It’s all over…maybe

Today should see the publication of a monster assessment of the available scientific literature on the state of the natural world, published by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), which has been widely leaked.

The shock-horror headlines on the report almost write themselves: “A million species doomed within decades!”

We’ve been here before. Back in 1970 S. Dillon Ripley of the Smithsonian Institute predicted that by 1995 as many as 80% of all the species of living animals would be extinct. In 1979, Oxford University biologist Norman Myers said in his book The Sinking Ark that 40,000 species per year were going extinct and that a million species would be gone by the year 2000.  And so on.

You know what? In 2014 one scientific study found that the background extinction rate without human influence is about 0.1 species per million species years. Out of one million species, one disappears every decade on average.

The IPBES report is probably citing studies that suggest future extinction rates are likely to be 10,000 times higher than the natural background rate. Do we really believe that humans are making things 10,000 times worse than they would be?