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Preventing A Human-Initiated Sixth Geological Extinction Event

By John Scales Avery

02 May, 2014

Geologists studying the strata of rocks have observed 5 major extinction events. These are moments in geological time when most of the organisms then living suddenly become extinct. The largest of these was the Permian-Triassic extinction event, which occurred 252 million years ago. In this event, 96 percent of all marine species were wiped out, as well as 70 percent of all terrestrial vertebrates.

In 2012, the World Bank issued a report warning that without quick action to curb CO2 emissions, global warming is likely to reach 4 degrees C during the 21st century. This is dangerously close to the temperature which initiated the Permian-Triassic extinction event: 6 degrees C above normal. Here is a link to the World Bank report:


The Permian-Triasic thermal maximum seems to have been triggered by global warming and CO2 release from massive volcanic eruptions in a region of northern Russia known as the Siberian Traps. The amount of greenhouse gases produced by these eruptions is comparable to the amount emitted by human activities today.

Scientists believe that once the temperature passed 6 degrees C above normal, a feedback loop was initiated in which methane hydrate crystals on the ocean floors melted, releasing methane, a potent greenhouse gas. The more methane released the more methane hydrate crystals were destabilized, raising the temperature still further, releasing more methane gas, and so on in a vicious circle. This feedback loop raised the global temperature to 15 degrees C above normal, causing the Permian-Triassic mass extinction.

Here is a link to a short, important and clear video discussing the danger that a 6th mass extinction event could be caused by human activities: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sRGVTK-AAvw

Other videos discussing this very grave danger can be found on the following links:





No reputable doctor who diagnoses cancer would keep this knowledge from the patient. The reaction of the patient may be to reject the diagnosis and get another doctor, but no matter. It is very important that the threatened person should hear the diagnosis, because, with treatment, there is hope of a cure.

Similarly, the scientific community, when aware of a grave danger to our species and the biosphere, has a duty to bring this knowledge to the attention of as broad a public as possible, even at the risk of unpopularity. The size of the threatened catastrophe is so immense as to dwarf all other considerations. All possible efforts must be made to avoid it.

Consider what may be lost if a 6th mass extinction event occurs, caused by our own actions: It is possible that a few humans may survive in mountainous regions such as the Himalayas, but this will be a population of millions rather than billions. If an event comparable to the Permian-Triassic thermal maximum occurs, the family trees of virtually all of the people, animals and plants alive today will end in nothing.

The great and complex edifice of human civilization is a treasure whose value is almost above expression; and this may be lost unless we give up many of our present enjoyments. Each living organism, each animal or plant, is product of three billion years of evolution, and a miracle of harmony and complexity; and most of these will perish if we persist in our folly and greed.

Let us, for once, look beyond present pleasures, and acknowledge our duty to preserve a future world in which all forms of life can survive.

John Avery received a B.Sc. in theoretical physics from MIT and an M.Sc. from the University of Chicago. He later studied theoretical chemistry at the University of London, and was awarded a Ph.D. there in 1965. He is now Lektor Emeritus, Associate Professor, at the Department of Chemistry, University of Copenhagen. Fellowships, memberships in societies: Since 1990 he has been the Contact Person in Denmark for Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs. In 1995, this group received the Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts. He was the Member of the Danish Peace Commission of 1998. Technical Advisor, World Health Organization, Regional Office for Europe (1988- 1997). Chairman of the Danish Peace Academy, April 2004. http://www.fredsakademiet.dk/ordbog/aord/a220.htm. He can be reached at avery.john.s@gmail.com




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