We are at the very beginning of what could be the most serious environmental crisis since the last great Mass Extinction. For the uninitiated, a Mass Extinction is when a significant number of plant and animal species become extinct in a short space of geological time. The last, and the fifth, was 65 million years ago; a possible reason, it is argued, is that a meteorite hit Earth. Many scientists now think that we may be heading for a sixth Mass Extinction – unlike those in the past, this will be entirely man-made. It is unlikely to happen tomorrow, or next month, or next year. It is early stages – but the signs are unmistakable.

If you look at one indicator of the health of Planet Earth you will see what I mean: that indicator is extinction itself. In the two centuries between 1600 and 1800, some 38 species of birds and mammals have become extinct. Between 1810 and 1995 that climbed to 112 species. A prominent group of conservation biologists thinks that one fifth of all living populations could become extinct within the next 30 years.

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