June 18 - A landmark study by an international group of scientists has concluded that planet Earth is on the brink of a mass extinction event comparable in scale to the one that wiped out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. The researchers found that extinction rates are currently 1000 times higher than normal due to deforestation, global climate change, and the depletion of ocean fisheries. Ben Gruber reports.
Duke University biologist and conservation expert Stuart Pimm says planet Earth's time is running out. In a landmark study Pimm and other scientists from around the world concluded that if humans don't change their behaviour immediately, Earth as we know it today will soon, cease to exist. (SOUNDBITE) (English) STUART PIMM, PROFESSOR OF CONSERVATION ECOLOGY, DUKE UNIVERSITY, SAYING: "When you look at the range of unsustainable things that we are doing to the planet, changing the atmosphere, global warming, massively depleting fisheries, driving species to extinction, we realize that we have a decade or two. If we keep on doing what we are doing, by the end of the century our planet will really be a pretty horrendous place." Pimm was lead author of a study that compared historical extinction rates to those of today. They analysed data taken from every region of the planet, both on land and at sea. They then compared that to historical data. (SOUNDBITE) (English) STUART PIMM, PROFESSOR OF CONSERVATION ECOLOGY, DUKE UNIVERSITY, SAYING: "We can compare that to what we know from the fossil data and incidentally what we know from the DNA data because data on DNA, differences between species give us some idea of the timescale at which species are born and die. And when we make those two comparisons we find that species are going extinct one thousand times faster than they should be." And the reason he says, is global industrialization and human encroachment into natural habitats over the last 200 years. Pimm says the last time the planet faced such elevated extinction rates was 65 million years ago.. (SOUNDBITE) (English) STUART PIMM, PROFESSOR OF CONSERVATION ECOLOGY, DUKE UNIVERSITY, SAYING: "We lost the dinosaurs and a third to a half of all of the species. If we continue on the present course, that is how much we will lose, how many species we will lose. And we know after the last time that it took 5-10 million years to recover. So if we destroy this beautiful planet that we have it isn't going to come back overnight." But while Pimm admits, the report paints a grim picture, he says it's not all bad news. He says conservationist now have the knowledge and technology to protect endangered species more effectively than ever before, and that targeted efforts could slow down extinction rates in years to come. He also cites education as a crucial tool in promoting the importance of sustainability. Overall, he says the key lies in making humans part of the solution rather than the cause of the problem.