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UN Report: Humans Accelerating Extinction Of Species

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People are putting nature in more trouble now than at any other time in human history, with extinction looming over 1 million species of plants and animals, scientists said Monday.

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Speaker 1: 00:00 Run by a diversity report as sounding a devastating alarm about the state of the natural world. Among its findings are that almost a million plant and animal species are on the verge of extinction, and that loss is undermining the health and quality of life worldwide. Moreover, the report by the intergovernmental science policy platform on biodiversity and ecosystem services finds that humans have caused the bulk of the loss for the KPBS climate change desk. Joining me by Skype in the New York Times newsroom is times reporter Brad Plumer, who's written about the UN report. And Brad, welcome to the program.

Speaker 2: 00:39 Thank you for having me.

Speaker 1: 00:41 Now, nearly 150 authors from 50 nations worked for three years to compile the report for the UN. Can you tell us what are some of the other headlines from this report?

Speaker 2: 00:52 Yeah, so this is basically a summary of the best biodiversity research that has been out there. So there's been an enormous amount of research. I think they relied on thousands and thousands of studies, uh, on the decline of nature over time. So one thing they found is that in most of the world's major land habitats, you know, basically the average abundance of plant and animal life that was originally there before humans really started transforming the landscapes. Uh, that abundance of plant animal life has fallen by 20% or more. And, uh, most of it has come over the past century. So it says at one point that we're altering the natural world at a rate that's unprecedented in human history. So it really shows that we are just completely transforming the planet with a huge impact on the world around us.

Speaker 1: 01:39 Does the report say anything about what kinds of species face the biggest threat of extinction?

Speaker 2: 01:46 So it gets into very large categories. Amphibians, uh, are, uh, extremely threatened. You know, at one point it says that, uh, roughly 40% of all amphibian species around the world, uh, or at risk of extinction because of human activity. Coral reefs are another one. Marine mammals it think goes out also as a particularly threatened. But really it's just all across the board.

Speaker 1: 02:12 How much of this declined as the reports say is linked to climate change?

Speaker 2: 02:16 So it basically gives five big factors in order of importance. And the first is land use change. You know, forest being cleared for farmland is a huge one. The next biggest is a over exploitation of species, so that could be hunting, that can be killing elephants and rhinos for ivory. Matt can be overfishing in the oceans. So that's number two. Then it says number three is climate change and up until now, climate change has not been a huge reason why nature has been declining, but it's really starting to make its mark. And a growing number of species are basically going to be threatened with extinction in part because the local that they have evolved to survive in our shrinking or shifting and basically because of human activity, whether it's deforestation, building roads, cities, farms, a lot of these species don't have enough room to move and they don't have enough natural habitat to ensure their long term survival.

Speaker 2: 03:17 What are the other two reasons that the report talks about for the decline in nature? The movement of invasive species around the globe is a big one. And then the other one is pollution. Water pollution, uh, is a big one. You know, we dumped the enormous amount of untreated wastewater into rivers and streams. Lancer declining coral reefs are very vulnerable to water pollution. So those are the final two. How does the report say the vanishing species and biodiversity will affect human existence? This is what's new about the report. You know, there've been other reports in the past that have talked about the decline of nature and the decline of biodiversity. What this report was charged with doing and what they did differently was really show how closely connected human wellbeing is with the fate of other species. For instance, wetlands that are out there help clean up water that humans ultimately used for drinking.

Speaker 2: 04:11 You know, mangrove forests and coral reefs arong along the coast. They help blunt tropical storms that come in and flooding, so they actually protect people on the coasts. There are tremendous number of wild insects and B's that help pollinate our fruits and vegetables, which are hugely important for crop production. And also it talks a little bit about how having a lot of biodiversity can really help humans in the future. So, for instance, right now humanity relies on fewer and fewer plants and animals for food. And the report talks about how that can be a real risk or food production. It can make our agricultural systems more vulnerable to pests and diseases and having more wild varieties of plants and crops and animals can really help us prepare for a future where climate change is bringing extreme heat and drought and other dangers. Does the report, do you have any hope that this collapse can be fixed?

Speaker 2: 05:06 Well, it does talk about, uh, a number of past success stories. So when countries and governments and conservationists have really made a concerted effort to protect endangered species, they've been pretty good at fending off extinction. I mean, you see that here in the u s by and large when species get listed on the endangered species act, you know, we do a pretty good job of at the very least, preventing them from going extinct. And it talks about how a growing amount of the world's land has been protected by national parks, wildlife refuges, wilderness areas. Uh, so that's growing. But it also cautions that despite these sort of good trends, basically, uh, that's not enough to protect their decline in nature and biodiversity, that not enough of the most biologically important areas on the planet are protected. That many refuges are potentially at risk of being undermined by climate change, which could shift the geographic ranges of different species and things like illegal logging and illegal fishing continue to increase and, uh, threatened a number of habitats. I've been speaking with New York Times reporter Brad Plumer. Brad, thank you very much. Yeah. Thank you.

Speaker 3: 06:20 [inaudible].

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