation via the ongoing sixth mass extinction signaled by vertebrate population losses and declines." PNAS, 2017.
- Life has now entered a sixth mass extinction. This is probably the most serious environmental problem, because the loss of a species is permanent, each of them playing a greater or lesser role in the living systems on which we all depend . The species extinctions that define the current crisis are, in turn, based on the massive disappearance of their component populations, mostly since the 1800s. The massive losses that we are experiencing are being caused, directly or indirectly, by the activities of Homo sapiens. They have almost all occurred since our ancestors developed agriculture, some 11,000 y ago. At that time, we numbered about 1 million people worldwide; now there are 7.7 billion of us, and our numbers are still rapidly growing. As our numbers have grown, humanity has come to pose an unprecedented threat to the vast majority of its living companions.
- Gerardo Ceballos, Paul R. Ehrlich, and Peter H. Raven, "Vertebrates on the brink as indicators of biological annihilation and the sixth mass extinction". PNAS, 2020.
- Let's not be too quick to blame the human race for everything. We must remember that a great many species of animals became extinct before man ever appeared on earth. At the same time it is probably true that when two husky representatives of Homo sapiens, with clubs, corner the last two birds of a species, no matter how far they have or have not evolved, both the phylogeny and the ontogeny of those birds are, to all intents and purposes, over.
- Will Cuppy, How to Become Extinct, 1941
- The Dodo never had a chance. He seems to have been invented for the sole purpose of becoming extinct and that was all he was good for.
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- Becoming extinct has its compensations. It's a good deal like beating the game. I would go so far as to say that becoming extinct is the perfect answer to everything and I defy anybody to think of a better. Other solutions are mere palliatives, just a bunch of loose ends, leaving the central problem untouched.
- Capitalism is not necessarily more immoral than previous social systems with regard to cruelty to humans and the gratuitous destruction of nature. As a mode of production and a social system, however, capitalism requires people to be destructive of the environment. Three destructive aspects of the capitalist system stand out when we view this system in relation to the extinction crisis: 1) capitalism tends to degrade the conditions of its own production; 2) it must expand ceaselessly in order to survive; 3) it generates a chaotic world system, which in turn intensifies the extinction crisis.
- It is clear that only a giant change in human culture can significantly limit the extinction crisis. Humanity must face the need to reduce birth rates further, especially among the overconsuming wealthy and middle classes. In addition, a reduction of wasteful consumption will be necessary, accompanied by a transition away from environmentally malign technological choices such as private automobiles, plastic everything, and treating billionaires to space tourism. Otherwise growthmania will win; the human enterprise will not undergo the needed shrinkage, but will continue to expand, destroying most of biodiversity and further wrecking the life-support systems of humanity until global civilization collapses
- The Brontosaurus had a brain no bigger than a crisp.
The Dodo had a stammer, and the Mammoth had a lisp.
The Auk was just too awkward. Now they're none of them alive;
Each one, like Man, had shown himself unfitted to survive.
Their story points a moral; now it's we who wear the pants.
The extinction of these species holds a lesson for us ants.
- Michael Flanders, "Dead Ducks", from The Bestiary of Flanders and Swann, 1967
- Since 1970, overall numbers are down by 69%. Livestock and the human beings who farm them now account for 96% of all the mammals on Earth. The Sumatran tiger, the Bornean orangutan and the hellbender salamander are among the million animal and plant species judged perilously close to extinction.
- We are experiencing an accelerated obliteration of the planet’s life-forms — an estimated 8,760 species die off per year — because, simply put, there are too many people. Most of these extinctions are the direct result of the expanding need for energy, housing, food and other resources. The Yangtze River dolphin, Atlantic gray whale, West African black rhino, Merriam's elk, California grizzly bear, silver trout, blue pike and dusky seaside sparrow are all victims of human overpopulation. Population growth, as E. O. Wilson says, is "the monster on the land." Species are vanishing at a rate of a hundred to a thousand times faster than they did before the arrival of humans. If the current rate of extinction continues, Homo sapiens will be one of the few life-forms left on the planet, its members scrambling violently among themselves for water, food, fossil fuels and perhaps air until they too disappear. Humanity, Wilson says, is leaving the Cenozoic, the age of mammals, and entering the Eremozoic — the era of solitude. As long as the Earth is viewed as the personal property of the human race, a belief embraced by everyone from born-again Christians to Marxists to free-market economists, we are destined to soon inhabit a biological wasteland.
- Chris Hedges, "We Are Breeding Ourselves to Extinction", truthdig.com, March 9, 2009
- Nature cannot be destroyed. Sixty-five million years ago, an asteroid wiped out the dinosaurs, but in so doing opened the way forward for mammals. Today, humankind is driving many species into extinction and might even annihilate itself. But other organisms are doing quite well. Rats and cockroaches, for example, are in their heyday. These tenacious creatures would probably creep out from beneath the smoking rubble of a nuclear Armageddon, ready and able to spread their DNA. Perhaps 65 million years from now, intelligent rats will look back gratefully on the decimation wrought by humankind, just as we today can thank that dinosaur-busting asteroid.
