Creatures are becoming extinct at a frightening rate. So who cares? : LUSENET : TB2K spinoff uncensored : One Thread

Life began on earth around 3.8bn years ago. From the first, death and extinction were part of the story. For more than 2bn years, the planet was occupied only by microbes - bacteria, fungi and yeasts - forming a thick slime in ponds, clinging on to ocean reefs, forming thick mats in rivers and eating minerals in rocks.

Around 600m years ago, complex life suddenly arrived, and so many new forms of multicellular creatures appeared - and disappeared - that evolutionary biologists called it the "Cambrian explosion". Mostly, they disappeared, randomly weeded out by evolutionary pressures.

Life went on, creatures came and went. Sometimes they disappeared en masse. There have been five major "extinction events" in the last 600m years, and a larger number of minor ones.

Every now and then, conditions would change, and species that couldn't shape up, shipped out. Each time, biodiversity would be dramatically reduced. Each time, life would bounce back over a 10m-year interval, with a new suite of creatures to thrive in new conditions.

Most of the creatures that have ever lived are now extinct, leaving only the imprint of their bones in sandy or muddy rocks as testament that they lived at all. Palaeontologists had seen the pattern so often they even arrived at a natural lifespan for a species: two million years, they said, maybe as many as 11m years. Life was an unfolding story, and extinctions were part of the background.

Until about 1980, that was the orthodoxy. Biologists calculated that there might be 2m species on the planet, and said that they had names and descriptions and specimens for more than 1.5m of them. They also said that thousands were threatened with extinction because of human activity.

Then one of them spread a collecting net under some tropical trees and sprayed toxic smoke aloft, and counted the things that fell into his collecting funnels.

The consequences were astonishing. So many strange little arthropods - little things with skeletons on the outside and jointy legs - fell into his hands that he had to think again. He proposed that, if the undreamed-of creatures of the canopy were any guide, there might be 10m species to be named. Or 30m.

At that point, experts began to realise the cost of razing the tropical forests, draining the mangrove swamps or polluting the coral reefs. If there were so many plants, mammals, birds, bees, beetles, reptiles, ants, spiders and fungi on the planet, then they must compete for tiny specialised niches. If a lot of forest was cleared, then thousands would go.

Campaigners, anxious to create a sense of public urgency about the dangers of extinction, began to make strident claims. Biologists started taking cool, measured looks. They found that the campaigners weren't being strident enough.

The great US biologist Edward O Wilson started as a doubter and changed his mind: he recently calculated that at least 27,000 creatures were disappearing from the tropical forests before the bulldozer and blowtorch every year.

Britain's chief scientific adviser, Sir Robert May, believes that creatures are now perishing at 1,000 times, or even 10,000 times, the "background rate" of extinction over the past 600m years.

Most biologists call what is now going on "the sixth great extinction". The tiger and the panda are only a tiny part of the story. Half of all the planet's occupants could perish in the next century or so.

The cruellest aspect is that all biologists now recognise that they will never know anything at all about most of the creatures that will slip into oblivion.

(GUARDIAN Science Report)

-- Risteard Mac Thomais (, April 07, 2000


It is called "survival of the strongest species " This happens since the beginning of time. That article is as much junk sience as creatism.

-- And? (, April 07, 2000.

Survival of the fittest, also known as natural selection, results in better adapted creatures because they have a chance to adapt. When the swamps of the Jurassic era began to cool off and dry up, dinosaurs evolved down into smaller lizards. Mammals, given the opportunity, evolved up and branched out.

With the sort of unnatural selection that's going on today, species aren't given a chance to adapt before being wiped out. That's the problem.

-- Tarzan the Ape Man (, April 07, 2000.

And? SoWhat'sthescoop, I don't think the planet will miss humans. Especially not your kind.

-- Jane (help@me.tarzan), April 07, 2000.

And? So What?,

Without bees there's no pollination, without pollination, there's no crops, fruit, grain, etc.

Get it through your head, we're not alone on this planet and everything is connected to everything.

If you can, try to think about this. Thinking isn't painfull, it won't hurt you. You might enjoy it, give it a try.

-- Richard (, April 07, 2000.


Now you're talking. Can you dredge up an article about the dramatic destruction of the bee populations by mites. This is something that most folks should be able to relate to once you draw the line directly to their plates.

-- flora (***@__._), April 07, 2000.

add to that 2 more, doomers and pollys

-- richard (, April 07, 2000.

