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wundayatta's avatar

Would you condemn humankind for causing the extinction of 75% of all species?

Asked by wundayatta (58349 points ) May 18th, 2009

It seems that humans are responsible for carrying fungi and other diseases around the world. The movement of these dangers is so rapid that we are seeing huge die-offs and perhaps extinctions of many species: bees, frogs, bats, etc. In addition we are responsible for the rapid heating of our planet which is leading to more species extinctions. We expect that the rate of extinctions will rise.

What does this make you feel about humankind? Do you hate us? Feel guilty? Are you proud? Are we merely complacent? Other than to God, are we responsible, and if so, to what? Or whom? How do you feel about this, and how do you explain it to yourself?

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29 Answers

galileogirl's avatar

I wouldn’t hold God responsible, She just started the ball rolling. Who do you hold responsible for the species that became extinct before homo sapiens appeared? The great dinos disappeared and I’m sure they made inroads on the earth with their enormous appetites and giant piles of poop. Even today nonhuman species can damage local environments. Take the beaver. A beaver family can take a beautiful salmon spawning ground and turn it into a fetid swamp, just as efficiently as the Army Corp of Engineers.

Nature is not static, the earth is always changing and successful species survive longer. Undoubtedly some species disappeared in order for ours to find a niche. It is pure hubris to decide that our species can control the earth or that we are more powerful than nature. Our only “responsibility” is to try to survive as long as possible. In the end, nature will win.

ubersiren's avatar

We as humans should be more responsible for the way we treat the planet. I have a very religious aunt who says that Jehovah gave us this planet and we can do with it what we want. I’m not sure that any religious text actually says such a thing, but I can see how people may interpret our intelligence as being the “chosen” species to rule the Earth. We are anything but ruling it. If we were ruling it properly, there wouldn’t be such destruction of it at our hands. What we are doing is abuse. We have no respect for the planet.

On the issue of spreading diseases, I don’t know that we can be held responsible for that. If we weren’t doing it, possibly another species would (ex: swine flu, avian flu, all those exotic monkey diseases, etc). But as far as trashing up the place we are 100% guilty and I feel that very few people are really concerned for feel remorse. Some of us do the best we can, but sadly I don’t think it’s enough. Whether or not you believe in global warming, you cannot deny that we are making a filthy mess of our world. Leaving the trash that piles up, leaching chemicals into our soil and oceans has been proven to be true and absolutely harmful. You simply cannot mess with Mother Nature in this manner and expect to have no repercussions.

I feel very guilty for the wastefulness that we produce and the unaccountability that we display. But not so much about the natural damages we cause. Maybe when we die out, maybe the Earth will compensate and be corrected.

aprilsimnel's avatar

Well, it turns out homo sapiens sapiens may have used homo erectus for food. We are so not nice.

As for Earth’s destruction? The only thing we’re doing is destroying ourselves. I think life will continue here until Sol’s supernova, but that life will not be human. Whatever species can survive a hot, carbon-filled environment is what will survive until things change, and then the next species that can adapt optimally will do so. Knowing that this planet’s fate is to be burnt to a crisp eventually, regardless of humanity’s existence, I don’t know how upset I can be at what we’re doing.

ubersiren's avatar

Edit- my last sentence could’ve used one less “maybe.”

Judi's avatar

The planet always finds ways to heal itself. The question is, will humankind survive the healing process.

MissAusten's avatar

@ubersiren I used to know someone like your aunt. He drove me nuts! He’d say, “God gave us the Earth and dominion over everything in it, so we can do whatever we want. It’s so arrogant to think humans can have any effect on the planet.” Of course, he also thought dinosaurs became extinct because they didn’t fit on Noah’s Ark…

I don’t really feel personally guilty about the state of the environment. As I learn more, I do try to reduce my own impact. I can only be responsible for myself, after all, and if others decide to do some of things I do, then great. I try to buy more local foods, use cloth bags for shopping, recycle, use more efficient lightbulbs, teach my kids to turn off lights behind them and not waste water, etc.

But yes, I do find humanity kind of disgusting. It irritates me to see how being “green” has become a source of profit to a lot of companies, how there’s still more regard for making money than being responsible, and how many people don’t care to take the smallest step to help reduce waste. My in-laws live in the same town as us, where recycling couldn’t be any simpler. They give you the bins, you put them out with your garbage, and they pick it up at no additional cost. You don’t even have to sort the recyclables, but they refuse to do it. We should at least be responsible to our own children and grandchildren. I don’t like to think of my kids growing older and seeing more drastic repercussions of global warming, or my grandchildren suffering the effects of mass extinctions or water and food shortages. I hope it doesn’t come to that, though.

