As it stands, one in five species on the planet (20 percent) face extinction, but by the year 2100, that number is expected to rise to as much as 50 percent. And, of course, this is almost entirely due to human action.
“Rich western countries are now siphoning up the planet’s resources and destroying its ecosystems at an unprecedented rate,” said biologist Paul Ehrlich of Stanford University. “We want to build highways across the Serengeti to get more rare earth minerals for our cellphones. We grab all the fish from the sea, wreck the coral reefs, and put carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. We have triggered a major extinction event. The question is: how do we stop it?”
This is why the Vatican, of all places, held a conference on biological extinction. While the Catholic Church has long been seen as an enemy to science, on ecological issues at least, those days are gone.
The conference brought together ecologists, economists, and biologists, natural and social scientists, as well as academics from the humanities. The idea behind the conference was to find ways to prevent the increase in endangered species, and find ways to roll back the pains of climate change, among other things.
Another problem the conference addressed was sustainably supporting the world’s growing population, and finding ways to slow that growth down. The UN expects that, by 2100, the Earth’s population will have grown form its current 7.2 billion to 11.2 billion. Even today, based on our current resource use, we would need another half an Earth to sustainably support those 7.2 billion people. If everyone lived the wasteful way we do in the United States, we’d need five more full Earths’ worth of resources.
“We are wrecking our planet’s life support systems. We have the capacity to stop that,” said Ehrlich. “The trouble is that the danger does not seem obvious to most people, and that is something we must put right.”
The thing is, these problems are our fault, and it is within our power to solve them. But we need to actually work toward that goal. We need to address difficult questions, and find ways to make those problems resonate with everyone, and not just the people studying them. Getting people to care and to support steps toward healing the world is the first step.