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On mass extinction

The sixth mass extinction - which scientists have coined as the Holocene Extinction - is upon us. According to the United Nations, around one million plant and animal species are currently in danger of extinction, and many more within the next decade. While other extinctions have occurred in Earth’s history, none have occurred at such a rapid rate. In just the 50-year period between 1970 and 2020, animal diversity has declined by over 68%. Among many reasons, one of the primary drivers of this rapid loss of biodiversity is habitat destruction. When humans clear land for development, they simultaneously displace the native species from their habitat and threaten their chance of survival. Not only do these actions have consequences for the native plants and animals, but they indirectly harm the human population as well. Unbeknownst to many, decreasing biodiversity actually increases the transmission of diseases. One well studied example of this phenomenon is the increased transmission of Lyme Disease in fragmented forests due to the higher populations of disease carrying mice. Unfortunately, current environmental policies have failed to resolve the problem of biodiversity loss, so projections of species extinctions continue to increase. It is imperative that more effective policies are created, and this essay will propose new policies that we believe will help mitigate this problem.

Forest fragmentation is a result of human development. The new construction of infrastructure as cities continue to expand not only demolishes these plants’ and animals’ habitat, but it also creates corridors where animals attempt to travel through urban areas to get to more forest (which results in nearly 300,000 vehicle-animal accidents annually). Between the miles traveled by people in cars annually and the fragmentation of forests, humans are contributing to the extinction of plants and animals in more ways than we may like to think. There is some legislation that currently exists, but it needs to be updated to account for modern misuse of our land and resources. In the 1970s, the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) was implemented in order to make sure any and all government funded construction projects had to go through a process to ensure that they were taking their environmental impact into account. As a result, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was created, as well as Environmental Impact Statements (EIS) and Environmental Assessments (EAs) were now required as a part of the process to pass a project.

With that being said, our suggested proposal is to update this existing legislation to better reflect the increased severity of biodiversity loss and to improve technology we have access to. We think there would be more success changing what already exists rather than getting rid of it and drafting a new policy, which may take too long to be enacted. The restrictions surrounding new construction need to be stricter to enforce more sustainable practices as well as to constrain the demolition of species’ habitats. For the sake of both biodiversity and infectious diseases, it is in our best interest to stop pushing this Holocene Extinction further.

- Brooke Guiffre & Maddie Clarke

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