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Humans accelerating their own destruction, expert warns

Scripps Howard News Service
The Guardian

LONDON _ The human race is set to vanish from the Earth much sooner than it would naturally as a result of its destruction of other species and use of fossil fuels, a leading investigator into the history of extinction predicted Tuesday.

Michael Boulter, professor of palaeobiology at the University of East London, told the meeting of the British Association in London that without a catastrophic event such as the comet or asteroid strike which killed the dinosaurs 65 million years ago, mammals as a group could have expected to live for hundreds of millions of years before fading from the evolutionary scene.

But the rate at which humankind has made other mammal species extinct since the end of the last Ice Age amounts to the beginning of a catastrophic event in its own right, Boulter argues.

``Humans are adding to the pace of the present mass extinction which will involve all large mammals and many other groups,'' he said. ``We will be one of the extinguished species. The good news is that life on the planet will recover and peace will return to the environment.''

Boulter and colleagues have produced a mathematical model of how groups of living organisms emerge, peak and become extinct. Typically, groups of animals diversify into multiple species rapidly, then slowly decline into extinction. This fits in with fossil records.

But the recent rate - recent in geological terms, at least - of large mammal extinctions was more typical of the sudden mass extinctions which have occurred five times in the Earth's past.

The two key periods in humankind's contribution to the extinction of mammals were its hunting activities in the aftermath of the Ice Age and its recent use of fossil fuels.

Asked whether humankind's unique ability to influence its destiny could be turned to save itself, Boulter said: ``Look at the news. There's anger over the high price of fossil fuels. Cutting back on fossil fuels is the one thing human beings must do to stop extinction happening, but they won't do it, will they?''

Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service

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