End of the Wild
The extinction crisis is over. We lost.
Stephen M. Meyer
For the past several billion years evolution on Earth has been
driven by small-scale incremental forces such as sexual selection,
punctuated by cosmic-scale disruptions—plate tectonics,
planetary geochemistry, global climate shifts, and even extraterrestrial
asteroids. Sometime in the last century that changed. Today the
guiding hand of evolution is unmistakably human, with earth-shattering
The fossil record and statistical
studies suggest that the average rate of extinction over the past
hundred million years has hovered at several species per year.
Today the extinction rate surpasses 3,000 species per year and
is accelerating rapidly—it may soon reach the tens of thousands
annually. In contrast, new species are evolving at a rate of less
than one per year.
Over the next 100 years or so as
many as half of the Earth's species, representing a quarter of
the planet's genetic stock, will either completely or functionally
disappear. The land and the oceans will continue to teem with
life, but it will be a peculiarly homogenized assemblage of organisms
naturally and unnaturally selected for their compatibility with
one fundamental force: us. Nothing—not national or international
laws, global bioreserves, local sustainability schemes, nor even
"wildlands" fantasies—can change the current course. The
path for biological evolution is now set for the next million
years. And in this sense "the extinction crisis"—the race
to save the composition, structure, and organization of biodiversity
as it exists today—is over, and we have lost. . . .
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Stephen M. Meyer is a professor
of political science at MIT and the director of the MIT Project
on Environmental Politics and Policy.
Originally published in the April/May
2004 issue of Boston Review.