Once a week.
Subscribe to our weekly newsletter.
9 of the most shocking facts about global extinction - and how to stop it
Across the world, wildlife is under severe threat.
Earth's fate and the devastation of the natural world were recently put under the microscope with the release of Sir David Attenborough's Netflix documentary A Life On Our Planet.
It marks a departure from his usual nature documentary format and instead grieves for the damage wreaked by climate change and other forms of human interference.
It's an emotional watch, as the naturalist recounts the environmental changes he has seen first-hand throughout his career, such as the devastation of the Borneo rainforest and its native orangutan population.
Here are nine reasons we too should be concerned about the future of the planet and the millions of species which call it home.
1. More than one million species are now at risk of extinction
Over a million species of animal and plant life are now threatened with dying out – more than ever before in human history, according to the International Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES).
2. Wildlife population sizes dropped by two thirds since 1970
3. Tropical sub-regions of Americas showing biggest declines
The WWF study added that there was a 94% decline of wildlife populations in tropical sub-regions of the Americas over the 50 years from 1970 – the largest fall observed anywhere on Earth.
4. Species dying off more frequently than ever before
Species are dying off 1,000 times more frequently today than during the 60 million years before the arrival of humans, according to a 2014 study by Brown University in the US. The report reinforces the "urgency to conserve what is left", said lead author Jurriaan de Vos
5. Freshwater species declining faster than anything else
Populations of freshwater wildlife species are declining disportionately faster than others, dropping by an average of 84% between 1970 and 2018, WWF's Living Planet Report 2020 showed. The figure also marks a rise of 1% on the 83% reported two years ago.
6. Swathes of tropical forest lost to agriculture
Some 100 million hectares of tropical forest were lost between 1980 and 2000, according to the IPBES. This was largely down to cattle ranching in Latin America and plantations in South-East Asia, researchers added.
7. Nearly 40% of plants at risk of extinction
Four in 10 (39.4%) plants are at risk of dying out, according to the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew's State of the World's Plants and Fungi report. An additional challenge is identifying them before extinction, with 1,942 new species of plants identified last year alone.
8. Industrial agriculture driving decline of insects
Dramatic rates of decline could lead to over 40% of the world's insect species disappearing within decades – with habitat loss due to industrial agriculture the main driver behind the decrease, according to a study published in Science Direct.
9. Bird species also seeing populations threat
Some 3.5% of domesticated birds have become extinct since 2016, the IPBES reported. In addition, nearly a quarter (23%) of threatened birds have already been affected by climate change, The global assessment report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services added.
Why is biodiversity important?
Both the 2019 IPBES and 2020 WWF reports stress that the loss of habitats and species pose as much of a threat to life on Earth as climate change.
For biodiversity is not only vital for a flourishing natural world. Its deterioration also threatens the livelihoods, economies, food security and health of eight million people worldwide – a fact brought into sharp focus by the impact of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
But all is not lost. While Attenborough brands the damage as human kind's "greatest mistake", his final message is more optimistic: "If we act now, we can yet put it right."
What can we do to save the planet?
Experts agree that one of the best ways of saving the planet is through transformation of the global food system, with agriculture accounting for nearly 60% of global biodiversity loss and about a quarter of CO2 emissions worldwide.
Consumers can make a difference by choosing to eat less meat and making more sustainable food choices, as farming animals uses a lot of land and water.
Meanwhile farmers can be supported to reduce the use of fertilizers and pesticides, diversify crops and phase out ploughing to lessen the environmental impact.
Conservation is also vital to reverse the loss of biodiversity, with the IPBES highlighting the importance of involving the local community – to benefit nature and people alike.
The devastation of biodiversity and climate change are two sides of the coin, so measures to reduce carbon emissions and pollution – such as travelling less, using greener forms of energy and making more eco-friendly consumer choices – are also key.
For as Attenborough says: "If we take care of nature, nature will take care of us." As the world continues to suffer the fallout of COVID-19, perhaps never before has such as sentiment been more important.
- Are we a plague? Well, that depends… - Big Think ›
- David Attenborough: Extinction of the natural world is 'on the horizon ... ›
What is human dignity? Here's a primer, told through 200 years of great essays, lectures, and novels.
- Human dignity means that each of our lives have an unimpeachable value simply because we are human, and therefore we are deserving of a baseline level of respect.
- That baseline requires more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose.
- We look at incredible writings from the last 200 years that illustrate the push for human dignity in regards to slavery, equality, communism, free speech and education.
The inherent worth of all human beings<p>Human dignity is the inherent worth of each individual human being. Recognizing human dignity means respecting human beings' special value—value that sets us apart from other animals; value that is intrinsic and cannot be lost.</p> <p>Liberalism—the broad political philosophy that organizes society around liberty, justice, and equality—is rooted in the idea of human dignity. Liberalism assumes each of our lives, plans, and preferences have some unimpeachable value, not because of any objective evaluation or contribution to a greater good, but simply because they belong to a human being. We are human, and therefore deserving of a baseline level of respect. </p> <p>Because so many of us take human dignity for granted—just a fact of our humanness—it's usually only when someone's dignity is ignored or violated that we feel compelled to talk about it. </p> <p>But human dignity means more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose—a freedom that can be hampered by restrictive social institutions or the tyranny of the majority. The liberal ideal of the good society is not just peaceful but also pluralistic: It is a society in which we respect others' right to think and live differently than we do.</p>
From the 19th century to today<p>With <a href="https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?year_start=1800&year_end=2019&content=human+dignity&corpus=26&smoothing=3&direct_url=t1%3B%2Chuman%20dignity%3B%2Cc0" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Google Books Ngram Viewer</a>, we can chart mentions of human dignity from 1800-2019.</p><img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDg0ODU0My9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MTUwMzE4MX0.bu0D_0uQuyNLyJjfRESNhu7twkJ5nxu8pQtfa1w3hZs/img.png?width=980" id="7ef38" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9974c7bef3812fcb36858f325889e3c6" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
American novelist, writer, playwright, poet, essayist and civil rights activist James Baldwin at his home in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, southern France, on November 6, 1979.
