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Molly Wabel

Geography 1700
Fall Semester 2014
ePortfolio Assignment

Environmental Degradation Mass Extinction and Biodiversity Loss

When I set out to investigate how Environmental Degradation affected the mass
extinctions and biodiversity loss all over the world, I had to stop and ask myself: What exactly is
Environmental Degradation? Being unfamiliar with the complexities of the term, I turned to the
dictionary to seek insight. YourDictionary defines Environmental Degradation (noun) as actions
taken by people that cause the planet Earth or its systems (air, water, etc.) to become damaged
or harmed in some way. Examples provided are: The deforestation of the rain forest is an
example of environmental degradation. By this definition, Environmental Degradation isnt a
natural process, its completely dependent upon human behavior and the negative impacts of that
behavior. That definition, while helpful, seemed very broad and encompasses almost every
aspect of human interaction with the planet. Humans, as a species, are terribly destructive and the
environmental impact weve cause is so vast that I decided to narrow my field of research. I want
to uncover if the biodiversity loss and mass extinction that is occurring all over the planet is due
to human impact or if its a natural occurrence.
First, I want to define biodiversity so I have a clear scope and understanding.
Dictonary.com defines Biodiversity (noun) as the existence of a wide variety of plant and animal
species in their natural environments. An example listed is very relevant states, Loss of
biodiversity translates into economic losses to agriculture, medicine and the biotech industries.
Biodiversity is the degree of variation of life forms in a given ecosystem, and seen as an

Molly Wabel
Geography 1700
Fall Semester 2014
ePortfolio Assignment
indicator of the health of ecosystems. Biodiversity supports valuable ecosystem services such as
air quality, water purification, pollination, and resources for food and medicines, and needs to be
maintained to ensure the continuity of these services, which are also of great value to companies.
The main causes of biodiversity loss include habitat destruction, introduced and invasive species,
and overexploitation. Humans, one of the most invasive species on planet Earth, are speeding up
a somewhat natural process and are the driving force behind the sixth mass extinction event, with
estimates telling us that a 40-70% of all species could become extinct by the end of the century.
From these two definitions and subsequent examples, I can see that biodiversity is vastly
important to Earths entire ecosystem and the terrible situation we find ourselves in when they
are out of balance. But, despite knowing the importance for a long time, human activity has been
continuing at a staggering pace and is causing the deterioration of the planets ecosystems and
our choices and actions have been causing massive extinctions.
The Environment News Service reported that Humanitys impact on the Earth has
increased extinction rates to levels that rival the five mass extinctions of past geological history,
transforming nearly half of Earths land and creating 50 dead zones in the worlds oceans. The
current extinction rate is now approaching 1,000 times the background rate and may climb to
10,000 times the background rate during the next century. If the present trends continue, the
resulting loss could easily equal those of the past. The article goes on to say that two studies
were presented at the 16th International Botanical Congress, that brought delegates together for
the worlds largest gathering of plant scientists, found that humans have gravely altered the
chemistry, biology and physical structure of Earths land and water. The human footprint is

Molly Wabel
Geography 1700
Fall Semester 2014
ePortfolio Assignment
increasingly impairing the planets ability to maintain the quality of life for humans and may
lead to the loss of up to two-thirds of all plant and animal species during the second half of the
21st century (The Environment News Service, 2005).
After reading several article like this, my main thoughts were: Where is all the funding?!
Where are all the scientists? Why arent they in the news screaming and screeching at the top of
their lungs about the mass extinction and how humans are killing everything? While trying to
answer these questions, and many more, I discovered an article called Biodiversity Hotspots for
Conservation Priorities that really put it in perspective why no one is on the evening news. The
opening statement says Conservationists are far from able to assist all species under threat, if
only for lack of funding. This places a premium on priorities: how can we support the most
species at the least cost? One way is to identify 'biodiversity hotspots' where exceptional
concentrations of endemic species are undergoing exceptional loss of habitat. The root of all illfated conservation efforts is money, not the lack of a purpose. How do we put a price tag on
something that is price-less? How do you pit plant and animal species together in a fight to
survive they dont even know they are in? I feel these are environmental injustices and more
moral attention needs to be focused on the plain and simple truth that species are blipping out of
existence because we cant see the philosophical forest for the trees. With the number of species
threatened with extinction then available resources are able to handle, Conservationists and
Environmentalists have to get smart and think outside the box. The biodiversity hotspots are
one of the measures scientists are employing to focus efforts and concentrate on areas where
there is the greatest need. As many as 44% of all species of vascular plants and 35% of all
species in four vertebrate groups are confined to 25 hotspots comprising only 1.4% of the land

