22 Declared Extinctions: Another Warning to Humanity

Ivory Billed Woodpeckers, now declared extinct, in their last confirmed photograph taken in 1935.

After decades of searching and no confirmed sightings or recordings of 22 animal species, U.S. Fish and Wildlife officials this week declared those species extinct.

In a world with millions of animal and plant species, this small number may not seem like a lot. But prior to this week’s announcement, never had more than 11 been declared extinct at once. This means that this announcement doubled the largest amount ever declared extinct at any one time before. This on top of earlier reports that nearly one million animal and plant species are at risk of extinction before 2050.

These announced extinctions and predicted extinctions are flashing red warning signs that humans and our Earth are facing an unprecedented ecological and biological catastrophe. Extinctions mean not only that we lose the beauty of a bird or plant or animal, or the smells they give off or the sounds they produce. The deaths of some animal species means that perhaps a flower or plant won’t get pollinated, reducing our ability to produce needed food. Or perhaps the death of freshwater mussel species means that a river becomes too polluted for fish to live in or reproduce. Seemingly small changes and losses can lead to the breakdown of the much larger ecosystems on which we all depend.

While extinctions can happen naturally, the vast majority of this increase in extinctions is being driven by human action, including damming of rivers, forest clearing, destruction of habitat, and industrial and automobile pollution from the burning of fossil fuels. Tierra Curry, of the Center for Biological Diversity addressed the effects of climate change in this process, saying that it’s “an enormous factor” in driving these announced and potential extinctions. In fact, she continued, “climate change threatens life on earth as we know it.”

Humanity is at a moment of reckoning. Will we continue to tolerate an economic system that not only oppresses and exploits human beings, but also destroys the very planet, ecosystems, and plants and animals on which humans depend for our very lives?

Our answer is no. Now is the time to drive capitalism to extinction, before it does so to us.