‘A million species of animals and plants are threatened with extinction. Three-quarters of the world’s land and two-thirds of its marine environments have been “significantly altered” by human action.’ I read these lines in The Economist days after this sad quotation by Martin Rees emerged from a random scan of our quote-trove.
Rees’ blunt statement is in a worryingly stark but restrained piece on how he imagines the world might look in 2050. To give you an idea of his level of concern, consider that the Astronomer Royal co-founded the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk, with a focus on such risk emerging from technology, not asteroids or other external shocks.
‘Extinction rates are rising: we are destroying the book of life before we’ve read it.’
We’re destroying it, which is bad enough; and we’re doing so not only before we’ve read it, but before we even know how many volumes, chapters, or pages it has. See Rees’ further recognition that stupidity may have global range, and his comparing our short-termism with the long-term view of medieval cathedral builders. Both seem related to million-species potential loss.
Shame on us, though change would be preferable and more useful. See Eileen Crist’s pithy and uplifting vision of ‘uncharted coexistence’.
See also the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), source of The Economist numbers, and the IPBES piece accounting for that big fat round ‘million’.
Sources: ‘Dead end’, The Economist, 11 May 2019, p. 69; Martin Rees, ‘The world in 2050’, New Statesman, 5 December 2014, p. 26
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