I'm concerned about what effect man has on other species but I can't grasp what this article means. How did Sir Robert arrive at his conclusion? How did Edward O Wilson arrive at his conclusion? What was the data being used? Should we basing national decisions on the result of a smoke bomb in some trees in the tropics?

And, how come, no matter what I do, I can't stop those dang ants from coming in the house?

-- Jim Cooke (, April 07, 2000.

Keep on breeding You human? Morons,keep bragging about Your Grandchildren,like they are some sort of Gift to Humanity.In the meantime,I hope You enjoy the Traffic......:):)

-- Eve (stop@disaster.friends), April 07, 2000.

Is someone trolling with Eve's handle? The last post does not sound like her.

-- FutureShock (gray@matter.think), April 07, 2000.

Cross cascading animal defaults.

-- Lars (, April 07, 2000.

Anyone who is having children in these days should be prostecuted for criminal conduct.

-- Think about it (, April 08, 2000.

As a bee keeper, you are over-estimating the importance of bees. Grains are generally wind pollinated. Otherwise, the general premise is important; if the article isn't.

You are asking the following question: If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around; does it make a sound. More directly, if species become extinct and no one knows that they existed, will we notice. Interesting question.

Best wishes,,,,,

-- Z1X4Y7 (, April 08, 2000.

"More directly, if species become extinct and no one knows that they existed, will we notice. Interesting question."

I guess we would notice if as a consequence all the monkeys died in that forest/jungle.

-- Chris (!@#$, April 08, 2000.

If it includes some or all varities of mosquitoes, I'm all for it!!!!

-- BanThe (, April 09, 2000.


I guess we would notice if as a consequence all the monkeys died in that forest/jungle.

You are correct, but that is a big if Wouldn't see that for years. That is why the question is so complicated. By popular request, this is my last use of lime. It was used here as a tribute to the rain forests My apology.

Best wishes,,,,,


-- Z1X4Y7 (, April 09, 2000.

Z, perhaps we can pay homage to the rainforests while preserving readability of posts, by using green rather than lime . On the other hand, such a gesture may be undermined by green's association with money, which may be why you preferred lime.

-- David L (, April 09, 2000.

I would not even want to live in this world, if you had nothing but human beings. What a dreary world this would be. Did you know that if we didn't have insects, the human specie would die off very soon after.

-- gilda (, April 10, 2000.

The article that started this thread shows that we do not even start to know all of the various species of living craetures that we share this planet with, and similarly we probably haven't started to document even a small fraction of all creatures that have existed in the past.

Species evolve all the time. Some have a period when they dominate the planet then they too die off. it is quite possible that in time even we humans will have had our day and pass into extinction. Lets just hope that the reason for our decline is not of our own making.

-- Malcolm Taylor (, April 11, 2000.

A long time ago a comet came along and disrupted the dynamic equilibirum of the planet. No one's fault; nothing could be done.

A short time ago, a powerful species came along and disrupted the dynamic equilibrium of the planet. No one's fault; nothing can be done.

I guess we really are as smart as a rock.


" I believe we face a crisis - one of our own making - and if we fail to negotiate it with vision, we will lay a curse of unimaginable magnitude on future generations." ---Richard Leakey, ("The Sixth Extinction: Biodiversity and its Survival")

-- (, April 11, 2000.

>> I guess we really are as smart as a rock. <<

I think it isn't so much a matter of smarts on an individual basis as it is a matter of unlimited appetites gnawing away on a limited world.

I find it is illuminating and instructive to consider humans as parasites upon the biosphere. Clearly, we are in danger of the classic problem for every successful parasite -- diverting so much of the host's resources to ourselves that we kill our host organism. Normally, a parasite solves this problem by mobility, so it can seed its offspring into a new host. Trouble is, there are no new host planets nearby for us to infect and we can't reach the distant ones.

A second option for a parasitic organism is to divert the maximum amount of the host's resources to itself, while preserving the ability of the host to meet its own needs for survival. This is a tricky balancing act. The host is weakened and may die from a third factor that would not be fatal were the parasite not present. In the end, the parasite still must rely on finding a new host - just less often.

The third option for a parasite is to make the crossover into a symbiotic relationship, where it actually aids the host organism by the exchange of mutual benefits. Very few parasites achieve this optimum behavior in the natural world.

There's another problem. With most organisms there is no problem achieving uniform behavior. Once a behavior is established, it tends to persist. Look at how little deviation or innovation there is from one generation of insects to the next. Humans don't herd well. It's this damned intelligence. It is a super-volatile compound and tends to mutate so rapidly that even within a single person it will change from day to day over a lifetime.

Even if we achieve a desirable behavior, how do we maintain it?