- Yuval Noah Harari, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind (2011), Chapter 18: "A Permanent Revolution"
- A few years ago, virtually no one was talking about this . . . everyone just assumed that the web of life would always be intact. Now the situation is so severe that the United Nations has set up a special task force to monitor it: the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES). In 2019, it published its first comprehensive report – a groundbreaking assessment of the planet's living species, drawing on 15,000 studies from around the world and representing the consensus of hundreds of scientists. It found an accelerating rate of global biodiversity decline, unprecedented in human history.
- Jason Hickel, Less is More: How Degrowth Will Save the World, 2021, pp. 8-9
- It's no wonder that we react so nonchalantly to the ever-mounting statistics about the crisis of mass extinction. We have a habit of taking this information with surprising calm. We don't weep. We don't get worked up. Why? Because we see humans as fundamentally separate from the rest of the living community. Those species are out there, in the environment. They aren't in here; they aren't part of us. It is not surprising that we behave this way. After all, this is the core principle of capitalism: that the world is not really alive, and it is certainly not our kin, but rather just stuff to be extracted and discarded – and that includes most of the human beings living here too. From its very first principles, capitalism has set itself at war against life itself.
- Jason Hickel, Less is More: How Degrowth Will Save the World, 2021, p.80
- Humans have caused extinctions since leaving Africa 60,000+ years ago; in the last twelve millennia post-foraging societies have systematically increased their exploitation and control of the Earth. Humans groups rearrange the natural world in their own image, taking the homes and food of other species for their own.
- Our leaders willfully ignore the wisdom and the models of every other species on the planet—except of course those that have gone extinct.
- The process continues, in fits and starts, for thousands of years, until the species, no longer so new, has spread to practically every corner of the globe. At this point, several things happen more or less at once to allow Homo sapiens, as it has come to call itself, to reproduce at an unprecedented rate. In a single century the population doubles; the doubles again, and then again. Vast forests are razed. Humans do this deliberately, in order to feed themselves. Less deliberately, they shift organisms from one continent to another, reassembling the biosphere.
- We are currently, in a systematic manner, exterminating all non-human living beings.
- The most wretched of all current trends is of course the mass extinction of organisms, which has been escalating for decades and is still increasing in magnitude.
- Pentti Linkola, Can Life Prevail?: A Revolutionary Approach to the Environmental Crisis, 2011, page 183.
- Finding out that 1 million species face extinction without radical corrective changes in human behavior is akin to finding out you have a fatal disease. One day you have a thousand problems; the next, you have just one. Nothing in today’s headlines compares to the catastrophic potential posed by climate change and the decimating effects of careless consumerism around the globe.
- Kathleen Parker, "Nothing in today's headlines compares to the coming catastrophe." The Washington Post, May 7, 2019.
- In what year will the human population grow too large for the Earth to sustain? The answer is about 1970, according to research by the World Wildlife Fund. In 1970, the planet's 3 and a half billion people were sustainable. But on this New Year's Day, the population is 8 billion. Today, wild plants and animals are running out of places to live.
- Indeed, in the long run, extinctions of species are as inevitable as the deaths of individual animals, and it may be that the causes of extinctions are as varied as the causes of individual deaths.
A wave of extinctions—a sudden diminution in the number of species—is analogous to a sudden big drop in the size of a human population, an event that deserves to be explained even though the individual people would inevitably have died sooner or later anyway. Catastrophes in human populations have many causes: war, famine, and pestilence are the possibilities that first spring to mind. There may be equally many causes for evolutionary catastrophes, as waves of extinctions could well be called. Another possibility, however, is that extinctions come in waves that are part of a recurring cycle. It would then be the cycle itself, rather than each individual wave in the cycle, that would need to be explained. If there is such a cycle, it presumably follows a cycle in the inorganic world, such as cyclic climactic changes.
- E. C. Pielou, "After the Ice Age: The Return of Life to Glaciated North America" (1991). University of Chicago Press. Trade paperback edition; ISBN 0-226-66812-6, pages 252-253
- Moreover, we have unleashed a mass extinction event, the sixth in roughly 540 million years, wherein many current life forms could be annihilated or at least committed to extinction by the end of this century.
- Since after extinction no one will be present to take responsibility, we have to take full responsibility now.
- This did not happen yesterday because we suddenly became aware of the dangers of global warming. It began 50,000 years ago when a relatively hairless primate stumbled out of equatorial Africa and began wiping out the megafauna of the time. Wherever this creature (our ancestor) went, their arrival was followed by large die-outs of megafauna. Primitive hominids were well-organized, efficient, slaughter crews. As they advanced, the mammoth, sabre-toothed cats, cave bears, giant sloths, camels, horses, and wholly rhinos fell to their stone weapons and deliberately set fires. The extinction of all of these great mega-species is directly attributable to "primitive" human hunters. The hunting down of the mega-fauna was followed by the advent of agriculture and the domestication of selected animals. Domesticated cows, goats, sheep, and pigs grew in numbers and denuded large areas of grasslands. Irrigation systems began to toxify land. Then agriculture was followed by industrial activities, and finally, by the burning off of vast amounts of fossil fuels.
- Paul Watson, The Beginning of the End for Life as We Know it on Planet Earth? There is a Biocentric Solution. Commentary by Paul Watson, Founder and President of Sea Shepherd Conservation Society
- What is a ‘mass extinction’ and are we in one now? The Conversation, November 12, 2019.