As to human-caused destruction of wildlife and biodiversity, I can attest to three recent deaths in my local area. I have seen three raccoons by the side of the road near where I live in Playa del Rey in the past two weeks - two were near the Ballona wetlands/Wildlife preserve area, and a third was on the ordinary city street in my neighborhood. I also saw something I've never seen before about two weeks ago: while driving home at night, I saw a group of six raccoons, four large and two small, boldly crossing the road and giving me and some nearby bicyclists the hostile, evil "raccoon eye," also near the Ballona wetlands.
For several months, I've been slowly reading a detailed and interesting account of the end-Permian extinction event that occurred about 251 MYA (million years ago). This is not the "end of the dinosaurs" extinction, it is a much-earlier disaster that occurred over approximately 1 million years, and which eliminated anywhere from 90 to 95% of existing life on earth - or perhaps (difficult for me to ascertain the difference yet, as I am not 100% finished with the book) - 90 to 95% of species/biodiversity (not the same as every living creature, eh?). I already know that When Life Nearly Died by Michael J. Benton, a distinguished paleontologist and fine writer, degenerates into Al Gore worship/total buy-in of Gore's alarmism/Global Warming/humans-destroying-all-life b.s. at the end, despite a chapter of reasonable speculation as to the total number of species currently living on the earth and potential human impacts.
Basically, there may be as few as 2 million species living on earth, of which humans had identified and described approximately 1.9 million as of 2009 - a very low, outer estimate, and as many as 200 million species of all varieties, a high upper estimate. It should go without saying that "Holocene Mass Extinction" advocates, a separate, yet closely-related group to "Anthropogenic Global Warming" advocates, believe that people are the agents of an unbelievably rapid period of mass extinction that will soon destroy every living creature on the planet.
I don't have to be a giant throbbing genius to explain the bizarritude of this belief, or call into question how an obviously competent and skilled scientist like Michael J. Benton could so drive his jeep off the proverbial alarmist cliff after spending hundreds of pages building up a careful theory and amassing considerable factual evidence that an approximately 1 million-year period of severe volcanic eruptions called the Siberian Traps led to the end-Permian extreme mass extinction. The diminution in species-variation - or loss of 90-95% of living species that occurred at the end of the Permian era 251 million years ago took place over approximately 1 million years.
I'm just going to quote this "authoritative statement" regarding this issue from "The Encyclopedia of Earth" to illustrate how easily this bohunk gets repeated: "The IUCN Red List estimates that 12-52% of species within well-studied higher taxa such as vertebrates and vascular plants are threatened with extinction. Based on data on recorded extinctions of known species over the past century, scientists estimate that current rates of species extinction are about 100 times higher than long-term average rates based on fossil data. Other plausuble estimates suggest that present extinction rates now may have reached 1000 to 10,000 times the average over past geologic time. These estimates are the basis of the consensus that the Earth is in the midst of the sixth mass extinction event in its history; the present extinction event is termed the Holocene Mass Extinction."
Well, look - it's "well-studied higher taxa." Prof. Benton discusses the reliability of human knowledge of past taxa of all sorts and utilizes a variety of techniques and analysis to come up with the scope and range of devastation that occurred during the end-Permian extinction event. He covers sedimentation, and compares vegetation, microscopic fossils when possible, and larger and smaller oceanic and land species. All evidence combined is used to present the degree and level of species destruction, the time period that it took (approximately 1 million years), and potential recovery periods.
We are all aware of recent direct destructive acts of people that eliminated entire species. The passenger pigeon, the dodo, the great auk, the aurochs, and Steller's sea cow are all species cited, correctly, as species destroyed by reckless human predation and wanton destruction. The World Wildlife Fund, the adorable panda, the whale - and those pictures of beautiful white polar bears trapped on tiny icebergs - are all things we terrorize little kids with, in order to make them feel horrible and feel concerned that we, humans, are destroying every bit of life on this planet by merely existing. Much like people have to continue to be terrified of AIDS in order for international AIDS charities to continue to pay themselves their own salaries, kids have to continue to eat Rainforest Crunch for the sales, marketing, and guilt-market to continue to survive - because "everybody knows" that "people are destroying all life on the planet."
If this is the case, why can we name only half a dozen well-known species where actual anthropogenic destruction has caused their extinction, and the vast majority of those, prior to the turn of the last century? I can add a few more to the list - and many "factual" articles cite island-based environmental/species devastation - i.e. the numerous native Hawaiian species that are extinct, and the terrible disaster that occurred on Easter Island. The Tasmanian wolf: this wolf lived on an ISLAND. So did the native Tasmanian people, who were also made extinct by human abuse and predation on others.
