What Is The Holocene Extinction? An Explainer

You’ve probably heard about the Holocene Extinction by now, or the catchier, media-friendly Sixth Extinction. If not, the basic argument is that we’re losing species from the biosphere at an alarming rate, and it’s going to put humanity at risk if we don’t do something. But how much is science, and how much is hype?

Define an “alarming rate.”

Depending on who you ask, it’s either eight to 100 times up to about 100 to 1,000 times the normal rate of extinction among species. And we’re talking everything; insects, vertebrates, plants, you name it, the class reunion is going to have a pretty long memorial reel.

Why’s it happening?

Well, us, pretty much. Unsurprisingly, when you burn down a species’ home, destroy its food supply, and put a mall where it used to be, they don’t usually have great odds of sticking around. But even little things can have a huge impact; for example, idiots importing frogs to be eaten without going through proper quarantine procedures have introduced a deadly frog-killing fungus to new places. Good work, idiots.

So there are fewer frogs in the world, big deal.

Remember that old poem “For Want Of A Nail?” Every species on the planet, us included, is part of the biosphere, a vast machine. Go ahead, open up your car and start pulling out seemingly insignificant little stuff. Sooner or later, something bad is going to happen, probably when you’re driving.

Also, keep in mind we use a lot of animals to do things like, oh, feed us. So, yeah, this might become something of an issue.

Is there going to be an ecopocalypse tomorrow?

Probably not. This has been a point of contention for a while among biologists, ecologists and other scientists; everyone agrees that species are dying at a faster rate, but nobody can really figure out just how many species are dying, or, for that matter, whether they’re adapting to climate change counts as dying. Also, depending on who you ask, we’re still only talking about 2 percent or so of the total species in the world; yes, there are a lot of species.

That said, it does illustrate that we maybe should stop destroying our various animal habitats to put up yet another place that will stuff us full of fried cheese flecked with meat chunks. So, going forward, maybe ask yourself if you really need that Cheese Hut.

(Via NBCNews, Smithsonian and Science)