The only method for keeping human behavior in line that even has a ghost of a chance of working are rituals and taboos. Actually, a fair number of cultures have managed to reach some kind of equilibrium with the local flora and fauna using these tools.

The next problem is that such equilibrate societies are more or less static. In the past 500 years they have been swept aside by an eruption of the extremely dynamic European cultures. We are the subspecie of humanity that is really killing the earth.

That pretty much sums up the bad news. The good news is: we all get ice cream!

-- Brian McLaughlin (, April 11, 2000.

Brian said:

Trouble is, there are no new host planets nearby for us to infect and we can't reach the distant ones.

Accually there are 8 other planets... and if I remember right, 32 moons..... countless asteroids, some almost pure metal.... and almost unlimited power just for the takeing.

With all that, we trully would be an Inferior subspecie of humanity if we couldn't get all of our eggs out of this one basket.

-- Netghost (ng@no.yr), April 11, 2000.

You scream
I scream
We all scream
For ice cream!

I think we will infect space before our demise here on earth.

Henceforth, we shall control our own evolution. What would you like to metamorphise into in the future?

-- knowitall (, April 11, 2000.

>> Accually there are 8 other planets... and if I remember right, 32 moons..... countless asteroids, some almost pure metal.... and almost unlimited power just for the taking. <<

If it's so easy, what's stopping you from taking them? Just go out there and stake your claim. Hurry! Your children's children will rule the solar system!

Of course, once they get there, they'll have to make a living in a totally hostile environment. No convenient water cycle: from oceans, to rainfall, to rivers, to ocean. They'll have to manufacture their own water and breathable atmosphere. Down here, we can just breathe without thinking. Free for the taking, as you say.

And if you think it's bad today when the network at your job goes down, wait until that network is the only thing between you and the death of the entire community. Just pray the OS isn't made by Microsoft.

-- Brian McLaughlin (, April 11, 2000.

"Of course, once they get there..."

I am very fond of science fiction, having enjoyed it for over forty years. The idea of mankind exploring the universe, facing challenges and experiencing adventures appeals to the genetic imperative of our curious inquisitive species.

But, as a mechanical engineer with a thorough grounding in the laws of thermodynamics, I am well aware that, barring some major and unforseen development of virtually free energy, the dream of exploring more than our immediate solar system is, as the epithet implies, merely "fiction."

In fact, our increasingly profligate consumption of current cheap energy militates ever more strongly against our leaving this planet even for small-scale colonization. In other words: we're here, we ain't goin' nowhere, get used to it.

The message of the space advocates and rapturist religionists is that we need not excessively worry about Earth's condition; that we can, after all, escape to a different or better world. This is a regrettable, if not downright dangerous, perspective.


"We've arranged a global civilization in which the most crucial elements...profoundly depend on science and technology. We have also arranged things so that almost no one understands science and technology. This is a prescription for disaster." ---Carl Sagan, 1996

-- (, April 11, 2000.


Exploration of space isn't a matter of resources, it's a matter of will and priority. We can certainly do so if we want to. Do you think we'd hesitate if, say, we were to learn of a certain and overwhelming military advantage of doing it? Or found a way to use microgravity to extend the lives (of the very rich, at first) another 50 useful years? And what if a probe found life on Europa?

The only thing stopping us now is the lack of perceived immediate bang for our exploration buck. While I don't expect political shortsightedness to change, I won't rule out *something* happening to present a clear benefit even to those short of sight.

-- Flint (, April 11, 2000.

Brian, Interestingly enough, we've never lost a person in space... just in R and D and on the way there... our practice of contracting to the lowest bidder might be something to look into in the future... it was very wild and dangerous to come out West 200 years ago... we came anyway.

Damn Flint, I surely do hate to agree with you, but I think you hit that one square on the head... I might add that if "the Green party" ever gets smart and looks for long term fixes instead of short term PC fixes for their agenda, we might see a push off planet by .org and not .gov... this planet could be a paradise with the resourses "availible out there".. all we need is a reason to make it so :-)

-- Netghost (ng@no.yr), April 11, 2000.


It is my deepest will and highest priority that I be able to fly. The energy costs of breaking the law of gravity are prohibitive considering my current finances. No amount of wishing is going to make it so.

Breaking the surly bonds of Earth is an incredibly energy intensive operation. Energy is more than just a matter of cost or priorities. No one would be more delighted than I to learn that fusion (hot or cold) had become a reality. But until then, energy will become increasingly expensive.

