On the Termination of Species; November 2001; Scientific American Magazine; by W. Wayt Gibbs; 10 Page(s)
HILO, HAWAII-Among the scientists gathered here in August at the annual meeting of the Society for Conservation Biology, the despair was almost palpable. "I'm just glad I'm retiring soon and won't be around to see everything disappear," said P. Dee Boersma, former president of the society, during the opening night's dinner. Other veteran field biologists around the table murmured in sullen agreement.
At the next morning's keynote address, Robert M. May, a University of Oxford zoologist who presides over the Royal Society and until last year served as chief scientific adviser to the British government, did his best to disabuse any remaining optimists of their rosy outlook. According to his latest rough estimate, the extinction rate-the pace at which species vanish-accelerated during the past 100 years to roughly 1,000 times what it was before humans showed up. Various lines of argument, he explained, "suggest a speeding up by a further factor of 10 over the next century or so.... And that puts us squarely on the breaking edge of the sixth great wave of extinction in the history of life on Earth."