In biology and ecology, extinction is the end of an organism or of a group of organisms (taxon), normally a species. The moment of extinction is generally considered to be the death of the last individual of the species, although the capacity to breed and recover may have been lost before this point.
- The beauty and genius of a work of art may be reconceived, though its first material expression be destroyed; a vanished harmony may yet again inspire the composer; but when the last individual of a race of living beings breathes no more, another heaven and another earth must pass before such a one can be again.
- William Beebe, The Bird, 1906
- It is noteworthy that human concern about human extinction takes a different form from human concern (where there is any) about the extinction of non-human species. Most humans who are concerned about the extinction of non-human species are not concerned about the individual animals whose lives are cut short in the passage to extinction, even though that is one of the best reasons to be concerned about extinction (at least in its killing form). The popular concern about animal extinction is usually concern for humans –- that we shall live in a world impoverished by the loss of one aspect of faunal diversity, that we shall no longer be able to behold or use that species of animal. In other words, none of the typical concerns about human extinction are applied to non-human species extinction.
- We are now living in the era of the sixth extinction crisis in the history of the planet, the last one occurring 65 million years ago when a meteor struck the Gulf of Mexico and annihilated half of existing species including the dinosaurs. Unlike the last five, however, the sixth extinction crisis is caused by human activity.
- This time it is we who are the meteor crashing into the earth, and we keep crashing and crashing and crashing, never allowing the planet to recover. We are a meteor storm that continuously, repetitively keeps slamming into the planet, precluding adaptation and blocking recovery. If we cannot learn how to live on this planet and harmonize our existence with other species and the biocommunity as a whole, then, frankly, we have no right to live at all. If we can only exploit, plunder, and destroy, then surely our demise is for the greater good. Whereas worms, pollinators, dung beetles, and countless other species are vital to a flourishing planet, Homo sapiens is the one species the earth could well do without.
- We have since built museums to celebrate the past, and spent decades studying prehistoric lives. And if all this has taught us anything, it is this: no species lasts forever.
- EXTINCTION, n. The raw material out of which theology created the future state.
- Ambrose Bierce, "Decalogue", The Devil's Dictionary (1906).
- Much less frequently mentioned are, however, the ultimate drivers of those immediate causes of biotic destruction, namely, human overpopulation and continued population growth, and overconsumption, especially by the rich. These drivers, all of which trace to the fiction that perpetual growth can occur on a finite planet, are themselves increasing rapidly.
- Gerardo Ceballos, Paul R. Ehrlich and Rodolfo Dirzo, "Biological annihilation via the ongoing sixth mass extinction signaled by vertebrate population losses and declines." PNAS, 2017.
- Life has now entered a sixth mass extinction. This is probably the most serious environmental problem, because the loss of a species is permanent, each of them playing a greater or lesser role in the living systems on which we all depend . The species extinctions that define the current crisis are, in turn, based on the massive disappearance of their component populations, mostly since the 1800s. The massive losses that we are experiencing are being caused, directly or indirectly, by the activities of Homo sapiens. They have almost all occurred since our ancestors developed agriculture, some 11,000 y ago. At that time, we numbered about 1 million people worldwide; now there are 7.7 billion of us, and our numbers are still rapidly growing. As our numbers have grown, humanity has come to pose an unprecedented threat to the vast majority of its living companions.
- Gerardo Ceballos, Paul R. Ehrlich, and Peter H. Raven, "Vertebrates on the brink as indicators of biological annihilation and the sixth mass extinction". PNAS, 2020.
- Let's not be too quick to blame the human race for everything. We must remember that a great many species of animals became extinct before man ever appeared on earth. At the same time it is probably true that when two husky representatives of Homo sapiens, with clubs, corner the last two birds of a species, no matter how far they have or have not evolved, both the phylogeny and the ontogeny of those birds are, to all intents and purposes, over.
- Will Cuppy, How to Become Extinct, 1941
- The Dodo never had a chance. He seems to have been invented for the sole purpose of becoming extinct and that was all he was good for.
- -- id.
- Becoming extinct has its compensations. It's a good deal like beating the game. I would go so far as to say that becoming extinct is the perfect answer to everything and I defy anybody to think of a better. Other solutions are mere palliatives, just a bunch of loose ends, leaving the central problem untouched.
