The extinction: by climate or design?


Global warming has become a huge issue. So how are the changing temperatures and rising natural disasters actually affecting the animal kingdom?

By Alexander Kerr

Global warming has become a huge issue. Of course, its effects will have dire consequences on the planet and all of its inhabitants.

But how are the changing temperatures and rising natural disasters actually affecting the animal kingdom?

Research in 2014 shows that, for the past 40 years, climate change caused the extinction of around seven per cent of all species globally. This is in comparison to 81 per cent of species who were obliterated entirely as a result of overhunting, exploitation, habitat destruction, and habitat changes that include the construction of human-made objects. Many were furry little guys like the Cozumel Harvest Mouse.

So, what does this mean?

It means we really suck at designing our world.

A short history of extinction

First, what is ‘extinction’? Well, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) defines it as “…when there is no reasonable doubt that the last individual has died.”

Simple enough. So how many species have become extinct because of our intervention?

362 in the past 22 years and at least 3,430 species in the past 40.

A lot of this annihilation could be due to something called co-extinction, an event where the disappearance of one species causes another to die off.

In New Zealand, the Haast eagle’s only prey was the once plentiful Moa bird. However, humans overhunted the Moa, and so the Haast perished.

The butterfly effect

Another more sinister form of extinction is when the ‘keystone species’ is killed before another can evolve to take its place. Called the ‘keystone’ because they have an impact on every aspect of an ecosystem, these are the likes of lions, spiders, wolves, otters and parrotfish – the animals that build, protect, manage or quell the environment. Without them, the entire ecosystem falls apart and can lead to destructive consequences for hundreds more animals.

If every spider disappeared you’d probably be more willing to trim the hedges, but they suppress the population of millions of insects. That means the death of spiders would mean a worldwide takeover of flies.

All this is primarily the result of humanity’s inability to consider the natural way of things. Nature, however, evolves over millions of years to suit the best possible interconnection of life and topography on Earth.

Towards a solution

We’re just not that good at incorporating Mother Nature in our plans.

Many of our amazing feats in engineering fail to consider the environmental costs of a project.

Okay so how do we solve this problem?

Well, that’s a tough one. After centuries of being a rude neighbour, changing our beloved dams, highways and oil refineries is undoubtedly going to end in a messy breakup.

However, countries around the world are implementing more naturalistic and biomimetic designs. That is, infrastructure that mimics nature and allows wildlife and humankind to co-exist.

Wildlife crossing
Image: Trans-Canadian Highway wildlife bridge in Alberta. Source: daveynin/Flickr.

The Northern Beaches Road Kill Prevention Committee in NSW has pointed out that the fear of death associated with crossing a highway causes animals to be forced into a restricted space walled by asphalt and cars. Maybe it’s time to consider wildlife crossings over highways that enable wildlife to migrate for food, mates and territory.

We are also beginning to study sea-sound pollution as well; the effects of seismic surveying for oil and ship engine sounds are causing forced fish migration, stress and even death. Now we are forced to think of more silent ways of moving in the ocean.

There are many more examples of this planet-centred design – all is not lost just yet.

But it will be. The extinction rate has been accelerating century after century, and now, it’s time to push the button and restart the game. For all of us, furry-faced mouse or not.

Alexander Kerr is a student at Griffith University and an advocate for socially sustainable change.

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