• A great extinction on the horizon

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    Only 400 Mindoro Bleeding-heart (Gallicolumba platenae) are estimated to be left on the island of Mindoro; designated as critically endangered by the IUCN CONTRIBUTED PHOTOS

    Only 400 Mindoro Bleeding-heart (Gallicolumba platenae) are estimated to be left on the island of Mindoro; designated as critically endangered by the IUCN CONTRIBUTED PHOTOS

    During the Climate Reality Leadership Corps Training in Manila in March, former US Vice President Al Gore discussed with 700 delegates the impacts of climate change on anthropogenic and natural ecosystems including biodi¬versity conservation.

    Gore warned that our planet is entering an event known as the “Sixth Great Extinction,” which is mostly triggered by climate change as a result of human activities.

    A mass extinction is the widespread and rapid death of life on Earth, spanning for millions of years. There have been five mass extinction events in history, the latest of which occurred nearly 66 million years ago. Scientists discovered that the Fifth Great Extinction was caused by an asteroid striking the Earth, which caused a long winter affecting plant life and depriving other life forms of nutrition. People are actually familiar with this historic event as it is most associated with the extinction of many dinosaur species.

    Climate change has always been a factor in previous mass extinctions. Yet the Sixth Great Extinction is different because it is caused by us, humans. Anthropogenic activities have turned humanity into a “global super-predator,” disrupting the natural rhythm of nature and destroying other species at an unprecedented speed.

    Current researches reveal unsettling signs of the ongoing extinction rate. The International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) reported that 875 plant and animal species have gone extinct in the past 500 years.

    The IUCN attributes this to human induced destruction of habitats, forays of invasive species, and global climate change among others, although a biological study in 1995 published in the Science journal suggests the rate of extinction may be hundreds or thousands of times higher.

    Gore also revealed that terrestrial plant and animal species are moving away from tropical areas at a rate of 15 feet per day due to intolerable high temperatures, rising sea levels, and other impacts of climate change.

    Large declines of Humphead wrasse (Cheilinus undulatus) are observed by fishermen coming from five marine key biodiversity areas in the Philippines

    Large declines of Humphead wrasse (Cheilinus undulatus) are observed by fishermen coming from five marine key biodiversity areas in the Philippines

    In the Philippine setting
    As one of the most vulnerable countries to the impacts of climate change, the Philippines, whose economic well-being heavily depends on its rich biodiversity, will also be one of the hardest-hit nations by the Sixth Great Extinction. The impacts of climate change on the ongoing extinction period are manifested on all environments, threatening the numerous endemic species that the country hosts.

    For instance, the rapid decrease in forest cover due to agriculture and infrastructure development in the country has not only deprived countless endemic species of birds such as the Philippine Eagle and the Walden’s hornbill of their natural habitat; it also removes an important absorber of carbon dioxide from our atmosphere. This leads to higher temperatures which, along with changing rainfall trends, cause a change in migration patterns, thereby affecting the ability of species to produce offspring. It also forces birds and other wildlife to find new homes in higher-elevated, cooler habitats. However, their prey may not move as quickly, further pushing them to the brink of extinction.

    This domino effect of extinction is even more evident in oceans which occupy three-quarters of the world. Gore remarked that of all the carbon dioxide emitted into our atmosphere, 93 percent of it goes into the oceans, causing an increase in sea surface temperatures. It also leads to ocean acidification, which prevents the formation of calcium carbonate that is needed by the shells of coral reefs. These lead to coral bleaching that eventually leave them more vulnerable to degradation. The destruction of corals which serve as breeding grounds for many aquatic specie cause a shift in the migration and reproduction of many fish species which will also affect the large aquatic mammals and fishes that rely on them as food. The decline of the entire marine food chain will lead to a rapid decline of fisheries in the Philippines, threatening the livelihoods of fishers and our food supply.

    It is human nature for us to immediately respond to forces directly threatening our way of life. However, it is time to recognize that climate change is a much bigger problem than what we realize at face value. If we do not act quickly enough to preserve our world, we ourselves might become a part of the Sixth Great Extinction.

    The only way to prevent this is by acting individually in our daily lives and acting collectively by supporting movements, organizations, and policies that help mitigate climate change impacts.

    The Haribon Foundation provides a number of learning sessions and educational materials to the public through its Membership program. Members learn everything from how to plant trees to proper waste-management practices. Hundreds of members and volunteers also aid in tree plantings year after year from June to November, leaving behind forests that can take in more and more carbon from our planet’s atmosphere, and bringing back more of the Philippines’ precious biodiversity which act as barometers to the health of our natural resources.

    As Al Gore said to end the Climate Reality Training event, “Do not lose your grip. Hold on”. The best way to do this is to take hold of already existing solutions that we must act upon every day.

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    Want to help advocate and represent for our environment? Become a Haribon member and share your skills and passion for the greater good. Haribon membership transforms regular citizens into biodiversity champions. They protect, conserve, and save biodiversity while forming lasting friendships with other environmental advocates. Register at bit.ly/joinHF, e-mail: membership@haribon.org.ph, or call 421-1209.

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