Why have 23 species gone extinct?

By: Joshua O. Kiefer

As of September 29, scientists have declared 23 species extinct. The best-known species from this list was the ivory-billed woodpecker.  According to AP News, government scientists say they exhausted everything trying to find the 23. They said this is a warming of climate change and other pressures, like deforestation, which make the disappearance of species more frequent. 

What causes extinction?

AP News states that extinction is caused by “too much development, water pollution, logging, competition from invasive species, birds killed for feathers, and animals captured by private collectors. In each case, humans were the ultimate cause.” Scientists have said that the extinction rate has gone up by 1000 times. So how does each cause contribute to extinction?

Development/Overpopulation

Development refers to the increasing social and economic population. Development/overpopulation is caused by, according to Conserve Energy Future, reduced mortality, better medical care, depletion of resources, including child labor, technological advancements in fertility treatment, and immigration. This causes a depletion of resources, rise in unemployment, conflicts and wars, degradation of the environment, including global warming, environmental pollution, and extinction. Overpopulation is the second base cause of extinction, above humans, since it contributes to the other factors of extinction.

Pollution

Pollution is the introduction of harmful materials in the environment. According to National Geographic, there are three main types of pollution: air, water, and land. Other types of pollution would include noise and light pollution.

Air pollution can be either visible, like smoke, or invisible. This is usually from factories and car emissions. The effects of air pollution can cause breathing problems, lung cancer, and eye irritation. Other causes of air pollution are natural disasters like volcanoes. The most commonly known air pollution is greenhouse gas. Air pollution also causes acid rain. Acid rain can kill forests, make lakes too acidic for fish to live in, and even erode marbles and other stones.

Water pollution is similar to air pollution as there are visible and invisible pollutants. Live Science states that most pollutants come from chemical waste, sewage, and pesticides. These pollutants are also known as runoffs. WWF also states that industrial waste and indirect sources like acid rain and groundwater. Water pollution causes sickness to those that consume the water that is polluted, water used in factories is heated and redistributed in oceans, which then kill fish and wildlife due to the lack of oxygen. Plastics that are also blown into oceans can be mistaken as food by the wildlife.

According to National Geographic, most of the pollutants from water are also the cause of land pollution. Pollutants range from pesticides and fertilizers to normal garbage from landfills. Most landfills fill up so much that we are running out of space to dump the trash. Most landfills leak pollutants into the ground affecting plants and even leaking into the water. Most of the trash that has blown off from the landfills has ended up in the ocean creating garbage island, which is twice the size of Texas.

Deforestation

Deforestation is the permanent removal of trees for anything that is not a forest and is the main result of overpopulation and development. Reasons for deforestation are land for agriculture, timber for fuel or paper, and construction and manufacturing. According to WWF, forests cover 30% of the earth. Most forests provide medicine, food, and fuel for billions, along with giving 41 million people jobs related to forests. 

WWF states that 420 million acres of forest can be destroyed between 2010 to 2030. Most forests are burned to make room for human needs. These fires contribute to pollution, disruption of natural cycles, and increase soil erosion. Most deforestation is happening in the rainforest and has caused problems to the animals living there driving most to the brink of extinction. Animals aren’t the only ones losing their homes, but also indigenous people.

Climate change

According to the NRDC, climate change is defined as a significant variation of average weather conditions over several decades or more. Climate change happens naturally at a controlled rate usually caused by the reflection and absorption of the sun. Now humans are impacting natural change by releasing more greenhouse gases by burning fuels like coal, oil and gas. Greenhouse gases help keep the planet inhabitable but too much causes the planet to warm. According to the NRDC the earth’s average temperature rose by 1 degree Fahrenheit during the 20th century. To put this in picture, the U.S. was covered in more than 3,000 feet of ice with temperatures 5 to 9 degrees cooler than today’s temperature. This globally impacts the water we drink and the air we breathe. Climate change has also caused more extreme weather and environments. Air pollution contributes greatly to greenhouse gases, and with the damp weather and frequent flooding air pollution is then increased and causes health risk. But most health risks come from the heat causing heat stroke and heat stress, while air pollution may cause respiratory problems. Climate change has also caused oceans to become more acidic since the ocean takes in about a third of fossil fuel emissions. This causes unlivable environments for the organisms in the ocean.

Poaching 

The definition given from Conservation Energy Future says that poaching is illegal hunting, capturing, and often killing of wild animals. Most animals have either been hunted to extinction or brought to endangerment from poaching. For example, the dodo bird and Tasmanian tigers were hunted to extinction and the pangolin has been hunted to endangerment. Rhinos and elephants have been hunted for their ivory horns, tigers for their skin and bones, and pangolins for their scales. But according to WWF tens of thousands of animals have been collected or harvested from the wild to be sold legitimately for food, pets, trophies, leather, tourist ornaments, and even medicine. Poaching has a huge profit margin by selling based off of myths like rhino horns being able to cure cancer. According to WWF poachers have been able to slip through law enforcement by corruption and weak judicial systems, making the trade low risk and high reward. Poaching has caused a disturbance in nature, an introduction of invasive species, and trapping animals that were not targeted.

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