The truth is, we do not know the full extent of living species in all taxa, and estimates in many regards may be highly unreliable. I can say that our current "biodiversity" samples equivalent to the Siberian sedimentary record studied by Prof. Benton are far more diverse, even to my layperson's view, than the end-of-extinction samples that were used to show how terrible the volcanic eruptions and environmental devastation were, over a long period of time. If the rates of extinction are "1,000 to 10,000 times faster than the average" extinction rates discovered through the fossil record, it should be a very spectacular number of extinctions that is quite apparent to everyone. If, for example, we have 1.9 million species on earth (the number officially counted so far) then we should, percentage-wise, see how many becoming extinct each year, without fail, to achieve these extraordinarily higher than average rates? Looking on a purely mathematical basis, the "ordinary" background extinction rate by some estimates is "if there are a million species on the planet earth, one would go extinct every year." We already know there are 2 million species - so 1,000 times that "rate" would be 2,000 species becoming extinct every year, and 10,000 times that "rate" would be 20,000 becoming extinct every year. According to the reliable Edmund O. Wilson, "27,000 species are becoming extinct every year" so there ya go. But since we have already identified 1.9 million species and have computing capabilities - why not keep something like a running count? Because . . . the actual identified extinctions are far, far lower than that amount, even counting bugs and all types of bacteria/viruses.
However, amazingly, someone who hasn't yet been edited out of Wikipedia's article on "background extinction rates," points up, "The fact that we do not currently know the total number of species, in the past nor the present, makes it very difficult to accurately calculate the non-anthropogenicly influenced extinction rates."
Without question. What we are looking at is clearly human-caused extinction of some species - all of which, or nearly all, are localized phenomena. We can observe similar phenomena in nature on a daily basis in interactions between other species - from bacteria and viruses to higher-orders of animals.
Am I saying that human behavior such as clubbing baby seals to death for fur and fun, or nearly destroying all American bison by massive shooting from the back of a train, or destruction of millions upon millions of passenger pigeons, apparently for "sport" or "fun" is right? Of course not - it is brutal and genocidal behavior with no place in nature or life.
We have a number of human-created species among us right now, a factor absolutely never discussed in any of these chitchats. There's a clear divide between people devoted to human agriculture, breeding of livestock, pet owners and breeders, and the Defenders of Wild Nature who think we're killing tens of thousands of animals every day just by sitting around breathing. We have a clear divide between those interested in the potentially harmful effects of genetically modified foods - plant and animal - and those who are interested in stopping all human activity in general (breeding, eating, breathing, etc).
I am a defender of wild nature, yet I can see many instances with my own eyes where animals live in relationship to people - they do not "die" in relation to them. Several species of larger animals are on the rise in Southern California, and are impinging upon human settlements, occasionally with dangerous results to animals and people: these are opossum, raccoon, coyote, and small and larger raptors. These animals eat our smaller pets, can spread disease such as rabies, and can even harm children on very rare occasions. I'm not giving these examples of animals causing harm to humans as an excuse to "kill" them - I do not believe that animals should be killed for entertainment or convenience.
What we are looking at is not the ignorant and anthropogenic alarmism of strange individuals with odd desires to control others in potentially devastating ways, we are looking at what should be dawning on everyone in all aspects of science and life: there is so much we do not know, and when in doubt, we should always err on the side of caution and respect for nature and others.
This is the adorable "Mr. Blobby," a fathead sculpin fish discovered in 2003, just one of the many species discovered during the 10-year Census of Marine Life.
You see, we know that foolish and vicious men clubbed many baby seals to death and nearly destroyed the seal population. We know that cruel and wantonly-destructive men stood on the back of locomotive cars and shot thousands upon thousands of American bison, leaving their bodies to rot. These horrific events occurred over 100 years ago.
Yes, today, some species are still predated upon by humans to excess. Many tortoises have lost their lives, and valuable species are endangered because people continue to want to make combs and decorative items from their shells when superior synthetic substitutes have been available for many years. And for all the millions of caring pet owners and adopters who practice the best in care and do not irresponsibly fail to alter/neuter their pets, there are some who allow their pets to breed indiscriminately, and others who do horrible, barbaric things like Michael Vick's dogfighting ring. These are specific behaviors and problems. They are things that can be solved over time. Michael Vick served time in prison for the felony dogfighting charges and is only now returning to professional football. He is now advocating for humane treatment of dogs and working to stop illegal, cruel dogfighting. People can be assisted to find other ways to earn a living than killing endangered sea turtles to make their shells into decorative items.
But to compare human activity, no matter how heedless, to something like the million-year eruptions of the Siberian Traps that nearly stopped all life on earth, is simply bizarre. It is the same as stating that all life will soon end because we are driving cars that produce approximately 20% of the world's CO2 increases, which is in itself, not the primary "greenhouse" gas.
It's the problem with 90% of science fiction that ever was. Today, we recognize the foolishness of the old sci-fi stories where a green-skinned, reptilian monster from another planet was lusting after busty earth-babes. We acknowledge that the stereotype of the "mad scientist" who invents some doomsday machine to "destroy the Earth" or even "the Universe" is akin to a fable of a man trying to outdo the Gods (i.e. Prometheus - there was a reason why one of the earliest science fiction books, Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, was subtitled "or the Modern Prometheus").
If people cannot tell by now that our senses and our minds easily can "fool" and misdirect us, then what hope is there? Obviously there is a reason why these extreme, exaggerated fears and beliefs about human power and influence over the world are so prevalent. My main objection, however, is that in undertaking one action for what we believe at the time to be a good, important reason, may have unintended negative results - for humans as a species, and for the rest of the living species in the world. As one example, I offer up the strong unintentional breeding and propagation program that has given rise to many new strains and even species of bacteria - in other words, the overuse and prescription of antibiotics. This may well lead to extinction someday, but not of the bacteria directly, but rather, their host species: us.