Yesterday, We Were Warned That Humanity Is Under Threat. Here’s Why You Haven’t Heard About It

One million species are at risk of extinction. This should be the biggest news story in the world.

UN report on extinction

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Yesterday, the UN released a report from the world’s top scientists, warning that human society is now under urgent threat due to our impact on the environment. We’ve put one million species at risk of extinction, which in turn puts us at risk, impacting food and water supply, our economy, and so much more.

This report is a huge deal — the scariest, most dire warning we’ve ever received on the topic — but there’s a good chance you haven’t really heard about it. That’s because yesterday was also the Met Gala, the day a royal baby was born, and the day Scott Morrison was almost egged. Media outlets, including Junkeelargely chose to cover those other topics, and the report ended up buried by the end of the day.

By this morning, for many, it was as if the report never existed: Scott Morrison appeared on the front page of newspapers attacking Labor for introducing “green tape”, by which he means environmental regulations impacting businesses.

Don’t be like Scott Morrison. Here’s what the report said, and what we need to take away from it.

What Did The UN Report Actually Say?

The report itself was more than 1000 pages long, but it boils down to this: humans are accelerating the destruction of natural life on earth, and we urgently need to take action if we want to survive this.

This isn’t just a report on climate change. The one million species humans have threatened with extinction include all kinds of plants and animals that have been affected by humans in different ways. The clearing of forests for mining or agriculture, rising global temperatures, fertilisers and other chemicals running into the ocean, plastic waste and more have all played a part in creating that threat.

These may all sound like environmental warnings we’ve heard before, but we’ve never ever heard them on this scale. The UN report released yesterday wasn’t just by one or two scientists — it was pulled together by more than 450 researchers using over 15,000 scientific and government papers. The report’s summary also had to be approved by representatives of more than one hundred nations. It’s rare for a warning that’s been through that process to be so dire, but here we are.

The consequences of species extinction also go way beyond just never seeing a particular animal again. When pollinating insects like bees are threatened, that can have massive impacts on how we grow food. When different plants are under threat, there’s a flow-on effect to the animals that rely on them for sustenance. The report basically shows that in a relatively short amount of time, humans have done an enormous amount of damage to the planet, and we’re all in danger if it continues.

The warnings included in this report are serious, and worth your time — if you want to read more without reading the full thousand pages, The Guardian has a good summary here.

As for what we should do next, the point of this report is not to depress you. It does aim to shock you into action, though. “We tried to document how far in trouble we are to focus people’s minds, but also to say it is not too late if we put a huge amount into transformational behavioural change,” David Obura, one of the report’s main authors, told The Guardian. 

“This is fundamental to humanity. We are not just talking about nice species out there; this is our life-support system.”

For Australians, the most immediate way we can respond to this report is by voting. Ask your local MPs to respond to the report. Call on Scott Morrison and Bill Shorten to do more. Consider the environment when you vote next week, and don’t let politicians get away with business as usual.