Millennials and younger generations have had to deal with constant talk about past genera-tions’ mistakes when dealing with the environ-ment. Climate change is one of the biggest is-sues touching our generation, but people also don’t seem to know about another phenomenon hitting us at full speed; the biggest mass extinc-tion since the dinosaurs. Brian Mader from the biology department at Dawson College under-stands this concern.
“I teach the environmental biology course,” said Mader. “In the course we talk about subjects such as sustainability, climate change, the effect on species and extinction, to name a few.”
Mader explains that teaching about the envi-ronment and sustainability can make his stu-dents feel a little depressed after the course. “But I try to teach it in a positive way in that we can make a difference.”
Although mass extinction can really only be measured after the event has occurred, we can extrapolate from the considerable amount of species extinctions witnessed in the last dec-ades. Although, as Mader mentions, “…there is more species alive today than ever”, he also adds, “We’re experiencing a rate of loss that far outweighs any of the other measured rates based on fossil records.”
There are many ways humans and their life-styles have caused this mass destruction. Mader divides these causes. “For example, the biggest impact right now is habitat loss. There’s more people on the planet, more mouths to feed, and that takes up space.”
When discussing the link between mass extinc-tion and animal agriculture, “we not only take up space for our homes, work and cities but we take up space for our food,” said Mader.
As human population grows, so does the de-mand for food. And as food demand increases, wildlife is pushed aside to make space for live-stock. “That’s something people don’t tend to realize when they’re eating food like a ham-burger. You’re not just eating a hamburger, you’re eating everything that that cow ate. So it’s not just the space that that cow takes but what the farm takes.”
Animal agriculture takes 1/3 of the Earth’s fresh water, 45% of the Earth’s land and is thus one of the leading causes of species extinction.
Pollution is another cause for mass extinction. More specifically chemical pollution, air pollu-tion from burning fossil fuels and water pollu-tion from run off full of
fertilizers and pesticides from agriculture. “Those are going to affect the ecosystems that they’re put in and the ecosystems that are downstream from those locations and farms.”
People tend not to realize that invasive species play a detrimental role in the situation. “We move things around the planet all the time and we don’t just move what we want to move. Sometimes we introduce species on purpose like cattle in areas where they don’t occur naturally, but also unintentional introduction.”
Mader then brought up an example with freighter ships. They carry goods from across the Atlantic Ocean. When travelling they typi-cally take water (ballast) with them to balance their stock in their ships. When they get to their destination they empty that water to re-load the ship. “So the water is taken from the Mediterranean and dumped into the Gulf of Mexico.”
The discarded water then brings algae, bacteria and other species like the zebra muscle, which was introduced this way. It has colonized every single one of the great lakes and has taken over the ecosystem.
Humans tend to be quite different than the rest of the ecosystem. We have been able to shape our environment, adapting it to our needs with-out considering everything else with which we share the planet. “The problem with humans is that our brain evolved too quickly. The ad-vancement of technology is making things move even faster and I don’t think the natural world was prepared for that.”
Homo Sapiens has been part of the system for a relatively short period of time “…for about 200 000 years, and this is nothing compared to the history of the Earth and the connections and community structure that have been built over time”, according to Mader.
Mass extinction is occurring because of the way humans are effecting change, and at such a fast rate that other species simply cannot adapt.
That is why it is of utmost importance to con-tinue educating people on the principles of the planet’s ecosystem and our place within it. “The study of ecology, which is becoming more and more important in today’s world seeing how we are connected to every other thing on this plan-et and how we form these connections, is really important.”
All these facts are nice to know, but the real question is what we can do as a generation to fix the mistakes of the past. “Hopefully we can modify our, thinking, behaviour, activities and life styles to let natural processes catch up to us.”
“There are decisions that we can make con-sciously with our environment in mind because helping the environment helps your fellow hu-man as well.”
“Educating people so they are aware of our planet and other species because it’s important for humans to realize that we are part of a world that we are integrated into.”