Credit: Ralph Gatti/AFP via Getty Images
The future of dignity<p>Around the world, people are still working toward the full and equal recognition of human dignity. Every year, new speeches and writings help us understand what dignity is—not only what it looks like when dignity is violated but also what it looks like when dignity is honored. In his posthumous essay, Congressman Lewis wrote, "When historians pick up their pens to write the story of the 21st century, let them say that it was your generation who laid down the heavy burdens of hate at last and that peace finally triumphed over violence, aggression and war."</p> <p>The more we talk about human dignity, the better we understand it. And the sooner we can make progress toward a shared vision of peace, freedom, and mutual respect for all. </p>
With just a few strategical tweaks, the Nazis could have won one of World War II's most decisive battles.
- The Battle of Britain is widely recognized as one of the most significant battles that occurred during World War II. It marked the first major victory of the Allied forces and shifted the tide of the war.
- Historians, however, have long debated the deciding factor in the British victory and German defeat.
- A new mathematical model took into account numerous alternative tactics that the German's could have made and found that just two tweaks stood between them and victory over Britain.
Two strategic blunders<p>Now, historians and mathematicians from York St. John University have collaborated to produce <a href="http://www-users.york.ac.uk/~nm15/bootstrapBoB%20AAMS.docx" target="_blank">a statistical model (docx download)</a> capable of calculating what the likely outcomes of the Battle of Britain would have been had the circumstances been different. </p><p>Would the German war effort have fared better had they not bombed Britain at all? What if Hitler had begun his bombing campaign earlier, even by just a few weeks? What if they had focused their targets on RAF airfields for the entire course of the battle? Using a statistical technique called weighted bootstrapping, the researchers studied these and other alternatives.</p><p>"The weighted bootstrap technique allowed us to model alternative campaigns in which the Luftwaffe prolongs or contracts the different phases of the battle and varies its targets," said co-author Dr. Jaime Wood in a <a href="https://www.york.ac.uk/news-and-events/news/2020/research/mathematicians-battle-britain-what-if-scenarios/" target="_blank">statement</a>. Based on the different strategic decisions that the German forces could have made, the researchers' model enabled them to predict the likelihood that the events of a given day of fighting would or would not occur.</p><p>"The Luftwaffe would only have been able to make the necessary bases in France available to launch an air attack on Britain in June at the earliest, so our alternative campaign brings forward the air campaign by three weeks," continued Wood. "We tested the impact of this and the other counterfactuals by varying the probabilities with which we choose individual days."</p><p>Ultimately, two strategic tweaks shifted the odds significantly towards the Germans' favor. Had the German forces started their campaign earlier in the year and had they consistently targeted RAF airfields, an Allied victory would have been extremely unlikely.</p><p>Say the odds of a British victory in the real-world Battle of Britain stood at 50-50 (there's no real way of knowing what the actual odds are, so we'll just have to select an arbitrary figure). If this were the case, changing the start date of the campaign and focusing only on airfields would have reduced British chances at victory to just 10 percent. Even if a British victory stood at 98 percent, these changes would have cut them down to just 34 percent.</p>
A tool for understanding history<p>This technique, said co-author Niall Mackay, "demonstrates just how finely-balanced the outcomes of some of the biggest moments of history were. Even when we use the actual days' events of the battle, make a small change of timing or emphasis to the arrangement of those days and things might have turned out very differently."</p><p>The researchers also claimed that their technique could be applied to other uncertain historical events. "Weighted bootstrapping can provide a natural and intuitive tool for historians to investigate unrealized possibilities, informing historical controversies and debates," said Mackay.</p><p>Using this technique, researchers can evaluate other what-ifs and gain insight into how differently influential events could have turned out if only the slightest things had changed. For now, at least, we can all be thankful that Hitler underestimated Britain's grit.</p>
We’ve mapped a million previously undiscovered galaxies beyond the Milky Way. Take the virtual tour here.
See the most detailed survey of the southern sky ever carried out using radio waves.
Astronomers have mapped about a million previously undiscovered galaxies beyond the Milky Way, in the most detailed survey of the southern sky ever carried out using radio waves.
A new study shows our planet is much closer to the supermassive black hole at the galaxy's center than previously estimated.
Credit: NAOJ<p><em>Arrows on this map show position and velocity data for the 224 objects utilized to model the Milky Way Galaxy. The solid black lines point to the positions of the spiral arms of the Galaxy. Colors reflect groups of objects that are part of the same arm, while the background is a simulation image.</em></p>
Apple sold its first iPod in 2001, and six years later it introduced the iPhone, which ushered in a new era of personal technology.