We are the asteroid

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Sometimes metaphors are apt. Sometimes they are damn near perfect.

From a fascinating blog post on Scientific American, by Scott D. Sampson, Dismiss dinosaurs as failures...and pave a path to a bleak future:

Scott D. Sampson wrote:
Over the past half-billion years, there have been five major mass extinctions, with the dinosaurs wiped out in the most recent of these. We now face the sixth mass extinction, which threatens to tear apart the fabric of the biosphere, with drastic consequences for most life on this planet, including us. In better times, species losses tick along at a barely discernable rate—perhaps one every five years. At present, somewhere between 50 and 150 species disappear every day, never to be seen again. (Once again, uncertainty in the actual value comes mostly from a lack of basic knowledge about how many species exist.)
This time around, a single species—Homo sapiens—has become the external force driving the decimation of millions of other species. Yes, we are the asteroid now colliding with the planet.

Self-portait of H. sapiens

The list of anthropogenic factors is all too familiar, among them habitat destruction, overhunting, toxic pollution, and climate change. In particular, the duo of global warming and environmental destruction has eradicated habitats at a pace far exceeding the abilities of many species to track or evolve. At the current rate of extinction, about half of all species alive today may be extinguished by the close of the 21st century, an eco-evolutionary experiment not run since the end of the Cretaceous. Paleontology teaches us that the biosphere takes up to 10 million years to recover from a major mass extinction. So the decisions we make today will have cascading consequences well into the unimaginable future.

If his numbers are right, the current extinction rate is about 100,000 times faster than normal. We are the asteroid.

Read the rest of the article.

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