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.
- 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).
- 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.
- 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