What Is The Sixth Mass Extinction?

And What Can I Do About It?

written byMatt Davies Co-Founder, Mossy Earth

Matt Davies

The past decades have witnessed an unprecedented acceleration of species and habitat loss. This phenomenon has been called by scientists the sixth mass extinction, and it is mainly caused by human activity. Concretely, it means that 3 out of 4 species that we are familiar with could be gone within a few decades. In the past 40 years, we have annihilated about half of the wildlife living on the planet. Just seeing these facts could discourage anyone from doing something about it since it seems like such a lost battle. But conservation efforts and rising awareness on threats on wildlife have managed to save some species from extinction.

The Drivers

The main drivers of the sixth mass extinction are related to human activities. Anthropogenic climate change is creating unpredictable and irreversible damage to species’ habitats and increasing the occurrences of extreme climate events. Land-use change is also a driver of species extinction. More and more wilderness areas are converted to agricultural land, especially biodiversity hotspots like the rainforest. Poaching and illegal trade of endangered species is decimating some extremely vulnerable species like the pangolin or the white rhinoceros.

Two white animal skulls stand out against the brown rock they sit on
A new geological period has been proposed - the Anthropocene - to describe the time period characterised by significant human impact on the planet.

Individual Action

The sixth mass extinction is here and individual actions can help spread awareness and make a change before some more precious species disappear.

A protests holds up a sign with a painting of a burning planet and the words 'wake up'
Individual action can help stop more species from going extinct

Reduce Your Carbon Footprint

The first thing is to identify what impacts your carbon footprint the most. Estimate your carbon footprint with our carbon calculator. If you live in a developed country, your biggest carbon footprint likely comes from what you eat and how you travel.

A view of the wing of an airplane through the window as it glides over white clouds
Reducing the amount you fly can significantly reduce your carbon footprint

Change Consumption Habits

Secondly, think about the way you consume and the food you eat. Reducing meat and dairy intake in the developed world is a priority. If land used to grow animal feed was used to grow crops for direct human consumption, feeding the 7 billion would be possible without needing to convert anymore precious rainforest into farmland. Eating plant-based is a concrete step you can take towards protecting our environment from mass extinction. Another important step is to make sure that the products you buy are sustainably sourced and do not contain products that are harmful to the environment. Palm-oil which is present in a lot of processed food, cosmetics and soaps is a known driver of tropical deforestation. Another example of products to avoid in cosmetics is animal squalane (extracted from shark liver). A lot of eco-labelling systems can help you find your way in the jungle of products.

Cows stand in the foreground with calves behind them under the golden light of the evening sun
Reducing meat and dairy intake in the developed world is a priority if we are to reduce our impact on the planet

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

Reduce, reuse, recycle. Try to be mindful of your choice as a consumer in all aspect, since all of our choices affect the planet we live on. Reducing consumption altogether is a great way to start since our planet’s resources our finite, and as population expands, the pressure on our planet is always increasing. From buying second hand clothes to living plastic free, there is a lot to be done.

Flowers grow from reused food cans
Repurposing food cans and plastic tubs as planters in the garden is a great way to reduce waste

Shop Consciously

Last but not least, do not encourage any trade related to endangered species, especially while travelling. Purchasing products sourced from illegal wildlife trade like ivory is driving species to extinction. Always be attentive to the products you are buying to not encourage activities that are detrimental to animal populations. To be sure you can always check out CITES’ (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) website.

A mother elephant and her baby in open savanna woodland

Sources & further reading

Peer Reviewed Research Section
  1. TOP ENVIRONMENTAL CONCERNS - ErizonExternal link

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