- Capitalism is not necessarily more immoral than previous social systems with regard to cruelty to humans and the gratuitous destruction of nature. As a mode of production and a social system, however, capitalism requires people to be destructive of the environment. Three destructive aspects of the capitalist system stand out when we view this system in relation to the extinction crisis: 1) capitalism tends to degrade the conditions of its own production; 2) it must expand ceaselessly in order to survive; 3) it generates a chaotic world system, which in turn intensifies the extinction crisis.
- The Brontosaurus had a brain no bigger than a crisp.
The Dodo had a stammer, and the Mammoth had a lisp.
The Auk was just too awkward. Now they're none of them alive;
Each one, like Man, had shown himself unfitted to survive.
Their story points a moral; now it's we who wear the pants.
The extinction of these species holds a lesson for us ants.
- Michael Flanders, "Dead Ducks", from The Bestiary of Flanders and Swann, 1967
- The process continues, in fits and starts, for thousands of years, until the species, no longer so new, has spread to practically every corner of the globe. At this point, several things happen more or less at once to allow Homo sapiens, as it has come to call itself, to reproduce at an unprecedented rate. In a single century the population doubles; the doubles again, and then again. Vast forests are razed. Humans do this deliberately, in order to feed themselves. Less deliberately, they shift organisms from one continent to another, reassembling the biosphere.
- The most wretched of all current trends is of course the mass extinction of organisms, which has been escalating for decades and is still increasing in magnitude.
- Pentti Linkola, Can Life Prevail?: A Revolutionary Approach to the Environmental Crisis, 2011, page 183.
- Finding out that 1 million species face extinction without radical corrective changes in human behavior is akin to finding out you have a fatal disease. One day you have a thousand problems; the next, you have just one. Nothing in today’s headlines compares to the catastrophic potential posed by climate change and the decimating effects of careless consumerism around the globe.
- Kathleen Parker, "Nothing in today's headlines compares to the coming catastrophe." The Washington Post, May 7, 2019.
- Indeed, in the long run, extinctions of species are as inevitable as the deaths of individual animals, and it may be that the causes of extinctions are as varied as the causes of individual deaths.
A wave of extinctions—a sudden diminution in the number of species—is analogous to a sudden big drop in the size of a human population, an event that deserves to be explained even though the individual people would inevitably have died sooner or later anyway. Catastrophes in human populations have many causes: war, famine, and pestilence are the possibilities that first spring to mind. There may be equally many causes for evolutionary catastrophes, as waves of extinctions could well be called. Another possibility, however, is that extinctions come in waves that are part of a recurring cycle. It would then be the cycle itself, rather than each individual wave in the cycle, that would need to be explained. If there is such a cycle, it presumably follows a cycle in the inorganic world, such as cyclic climactic changes.
- E. C. Pielou, "After the Ice Age: The Return of Life to Glaciated North America" (1991). University of Chicago Press. Trade paperback edition; ISBN 0-226-66812-6, pages 252-253
- Moreover, we have unleashed a mass extinction event, the sixth in roughly 540 million years, wherein many current life forms could be annihilated or at least committed to extinction by the end of this century.
- This did not happen yesterday because we suddenly became aware of the dangers of global warming. It began 50,000 years ago when a relatively hairless primate stumbled out of equatorial Africa and began wiping out the megafauna of the time. Wherever this creature (our ancestor) went, their arrival was followed by large die-outs of megafauna. Primitive hominids were well-organized, efficient, slaughter crews. As they advanced, the mammoth, sabre-toothed cats, cave bears, giant sloths, camels, horses, and wholly rhinos fell to their stone weapons and deliberately set fires. The extinction of all of these great mega-species is directly attributable to "primitive" human hunters. The hunting down of the mega-fauna was followed by the advent of agriculture and the domestication of selected animals. Domesticated cows, goats, sheep, and pigs grew in numbers and denuded large areas of grasslands. Irrigation systems began to toxify land. Then agriculture was followed by industrial activities, and finally, by the burning off of vast amounts of fossil fuels.
- Paul Watson, The Beginning of the End for Life as We Know it on Planet Earth? There is a Biocentric Solution. Commentary by Paul Watson, Founder and President of Sea Shepherd Conservation Society
- What is a ‘mass extinction’ and are we in one now? The Conversation, November 12, 2019.