Molly Wabel
Geography 1700
Fall Semester 2014
ePortfolio Assignment
surface of the Earth. This opens the way for a 'silver bullet' strategy on the part of conservation
planners, focusing on these hotspots in proportion to their share of the world's species at risk
(Biodiversity Hotspots for Conservation Priorities, 2012). Although, not a perfect solution, its a
promising approach. Will it save all the threatened species? No. Will it give us more bang for our
buck? Potentially. It makes a lot of sense to focus on areas that feature exceptional
concentrations of
endemic species that are
experiencing
exceptional loss of
habitat. The hotspot
approach focuses on
individual species, not
populations, because
maintaining biodiversity
and ecological

Graphic Credit: Norman Myers, Russell Mittermeier, Cristina Mittermeier, Gustavo de Fonseca and Jennifer
Kent. From the article: Biodiversity Hotspots for Conservation Priorities.

progress in these areas


are the main goals.
This isnt just a global issue; these issues are knocking right on our door locally. In
Pinedale, WY, a small community is trying to find a healthy balance with regards to the Nations
energy needs and its interests in protecting wildlife and their natural habitats. Wyoming is rich in
natural gas resources, which is great for the local economy and a country that is trying to find a
more natural solution to the fossil fuel dependency we have. But, the iconic wildlife that

Molly Wabel
Geography 1700
Fall Semester 2014
ePortfolio Assignment
Wyoming is famous for has taken a huge hit. While the drilling sites have seen a 300% rise in
five years, Mule deer and grouse, in particular, have seen population plunges near these drilling
and mining sites. These practices have drilled holes and cut up the landscape in an epic energy
grab thats left the country side scarred and its populations dipping because their habitat is being
encroached on, their mating rituals interrupted and food sources are being wiped away. Wildlife
biologist Brian Rutledge asks, Is getting cheaper gas now worth the future cost to the land?
In the race to exploit the planets natural resources, we are killing the very environments
we are dependent on for our own lives and future. By irreparably disturbing the water, land and
ecosystems, we do permanent damage to the system as a whole. No damage goes without
consequence. Some damaged cant be undammed. I fear the needed paradigm shift may never
come to open the proverbial eyes of the world. Conservation is all about priorities and unless we
start fighting and start preserving what keeps us alive, we wont see any major changes in the
way we do business and in the way we live.

Molly Wabel
Geography 1700
Fall Semester 2014
ePortfolio Assignment

Cited Sources

YourDictionary, Copyright: 1996-2014, Online access: November 2014,


http://www.yourdictionary.com/environmental-degradation
Dictionary.com, Copyright: 2014, Online access: November 2014,
http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/biodiversity
Environment New Service, Human Impact Triggers Massive Extinctions, August 2, 1999,
Online access: December 2014, http://www.ens-newswire.com/ens/aug1999/1999-08-0206.asp
Biodiversity Hotspots for Conservation Priorities, Norman Myers, Russell A.
Mittermeier, Cristina G. Mittermeier, Gustavo A. B. da Fonseca & Jennifer Kent,
November 2012, Online access: December 2014
http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v403/n6772/full/403853a0.html
Energy, Wealth and Wildlife: Wyoming Looks for Harmony, Ashely Fantz July 2007,
Online access: December 2014,
http://www.cnn.com/2007/TECH/science/07/24/gas.wildlife.wyoming/index.html