Submitted Date 10/17/2019

If I'm being honest environmental topics stress me out. The global temperatures continue to rise, species are dying, I keep forgetting my cloth grocery bags, and I haven't helped a single bee. I feel aware of the issues, the pressure to act, and somehow— I'm still paralyzed. There are many topics focusing on mass extinction. The argument of whether or not our planet is experiencing what would be the 6th mass extinction. As an inhabitant of Earth, it causes me great grief to accept that I am part of the problem. The human species is responsible for deforestation, pollution in the air, water, and soil. All of these factors contribute to the balance of our ecosystem and are the reason for the extreme chaos that we live in. As a result of my guilt, I decided to feed my fears. There are five previously recorded mass extinctions that provide significant insight on their cause, and characteristics. From those references and data, the answer can be established.

The previous five mass extinctions are listed as; Ordovician-Silurian extinction, Late Devonian extinction, Permian-Triassic extinction, Triassic- Jurassic extinction, and Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction. The first four on this list were caused by extreme changes in the environment. The Cretaceous- Paleogene extinction was brought on by an asteroid and is the exception in this group.


The Ordovician- Silurian extinction occurred 444 million years ago. "At that time, massive glaciation locked up huge amounts of water in an ice cap that covered parts of a large south polar landmass." Experts postulate that the Appalachian Mountains may have caused the glaciation. The freshly exposed rock absorbed carbon dioxide from the atmosphere which cooled the planet. This event destroyed 85% of all species, primarily including marine species.

Late Devonian extinction occurred 383 million years ago. This extinction spans 20 million years and killed 75% of the species. The Devonian extinction appears to experience "pulses" throughout the event. During these pulses, oxygen levels decreased. It's possible that a large igneous province eruption caused the oxygen levels to drop. "A large igneous province called the Viluy Traps erupted 240,000 cubic miles of lava in what is now Siberia." Other contributors are claimed to be an asteroid, invasive species, and even plants.

Permian- Triassic extinction occurred 252 million years ago. The third mass extinction is also known as the "Great Dying". A whopping 96% of marine species were wiped out. This extinction was also the only one to affect insect populations. The cause of the extinction falls on an expansive volcanic complex.

Triassic- Jurassic extinction occurred 201 million years ago. During the fourth mass extinction, 80% of land and marine species were affected. "On land, the dominant vertebrates had been the crocodilians, which were bigger and far more diverse than they are today. Many of them died out. In their wake, the earliest dinosaurs—small, nimble creatures on the ecological periphery—rapidly diversified."

The most recent mass extinction is the one most notable events in recorded history. Cretaceous- Paleogene extinction occurred 66 million years ago. This extinction killed 76% of species including all "nonavian dinosaurs." An asteroid impacted the Earth, resulting in severe changes to the ecosystem within hours.

Mass extinction is defined as; "The extinction of a large number of species within a relatively short period of geological time, thought to be due to factors such as a catastrophic global event or widespread environmental change that occurs too rapidly for most species to adapt." It's no secret that the Earth is going through some changes. Most of these changes are choices society has made over time. The environment can't protect itself from people. We have poisoned the ground, and the water. We have hunted animals to the point of extinction. Humans have made their imprint on the planet. Mother nature seems to be simply reacting to our influence. "According to the UN Environment Programme, the Earth is in the midst of a mass extinction of life. Scientists estimate that 150-200 species of plant, insect, bird and mammal become extinct every 24 hours. This is nearly 1,000 times the "natural" or "background" rate and, say many biologists, is greater than anything the world has experienced since the vanishing of the dinosaurs nearly 65m years ago."


These headlines and stories are all over the internet. I think back to my younger self who worshipped "Captain Planet" and thought as long as I recycled life would be okay. Now I know recycling programs have major cracks, and there's literally garbage— everywhere, and there's nowhere to put it. The animals eat the garbage and become sick or die. Our cities have devoured their natural habitats. Dominant species are hunted while livestock is aggressively farmed. The issues are piling up, and it's becoming overwhelmingly difficult to reverse these problems we as people have caused.


Doug Erwin, an expert on End-Permian mass extinction says "no" Earth is not experiencing a 6th mass extinction.
"Many of those making facile comparisons between the current situation and past mass extinctions don't have a clue about the difference in the nature of the data, much less how truly awful the mass extinctions recorded in the marine fossil record actually were, It is absolutely critical to recognize that I am NOT claiming that humans haven't done great damage to marine and terrestrial [ecosystems], nor that many extinctions have not occurred and more will certainly occur in the near future. But I do think that as scientists we have a responsibility to be accurate about such comparisons." Erwin claims.


The comparisons do what they are intended to do, strike fear. While the headlines are buzzworthy and incite panic on my psyche they're not completely inaccurate. There are serious changes to be made with our environment. When our bodies are sick, there are symptoms that present themselves as indicators. Earth is indicating distress, through climate change, catastrophic hurricanes, storms, earthquakes, etc. Erwin also explains that we only have fossils to analyze. The records only indicate "0.01 % of all the species that have ever existed."
" Most of the animals in the fossil record are marine invertebrates, like brachiopods and bivalves, of the sort that are both geologically widespread and durably skeletonized."
"So you can ask, 'Okay, well, how many geographically widespread, abundant, durably skeletonized marine taxa have gone extinct thus far?' And the answer is, pretty close to zero."
Compared to 96% of species depletion during the Permian-Triassic extinction, I think I might be able to sleep tonight. However, there is no cause for celebration. Climate and the environment need to be at the forefront of our actions moving forward. A 6th mass extinction is possible, but a 6th mass extinction can also be prevented.

As people living on this planet, it is our responsibility to give back. Elections are coming up, and it's smart to vote for someone that has the future of our planet in their policies. An investment in our environment will pay off for our future.


The birds, and the bees, as well as the bats, need our attention. They are pollinators, and they don't have anything to eat. Consider planting a flower garden, and eliminate harmful pesticides on grass.


A garden is a great way to cut down your grocery bill, provide food for you and your soil. The soil needs nutrients to maintain health and provide crops.


Everyone has the ability to save the planet, these small steps can make a huge difference. On the bright side, things are really terrible— truly awful, but we might be able to fix it.

Title Photo by Porapak Apichodilok from Pexels

Ashley Aker


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  • Rick Doble 4 years, 1 month ago

    Very nice. I believe we have been developing so fast with our science and the industrial revolution, that we did not consider the consequences until now -- even though the warning signs have been there for over fifty years.