The Ecological Citizen

A free-to-access publication confronting human supremacy in defence of the Earth



What is the Sixth Mass Extinction? (A definition)


The Sixth Mass Extinction is the human-driven mass extinction event currently underway. Scientists define mass extinction as the loss of 75 per cent or more of Earth's species due to a catastrophic event. There have been five mass extinctions in the last 550 million years, during which complex multicellular life evolved. Hence, the anthropogenic one underway is called the Sixth.

Mass extinctions are rare. What normally prevails is referred to as background (or natural) extinction. This type of extinction does not cause a setback to Earth's diversity of species. On the contrary, the birth of new species occurs slightly faster than background extinction. Thus, biodiversity slowly increases over geological time.

The rate of extinction today is estimated to be 1000 times greater than background extinction. If humanity persists with its destructive ways, this rate of loss will accelerate further within this century and beyond. The primary drivers are agriculture (generically referred to as land-use change or habitat destruction) and killing (sometimes called overexploitation). Additional causes play a big role: pollution, climate change, invasive species, and other forms of habitat destruction. Most species threatened with extinction today are afflicted by more than one of the above drivers. Scientists call this the 'one–two' or 'one–two–three' punch.

The root causes behind the direct hits are an oversized human population, consuming increasing amounts of resources, putting out inordinate amounts of waste (garbage, nitrogen, plastic, greenhouse gases, etc.), expanding infrastructures without restraint, and eating too high on the food chain. Arguably, the deepest cause is the dominant worldview that permits and sponsors the root causes: Namely, the worldview of anthropocentrism or human supremacy, which confers unquestionable entitlement to human beings, while belittling the rest of life as meriting no (or far less) moral consideration.

Mass extinctions impoverish Earth for millions of years. While the previous five were caused by inexorable physical or cosmic forces, the Sixth is being driven by humanity's unjust ethical tenets and overweening socioeconomic systems. The Sixth Mass Extinction has not yet occurred: We have the choice to avert it. It is imperative that we do so for the sake of non-human life, all future human generations, and for the redemption of human identity from violent, arrogant, and alienated to loving family with all our Earthling kin.



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