Lightlyseared's avatar

Humans have not caused the extinction of 75% of all species. More than that had become extinct before we even came along.

Having said that I think we should try to perserve as many species as we can and not just the big interesting mammals.

wundayatta's avatar

@Lightlyseared I wanted to put “of all the species in existence since humans became humans,” but, as you can see, that would have made the question intolerably long.

I just read an article by Elizabeth Colbert in this weeks New Yorker that described the impact of humans on the planet, and specifically, on species extinction. Frogs, for example, have been dying off as humans expand their territory. It’s a fungus killing the frogs, and we’re spreading it. From a few South African frogs a century ago that were used in experiments around the world, to the current situation. The same thing is happening with bats. In addition, before Western humans arrived on all these various continents, there were all kinds of large animals around, and they all died off quickly, perhaps due to hunting, or loss of habitat, or some disease we carried in. This mass extinction has been going on for the last 50,000 years.

Personally, I feel horrible about killing off frogs. On the other hand, what is the alternative? Killing humans?

So we will continue to grow our population, up to seven to nine billion, and we will use more land, and drive out or drive extinct yet more species, many of whom we will never know existed in the first place. The article calls this a great die-off, such as happened three times before in the history of the earth. One die-off was caused by a meteor, but they don’t yet know what the others were caused by. Could it have been a species that was so well adapted, it occupied all the biomes, and killed off all the other species?

So, it occurred to me that some people do believe that humans are the center of existence, and we have a right to everything. The planet was made for us. Others see humans as a part of the planet, and we do what we do, but there is no normative situation about our presence. We could live or die; it doesn’t matter. Others believe in the gaia hypothesis that suggest that earth is a self-regulating mechanism, and if it gets out of whack, it’ll fix itself. Perhaps by killing off the offending species—humanity.

As usual, I don’t ask my questions very well, and it usually takes a few answers before I can see where I went wrong, and try to correct it. Anyway, as I said, I think we are hurting ourselves by creating mass extinctions. I think it is sad. Unfortunate. I don’t see us stopping, though, and I don’t know if it will lead to our own extinction or not.

tiffyandthewall's avatar

i blame us on directly killing these species off. carrying diseases is not something i’d put any species down for – it’s not by choice that we have diseases that other species cannot handle. but by disrupting others’ habitats and food chains, etc, i absolutely blame us and feel guilty for being part of the human race.

of course, other animals kill off others too – it’s simply the circle of life – but very few do to the extent and with the malice that we do.

Clair's avatar

We are not the only things killong species . But we are inconsiderate and selfish, not caring about the future. But i agree with the first response about the dino thing. But anywho, this isnt really my convo….

RedPowerLady's avatar

I believe we are highly responsible for these acts. The fact that we have the ability to change our behavior and many choose not to (ex: recycle) bothers me more than I can adequately communicate.

I come from a culture who believes in mutual respect for the environment and humanity. I was at a ceremony and a woman took us out into the environment. She said something that struck me but is so simple. She said ‘for years we took care of the environment and it took care of us in return. We had enough food, we were able to recover well after natural disasters, we had ceremonies that revolved around nature and gave back to our people. And now we are not taking care of nature and it is reacting in kind.’ I believe this to be true.

RedPowerLady's avatar

@daloon Personally, I feel horrible about killing off frogs. On the other hand, what is the alternative? Killing humans?

I believe there are a lot of alternatives. There are ways to expand and allow humans to live in accordance with nature. Instead of killing it off. It is how we choose to live and expand that is killing off the frogs and such.

TaoSan's avatar

These 1 Minute and 17 seconds sum up humanity so well, LOL

dannyc's avatar

I would only be condemning myself. I prefer to suggest to modify our collective behaviour and not play the blame game.

YARNLADY's avatar

That’s pure nonsense, so far. Thousands of new species are being discovered every year. “The rate of discovery, in fact, may be telling us that estimates of the number of species still unknown — ranging from three to ten million to the tens of millions — may be far too low.”

RedPowerLady's avatar

@YARNLADY Most of those are bugs. Even if we discover new animals does that make up for the ones that have been put to extinction (more exactly the ones we can avoid putting to extinction).

YARNLADY's avatar

@RedPowerLady Did you even read the link? “Some 25 percent of all known amphibian species were discovered only over the last ten years, a period when their numbers worldwide have been in desperate decline. Since 1993 the number of known mammal species has increased 10 percent.”

