Contributing Monkie Jennifer Buonantony
Published on September 30, 2009
If someone told you the amount of money in your bank account was going to decrease somewhere between 100 and 1,000 times in the next year, the sheer uncertainty of that loss would send you into a panic. That rate is the same speed at which scientists estimate global warming and human pollution are affecting animal extinction each year — yet we all remain oddly at ease.
The World Conservation Union, known as the IUCN, recently released its yearly Red List of species that are facing a higher risk of global extinction. The IUCN lists these species into groups including Critically Endangered, Endangered, and Vulnerable… categories not too different from those I use to balance my own checking account!
This year the IUCN added 188 new species for a grand total of 16,300 animals, plants, and marine life at risk. According to Craig Hilton-Tailor the Red List’s Manager, this number is still extremely low. “We’ve only really looked at the tip of the iceberg in terms of species that are out there and known to science.” While scientists estimate there could be nearly 15 million species in the world, only 1.8 million are confirmed to exist. Although the IUCN is the world’s largest conservation network, spanning 83 states, 110 international government agencies, 800 private organizations, 10,000 scientists, and 181 countries, they still only have the resources to review just above 40,000 species a year. So what does all this number crunching really mean?
With so few resources to research and so many species already endangered, global change needs to happen at the individual level. The IUCN notes that although extinctions are a part of nature, humans are significantly accelerating the rate of those extinctions. Humans are the main reason for most species decline due to factors including impact on natural habitats, introduction of invasive species, unsustainable harvesting & over-fishing, and pollution & disease. Although traditionally most endangered species were found in tropical regions, extinctions on populated continents have become nearly as common over the past two decades. The IUCN hopes to increase awareness of how human survival is dependant on biodiversity, so that vital ecosystems will cease to be degraded and destroyed.
On an individual level, some of the more disturbing finds of this year’s Red List include the near extinction of the Western Gorilla. These gorillas have been depleted to a point where many scientists believe they will no longer be able to recover. This near extinction is due to poaching and the Ebola virus, and has been furthered by human efforts in logging and forest clearance for palm-oil plantations. In addition, Sea Coral was added to the list for the first time ever, as a result of climate change from global warming and over-fishing which eliminates other marine predators that usually protect coral from overgrazing. I find it discomforting to know that by the time I break into my well-saved retirement fund and take that Caribbean cruise or African safari, there may not be any gorillas to spot or reef to snorkel.
Lastly, the only upbeat finding of the Red List was that the Mauritius echo parakeet which has been at risk of extinction for over fifteen years, just moved from critically endangered to endangered- making it one of the only species to improve its rating. If the balance on my accounts only improved once every fifteen years, I’m pretty sure I’d be searching endlessly for a financial solution. Just as money has become something we depend on for survival, so are the eco-systems and species we are privileged to share this great planet with. So the next time you are viewing your online banking, don’t forget to check out the IUCN homepage and read about solutions for a real ‘green’ problem.