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June 2, 2014

New study predicts major extinction event in Earth’s near future

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Scientists and researchers believe that planet Earth is on the brink of a major extinction event, according to the latest research published in this week’s edition of the journal Science.

The planet has gone through five major extinctions in the past, making this one the sixth.

“Sixty million years ago an enormous asteroid plowed into the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico,” said Stuart Pimm of Duke University, the lead researcher on the study. “It sterilized much of North America and eliminated the dinosaurs. That kind of catastrophe will be what will happen over the next 100 years if we don’t do something about the species extinction crisis.”

Pimm found that species are dying at a rate 1,000 times greater than before humans existed.

“It’s comparing those two things – what’s happening to species now with what happened in the geological past that allowed us to come up with this statement of how fast species are going extinct,” said Pimm.

The cause, he claimed, is harmful human action in the environment.

“We tend to destroy critical habitats where species live. We tend to be warming the planet. We tend to be very careless about moving species around the planet to places where they don’t belong and where they can be pests,” he said.

Pimm said that crowd-sourcing, or asking for the input of a large group of people, helps in gathering detailed information about various species and creating precise conservation priorities.

“It helps us know where we need to act, where we need to invest our scarce conservation dollars,” he concluded.


Warm up questions
  1. What is the most widely accepted theory on what caused the extinction of the dinosaurs?
  2. What man-made events could cause a major change in the Earth’s environment? What about natural events that could lead to endangering life on our planet? What would the consequences be for these different disasters?
Discussion questions
  1. Within his scientific journal article, Stuart Pimm reported, “species are dying at a rate 1,000 times greater than before humans existed.” In your own words, explain what that means.
  2. What method could Stuart Pimm have used to estimate the rate of extinction of today’s species compared to previous eras?
Writing prompt

After watching the video or reading the article, how worried are you that the Earth will experience a sixth mass extinction within the next 100 years? Outline how you decided your answer and give examples from the video and text to support your reasoning.

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