Your basic premise is stated incorrectly if you are trying to raise awarness of better environmental management.

RedPowerLady's avatar

@YARNLADY I did read the link. It said over half was bugs. I was surprised to see the amount of mammals discovered, that was astonishing to me. My basic premise however is that I do not think that the discovery of new animal species should trump the ones that are endangered or the ones who have gone extinct due to human neglect for the environment.

“extinction is in progress, now, with animals going extinct 100 to 1,000 times (possibly even 1,000 to 10,000 times) faster than at the normal background extinction rate, which is about 10 to 25 species per year.”

http://www.endangeredspeciesinternational.org/overview.html

YARNLADY's avatar

Maybe it’s all the fault of global warming. Besides, once humanity falls victim to our own mismanagement, the dear old Earth will manage just fine without us.

RedPowerLady's avatar

Besides, once humanity falls victim to our own mismanagement, the dear old Earth will manage just fine without us.

You are probably right about that! haha

DarkScribe's avatar

No, as they didn’t. It was life, circumstance that caused it. Many species became extinct well before the first man put a tentative foot on dry ground. Some species are simply not permanent. Ask Darwin about it.

dannyc's avatar

Humans have had a part to play in it, and should seek answers to prevent it. Ignorance was an older excuse, today we cannot claim that. We can coexist with species, and will feel better for it, perhaps inventing some useful benefits for our own species too! But condemning us is just too stark and unhelpful, in my opinion.

mattbrowne's avatar

One of the biggest threat to biodiversity is global warming and climate change most likely cause by humanity. Yes, I would condemn humankind for causing the extinction of 75% of all species. We can still do something about it.

bea2345's avatar

Don’t be afraid, @daloon: our turn will come

wundayatta's avatar

@bea2345 You know, I think about that sometimes. I know that it is very likely that humanity will become extinct before the heat death of the universe. However, I think of various scenarios where the planet is made inhospitable, but not destroyed, and I think that, even if we had enough soot or ash in the atmosphere to create a winter for a decade, we could probably survive. But who knows?

Wikipedia says
The consequence of an impact would be a dust cloud which would block sunlight for a year or less, and an injection of sulfuric acid aerosols into the stratosphere, leading to a 10–20% reduction in sunlight reaching the Earth’s surface and inhibit photosynthesis. It would have taken at least ten years for those aerosols to dissipate, which would account for the extinction of plants and phytoplankton, and of organisms dependent on them (including predatory animals as well as herbivores). Small creatures whose food chains were based on detritus had a reasonable chance of survival. [67][58] The consequences of reentry of ejecta into Earth’s atmosphere included a brief (hours long) but intense pulse of infrared radiation, killing exposed organisms.[36] Global firestorms may have resulted from the heat pulse and the fall of incendiary fragments from the blast back to Earth. High O2 levels during the late Cretaceous would have supported intense combustion. The level of atmospheric O2 plummeted in the early Tertiary Period. If widespread fires occurred, they would have increased the CO2 content of the atmosphere and caused a temporary greenhouse effect once the dust cloud settled, and this would have exterminated the most vulnerable organisms that survived the period immediately after the impact.[73]

Although, the article also says that the impact of the K-T event could have lasted a thousand years, and I don’t believe that humans would survive that.

Of course, once we’re dead, the universe won’t care. Earth won’t either. Neither will we. Unless the universe requires human consciousness to exist, which is a concept some physicists theorize. Of course, if it requires human consciousness for the universe to exist, then humans will survive until the end of the universe.

Anyway, I doubt if I’ll be around to see the extinction of humanity, so the issue doesn’t really concern me. As far as I’m concerned, it is very unlikely that our turn will come. But certainly, my turn will come.

bea2345's avatar

It’s not, @daloon , as if I am running about with a placard saying, The End Is Near. It was one of my sisters in law (demography is her thing) who put it in perspective. She said that what we call the biosphere is a very small and probably insignificant part of creation (only not to us); and that the Earth was here long before mankind and will be here long after we have gone. Like you, I cannot lose too much sleep over an event which I cannot prevent or even foresee. If it requires human consciousness for the universe to exist, then logically there is no life after death. Hmm…

wundayatta's avatar

Demographers are good peeps! Your brother has good taste in women.

bea2345's avatar

I’ll tell him :)

Zuma's avatar

I’m not sure what condemning accomplishes.

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