Things are looking pretty bleak right now. It’s thought that the planet has lost around half of its wildlife in the last 40 years, as numbers are frequently decimated. But if you thought that the world’s creatures might be able to catch a break, you’re sadly mistaken. Biologists have now announced that by the end of the century it is likely that 50 percent of all species will face extinction.
This prediction was announced as biologists, conservationists, and economists gathered at the Vatican for a conference on “How To Save the Natural World on Which We Depend.” It may seem slightly odd that the Catholic Church is hosting such a symposium, but Pope Francis has been incredibly vocal about the responsibility that the planet’s 1.2 billion Roman Catholics have towards protecting the environment from destruction and climate change.
“The living fabric of the world… is slipping through our fingers without our showing much sign of caring,” write the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, who organized the conference. In fact, during the Pope’s 2015 encyclical, which is the papal letter sent to all bishops, he mentions how destroying the world’s environments and altering its climate is a “sin against ourselves and a sin against God,” while going on to have a whole section dedicated to pollution and climate change.
Over the 3.7 billion years that there has been life on the rock we call Earth, it has weathered five major extinction events. The worst of these, aptly called the Great Dying, saw roughly 96 percent of all life obliterated, while the last event is the one that caused the demise of the dinosaurs and the rise of mammals.
It is now thought that we are well and truly into a sixth mass extinction event. But rather than being driven solely by climate or geological activity, this event is different: It is being caused by us. Species go extinct all the time, at a natural rate of around five or so year. But since we have been cutting down forests, pumping carbon into the atmosphere, and dredging trillions of fish from the seas, this rate has ramped up to between 1,000 and 10,000 that natural rate.
This has lead biologists to suggest that if nothing changes and everything continues as normal, man-made climate change coupled with intense activities such as logging and mining will mean that half of every single species living on this planet will be balancing on the brink of survival. They highlight not only the charismatic tigers and pandas but the microorganisms, plants, and fungi that will also be wiped from the Earth.
There is, however, one controvertible measure that is sure to divide the church from the scientists, namely that of population control, with the Pope still staunchly anti-contraception.