Mass Extinction or Mass Hysteria?

Conservationists and eco-warriors often claim that the Earth is in the midst of a great mass extinction,  with species disappearing at a rate faster than they can evolve.  Not surprisingly, they often pin the blame for this apocalyptic state of affairs squarely on the shoulders of homo sapiens.  As the Guardian summed up earlier this year:

Conservation experts have already signalled that the world is in the grip of the “sixth great extinction” of species, driven by the destruction of natural habitats, hunting, the spread of alien predators and disease, and climate change.

Perhaps.  But species that were once thought to be extinct, like the prehistoric fish the coelacanth, are sometimes found to alive and well after all.  In fact, a recent study finding that up to one third of mammal species thought to extinct eventually turn up again has received widespread media attention, and rightly so, as has the recent discovery of 200, yes, 200 new species of mammals, amphibians, and insects, including some so unique that they may classify as entirely new genera,  in New Guinea.

As Bryan Walsh of TIME writes, such discoveries are a welcome reminder that “life on our planet is far more rich, strange and wondrous than we can easily imagine.”

Or, it may be added, legislate.

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