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Half Of Earth’s Species Could Be Extinct By 2100: Biologists

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Mass extinctions are no longer just a thing of the past. One out of five species on this planet is now hounded by the threat of extinction and the number could rise to 50 percent by the closing of this century without urgent action, biologists have warned.

The Pontifical Academy of Sciences, which organized the Biological Extinction workshop held at the Vatican, made the reminder this week and pointed to climate change as the main driver behind mass extinctions.

Biodiversity Is About To Get Wiped Out

“The living fabric of the world ... is slipping through our fingers without our showing much sign of caring,” the organizers said.

The meeting on Monday, Feb. 27 was one among a series established by the Vatican on pressing environmental issues, which Pope Francis deemed important for the Catholic Church to address now.

Economist Sir Partha Dasgupta of Cambridge University, one of the workshop's organizers, shared that the three-day Vatican symposia involving scientists and scholars are being held at the Papal Academy to symbolize the quelling of the “ancient hostility between science and the church.”

Citing Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change data, the workshop statement that the planet is on track to witness 20 to 40 percent of all biodiversity wiped out by the end of this century. There are concerted efforts to revive endangered species such as rhinos and pandas, but the same can't be said for other organisms.

“All of our food comes directly or indirectly from higher plants, of which there are an estimated 425,000 species,” noted the organizers.

Tens of thousands have been used for food, the statement continued. But today only 103 of these provide around 90 percent of food worldwide, and detailed information on plants today are limited to one-fifth of plant species anywhere on Earth.

Living Unsustainably

Stanford University’s Paul Ehrlich denounced the “siphoning” of wealthy western nations of the planet’s resources and the destroying of its ecosystems at a rate never seen before.

Ehrlich, however, has been met by criticism by many conservative Catholics for his belief in the wider use of contraceptives to help control world population.

But he remained unfazed on his stance, saying no one would want “almost 12 billion living unsustainably on Earth” by the time 2100 rolls around. Civilization will collapse and only a few hundred will survive, he added.

Biologist and professor Peter Raven of the Missouri Botanical Garden agreed, harping on losing half of wildlife worldwide while humans still “rely on the living world” for sustenance.

According to statistics from the United Nations, global population will balloon to 11.2 billion by the next century from the current 7.4 billion. Most of these additional billions of people, Dasgupta said, will be located in Africa, where the fertility rate remains twice that of the rest of Earth.

To live sustainably at the rate we are going, Ehrlich said, one would require another half a planet to offer the necessary resources. At the U.S. level of consumption, another four or five planet Earths are needed, he added.

“Our desire for enhanced consumption grows more rapidly than our population, and Earth cannot sustain it,” stated the booklet (pdf) for the workshop, which is jointly sponsored by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences.

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