The Unfolding Story of Extinction 2020
This a recent journal entry from my Endangered Species Journalist website. It gives a broad overview of the current status of species in danger of extinction.
It is estimated there are 8–10 million species on Earth. Of these, around two million have been formally described which – in simple terms – means these species have been discovered, have been shown to be different from other species that have been previously described, and have been given a unique scientific name. They are the scientifically named species.
Of these two million named species, over 120,000 have been assessed for the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species. A list which is commonly referred to as the IUCN Red List. The Red List was established in 1964 by the IUCN and is generally recognized as the most comprehensive information source on the global conservation status of plant, animal and fungi species. According to the IUCN website, the IUCN Red List is updated at least twice each year.
The IUCN Red List divides species into nine categories: Not Evaluated, Data Deficient, Least Concern, Near Threatened, Vulnerable, Endangered, Critically Endangered, Extinct in the Wild and Extinct. However, the species that fall into the categories of Critically Endangered, Endangered and Vulnerable are also defined by the IUCN as “threatened” species. They are the species on the IUCN Red List considered to be threatened with global extinction.
Of the 120,000 species listed on the 2020 version of the IUCN Red List, over 32,000 species fall into this threatened category. This means that 27% of the species on the IUCN Red List are considered to be threatened with global extinction. This includes 41% of amphibians, 34% of conifers, 33% of reef building corals, 26% of mammals and 14% of the bird species listed on the Red List.
And though it is hard to imagine that 32,000 of the species that humans currently share the planet with are at risk of extinction, it’s even harder to imagine the scenario you’d create if you extrapolated that 27% towards the total estimated number of species on Earth. Because if you did that, then you wouldn’t just have tens of thousands of species at risk of extinction, you wouldn’t even have hundreds of thousands of species at risk. Once you extrapolated the 27% to the estimated nine million species that have yet to be discovered or assessed, then you’d realize that over 2,700,000 million species on Earth may currently be at risk of extinction. That is a lot of species to be in danger of extinction.
However, we don’t know exactly how many species there are on Earth. And we certainly don’t know how many of them are at risk of extinction. And we won’t know either of those things until all the remaining species on Earth have been discovered, named and assessed. And since there are millions of species yet to be discovered, the process of discovering, naming and assessing those species will no doubt involve a great deal of time, money, scientific expertise, politics, technology and a host of other human activities; some known and some unknown (more on that in a future journal entry).
And though the IUCN and its partner organizations have shown they can provide the scientific expertise to undertake this task -something they have been doing for over 50 years – we don’t know how much money societies are willing to spend towards discovering and assessing species. Nor do we know how many species will go extinct while waiting to be discovered and assessed. Those are questions yet to be answered.
However, what we do know, thanks to the work of the IUCN and the organizations it collaborates with, is that in 2020 over 32,000 species we know about are in danger of global extinction. So now the question is “how can these threatened species be saved from extinction?”
There are many activities that put a threatened species at risk of extinction. It could be the impacts of illegal poaching or illegal wildlife trade. It could be the deregulation of environmental laws that were developed to protect part of the environment or a specific species. It could be clearcutting of the tropical rainforest or overfishing in the Pacific Northwest. It could be the impact that Traditional Asian Medicine has on a variety of species. Or it could be the overarching effect that climate change is currently having and will continue to have on species all around the world. These are just a few of the activities that can negatively impact the survival of threatened species. And there are many more.
To address these issues there is a great deal of effort being made by governments, non-government organizations (NGO’s) and individuals. This includes the amazing work being conducted by the IUCN and its partner organizations. However, the work conducted by the IUCN and its partner organizations is only part of the myriad of efforts being made towards this goal.
Other efforts include the creation of new technologies being developed by companies who are dedicated to creating environmentally friendly products. It includes the creation and implementation of a new conservation or endangered species laws at a community, state or national level. It includes the efforts being made by movie producers, artists and musicians who create works of art or songs that inspire individuals to care enough to get involved and take action to protect the environment or threatened species. And it includes all the videos on You Tube and other social media platforms created by individuals who are trying to inform or encourage other people to care about other species.
It also includes all the news organizations that provide the public with the information and facts they need to understand the important issues at hand and also the action needed to protect the environment or a species. And that would be providing “real” facts, not fake or alternative facts.
At its most basic level extinction is a story about humans versus the other species on the planet. On a different level it is a story about humans versus humans.
There is no question humans are forcing species into extinction. Extinction is not a story about nature killing off its own. At least not at the level extinction is currently happening. Extinction is a story of humans exterminating other species from Earth. However, extinction is also a story of humans trying to save species from that fate. And telling these stories is what this journal is about.
This goal of this journal is to tell the story of those individuals and organizations forcing species towards and into extinction. It is also the goal to tell the story of those who are trying to keep that from happening. This journal will explore the knowns and unknowns that impact the survival of a threatened species. And it will also tell the story of whether a threatened species is being led to safe harbor or is being pushed into extinction. And why. This journal will also be about telling the story of the ongoing efforts to discover, name and assess all those species on Earth just waiting to be discovered.
Every threatened species in danger of extinction has a story. Those stories are unfolding every day. And it is those stories weaved together that tell ‘The Unfolding Story of Extinction.’