Adapted in English by Valérie Harnois
The observations are troubling and unmistakable: two thirds of the wild fauna has disappeared in less than 50 years. This shocking declaration of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) is sounding the alarm, identifying the primary cause of this decline as human activity. It is approximately 4 000 vertebrate species, spread across 21 000 animals across the world that have disappeared following the destruction of their natural habitat, mainly for agriculture.
Everywhere across the world, scientists watch for warning signs of a sixth extinction, which would be the most devastating since the asteroid that caused the extinction of dinosaurs. There are already one million endangered species and that number keeps growing. Unless there is a significant change in the human pattern of consumption, nature will pursue its decline.
« The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) [..] highlighted five ways people are reducing biodiversity: Turning forests, grasslands and other areas into farms, cities and other developments. The habitat loss leaves plants and animals homeless. About three-quarters of Earth’s land, two-thirds of its oceans and 85 per cent of crucial wetlands have been severely altered or lost, making it harder for species to survive, the report said. Overfishing the world’s oceans. A third of the world’s fish stocks are overfished. »CBC, May 6, 2019
This sixth extinction would be the first to be directly linked to human behaviour and habits. It would also be the first that can be stopped if concrete and sustainable actions are put in place promptly. A study entitled Bending the curve of terrestrial biodiversity needs an integrated strategy, published in Nature, puts forth a series of possible scenarios. These possible courses of action ensure the preservation of natural resources, species, and reduce the human footprint with regard to agricultural production and human consumption :
«Through further sustainable intensification and trade, reduced food waste and more plant-based human diets, more than two thirds of future biodiversity losses are avoided and the biodiversity trends from habitat conversion are reversed by 2050 for almost all of the models. »International Institute for Applied System Analysis, September 10, 2020
“Many of the worst effects can be prevented by changing the way we grow food, produce energy, deal with climate change and dispose of waste, the report said. That involves concerted action by governments, companies and people. Individuals can help with simple changes to the way they eat and use energy, said the co-chairman of the report, ecological scientist Josef Settele of the Helmholtz Center for Environmental Research in Germany. That doesn’t mean becoming a vegetarian or vegan, but balancing meat, vegetables and fruit, and walking and biking more, Watson said. “CBC May 6, 2020
Here are a few articles on the topic of the sixth mass extinction. Choose one and create a cognitive map using Popplet to extract the important elements. You can also create a sketchnote using Tayasui Sketches to summarize the article and make your thoughts visible.
Articles on the sixth mass extinction:
- The Sixth Mass Extinction is Happening Faster than Expected. Scientists say it’s our Fault. CNN, June 1,2020
- Will Humans Survive the Sixth Great Extinction? National Geographic, June 23, 2015.
- Are We Really in a 6th Mass Extinction? Here’s the Science. Science Alert, November 18, 2019
- Earth’s Sixth Mass Extinction Event Under Way, Scientists Warn. The Guardian. July 10, 2017
- Coming: The Sixth Mass Extinction? Science News for Students. October 17, 2014
- Earth Is Not in the Midst of a Sixth Mass Extinction. The Atlantic, June 13, 2017
The following activities will allow a better understanding of the sixth mass extinction and endangered species, but also the positive roles humans can play in the preservation of nature.
Disciplines and grade levels
Science (secondary cycle 1) :
- The Living World
English as a second language, secondary 1 to 5, core and enriched :
- Interacts orally in English
- Reinvests understanding of texts
- Writes and produces texts
Dimensions of the digital competency
- Collaborating via digital technology
- Developing and mobilizing information literacy
- Producing content via digital technology
- Timeline RWT
- Understand the current situation related to the threat to living beings.
- Explain the sixth mass extinction.
- Propose solutions to the known causes of the sixth extinction.
- Discover the species that are on the “red list”.
- Get acquainted with the previous mass extinctions.
ACTIVITY 1 : The five culprits
According to a UN report published on May 6, 2019, five culprits can be identified with regard to the numerous endangered species. In order of importance, they are :
- use of land (agriculture, deforestation);
- direct exploitation of resources (fishing, hunting);
- global warming;
- invasive species.
These five causes put together are extremely damageable to the wildlife. Fortunately, some actions and transformations can be done to reverse the situation.
The first activity is the opportunity for students to find solutions to help counter the possible sixth mass extinction. Separate students in five groups (so each group works on one cause), and invite them to search the web in order to find more information on their assigned culprit and how to improve the situation.
Using the information gathered, ask each team to create a quiz using AgoraQuiz. Students will reinvest what they have learned through their research to build the quiz which they can, in turn, share with their peers.
ACTIVITY 2 : The red list
Start the activity by asking students to identify species, animal or plant, that they think are currently threatened.
Then, show the following picture gallery.
Ask students to visit the site of the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources to discover other species on the red list.
In teams, have students explore the red list of endangered animals. They will then choose one species in each of the seven categories on the top of the website :
- least concerned;
- near threatened;
- critically endangered;
- extinct in the wild;
They will create a collaborative document, with the use of a tool such as Padlet. Each team will have a virtual wall where they incorporate pertinent links, images, and videos to increase the team’s knowledge on threatened species.
ACTIVITY 3 : Sixth Extinction
The current topic is the sixth extinction. But what about the five extinctions that preceded? Here is a short video that retraces the dark periods. Students can also read this article to learn some more.
Ask students to create a digital timeline to illustrate the five mass extinctions Earth has experienced and to add elements about the current situation. To do so, students can use Timeline RWT. It is available on iOS, Android and on the Web. It is simple to use and allows to insert images and texts (the web version requires Flash Player). In the end, students will be able to save their timeline in PDF format and send it to their Drive or through email.
🚀 Other Ideas To Explore
You will find infographics on the topic of the sixth mass extinction here and here. Ask students to create their own infographic using the platform Canva , to illustrate and explain the causes and consequences of the sixth extinction.
🔎 To Learn More
The Sixth Mass Extinction?
National Geographic Educational Resources
Will Humans Survive the Sixth Great Extinction?
National Geographic June 23, 2015
CBC radio interview, 2014
Have we Unleased a Mass Extinction Event?
CBC interview, 2017
Are we living the Sixth Extinction?
Earth Is Not in the Midst of a Sixth Mass Extinction
The Atlantic, June 13, 2017
18 Signs we’re in the Middle of a 6th Mass Extinction
Business Insider, June 18, 2019
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