Drop by this site Hubbert Peak and spend a hour or two. If you can't make the time, at least read the first article on that page by Dr. Colin Cambell. Then tell me if this would be worth spending a thread or two on. I sincerely would value your opinion on this.

Btw, I am in deep lurk on a discussion among some heavy-hitters on this issue, and have been for four years, two years before my interest in Y2K. In fact, I viewed Y2K as a model of peoples'(and corporate, government and press) reaction to what I see as a much more substantial problem: the oil production peak.


"Nothing vast enters the life of mortals without a curse." ---Sophocles

-- (, April 12, 2000.


you commented "It is my deepest will and highest priority that I be able to fly. The energy costs of breaking the law of gravity are prohibitive considering my current finances. No amount of wishing is going to make it so. "

There is a way that you can fly and it won't cost you very much at all. Have a look at Gliding as a way of emulating the birds. It is pure flight that requires little effort to get airborne, and once up there flights over very long distances are quite easy.

I am the Chief Flying Instructor (Gliding) at the local flying club, and we have a lot of students who want to learn to fly, but could never afford the cost of powered flying. I am sure that once you try it you'll be hooked. :-)

-- Malcolm Taylor (, April 12, 2000.

Thank you, Malcolm. Always nice to meet another sailplane enthusiast. Now I understand why you and I each seem to have such an affinity for and sensitivity to weather and climate. I hear that gliding in NZ is among the best in the world.

I have enjoyed over 200 hours of sailplane soaring, nearly 100 SEL (lightplane) hours and about 150 hours on an ultralight (powered hanglider) that I designed and built. But the least expensive and most enjoyable 500 hours I've spent in the air were chasing lift in my hanglider.

Flying at the same altitudes and speed as soaring hawks; sharing the sky with God's best pilots, following them into (and out of) thermals; launching and landing on my feet like any self-respecting bird is the quintessence of pure flight.

So it is with authority that, when I evaluate the energy cost of flying---as compared to motorcycling, sailing, camping, even golf (hah)---I call it expensive, however beautiful it may be.


"Flying is magic. Anything else is just playing in the dirt."

If God had meant man to stay on the ground, He would have given us roots."

-- (, April 12, 2000.


I can't compare gliding in NZ with the rest of the world, as I haven't yet flown anywhere else. But I'll be trying out some of those Australian thermals later this year.

I know that we do get it pretty good over here. Our summer gliding field is on the far side of a 6500' range of moutains from our main base, and I have often declared a X-counry flight as the last flight of the day in order to give students a true experience at leaving the airstrip behind. It is really a great thrill to launch into decaying daylight, knowing that there is only 3/4 hr untill civil twilight, and having 50km of very rough terrain and a high range of mountains to cross. Fortunately, I've always made it, but one instructor with a student on board landed two paddocks short a couple of weeks ago.

We have a great selection of lift to chose from, nice strong thermals to 9000', ridge lift which can carry us for miles in a straight line, and wave to immeasurable heights. The pilots give out long before the wave does.

We often find Hawks joining along side the Twin Astir at altitudes from close to the ground to over 7000'. They are just beautiful to watch.

At our national soaring center (the site of the '95 world champs) about 1 1/2 hrs away from here (or 45 minutes in the C-172), I have seen competion fields launch for a 300+km flight at 5:00 pm in the evening, and have most of them get around.

OK, I know that this is way off topic from "creatures becoming extinct", but once I get chatting about gliding I just don't when to stop. ;-)

-- Malcolm Taylor (, April 12, 2000.

>> The only thing stopping us now is the lack of perceived immediate bang for our exploration buck. <<

The scientific knowledge available through unmanned probes is highly worthwhile in my view. The economic justification of space colonization as of today is nil. Permanent colonization of other planets in the solar system as new homes is so far from economic reality as to be absurd under present conditions. Using that distant hope to justify unlimited exploitation of the earth is grossly irresponsible in my opinion.

>> Brian, Interestingly enough, we've never lost a person in space... just in R and D and on the way there ... <<

Well, we've spent how many billions on manned space flight? It would be interesting to come up with a figure for (constant) dollars per hour of manned flight in space, since the beginning of the space program. And the mere fact that survival is possible, given sufficient support from earth, does not make existance off the earth a viable alternative to life on earth.

>> was very wild and dangerous to come out West 200 years ago... we came anyway. <<

To compare other planets, like Mars, to the western half of North America in the 19th century is, uh, very misleading. Unless, of course, there are tribes of Native Martians living out there, making a living hunting, fishing and gathering native plants. Wait a minute. Let me check on that and get back to you.

-- Brian McLaughlin (, April 12, 2000.

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