By: Lykke E. Andersen*
The impacts of Homo sapiens on this planet are enormous. We have turned about a fifth of the total land area of this planet into agricultural fields and pasture to feed ourselves; we are burning massive amounts of fossil fuels, thus altering the composition of the atmosphere and causing climate change; we are extracting at least 150 million tons of fish from the oceans every year; and we area leaving our trash everywhere. This predatory behavior has prompted John Gray, professor emeritus of London School of Economics, to call us Homo rapiens (1). Guilt over our adverse impacts is widespread, and the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement goes as far as suggesting that humans should stop breeding in order to save the planet (2).
It is true that we are a rather successful and aggressive species, at least so far. But we have only been here for a few hundred thousand years and the 4.5 billion year old planet has been through a lot worse than humans. More than 99% of all the species that have ever lived on this planet went extinct before humans arrived on the scene. Most disappeared simply because they were not adaptive and competitive enough to survive over a long period of time (background extinction), while others disappeared in mass extinction events, such as the one that wiped out the dinosaurs and most other land-based species 65 million years ago. Still, the level of biodiversity is probably higher than it has ever been (see figure 1).