This is difficult to watch because it is impossible to say we aren’t involved in a massive experiment remaking much of the surface of the planet for our species own narrow purposes.
By Scott Pelly
JANUARY 1, 2023
In what year will the human population grow too large for the Earth to sustain? The answer is about 1970, according to research by the World Wildlife Fund. In 1970, the planet's 3 and a half billion people were sustainable. But on this New Year's Day, the population is 8 billion. Today, wild plants and animals are running out of places to live. The scientists you're about to meet say the Earth is suffering a crisis of mass extinction on a scale unseen since the dinosaurs. We're going to show you a possible solution, but first, have a look at how humanity is already suffering from the vanishing wild.
In Washington state, the Salish Sea helped feed the world…
At the age of 90, biologist Paul Ehrlich may have lived long enough to see some of his dire prophecies come true.
Scott Pelley: You seem to be saying that humanity is not sustainable?
Paul Ehrlich: Oh, humanity is not sustainable. To maintain our lifestyle (yours and mine, basically) for the entire planet, you'd need five more Earths. Not clear where they're gonna come from.
Scott Pelley: Just in terms of the resources that would be required?
Paul Ehrlich: Resources that would be required, the systems that support our lives, which of course are the biodiversity that we're wiping out. Humanity is very busily sitting on a limb that we're sawing off.
Paul Ehrlich: The rate of extinction is extraordinarily high now and getting higher all the time.
We know the rate of extinction is 'extraordinarily high' because of a study of the fossil record by biologist Tony Barnosky, Ehrlich's Stanford colleague.
Tony Barnosky: The data are rock solid. I don't think you'll find a scientist that will say we're not in an extinction crisis.
Barnosky's research suggests today's rate of extinction is up to 100 times faster than is typical in the nearly 4 billion year history of life. These peaks represent the few times that life collapsed globally. And the last was the dinosaurs, 66 million years ago.
Tony Barnosky: There are five times in Earth's history where we had mass extinctions. And by mass extinctions, I mean at least 75%, three quarters of the known species disappearing from the face of the Earth. Now we're witnessing what a lot of people are calling the sixth mass extinction where the same thing could happen on our watch.