Learning With: ‘Humans Are Speeding Extinction and Altering the Natural World at an ‘Unprecedented’ Pace’

Learning With: ‘Humans Are Speeding Extinction and Altering the Natural World at an ‘Unprecedented’ Pace’

Before reading the article:

What do you know about endangered species?

Do you think of the world as a safe place for all animals and plants? What does it mean for a species to be endangered? What animal or plant species do you know are endangered now?

Go to the World Wildlife Fund’s website and scroll through its list of endangered species. Choose three and find out their extinction risk status and what threats they face.

What is one important fact you learned about the species you selected? What was the most surprising thing you learned? What further questions do you have about the issue of endangered species?

Now, read the article, “Humans Are Speeding Extinction and Altering the Natural World at an ‘Unprecedented’ Pace,” and answer the following questions:

1. Who wrote the United Nations report? How many sources were used? How many countries approved its summary findings?

2. How many known species of plants and animals are there in the world today? According to the report, how many are at risk for extinction?

3. What kinds of human activities are responsible for the worldwide decline in biodiversity? Give three examples from the article.

4. The article states that “in the Americas, nature provides $24 trillion of non-monetized benefits to humans each year.” Explain what that means. How would the extinction of up to a million species affect these benefits?

5. What actions does the report recommend to address the problem? Why does the report warn that “piecemeal efforts to protect individual species or to set up wildlife refuges will no longer be sufficient” and “transformative changes” will be required?

6. Why will it be difficult to enact the changes proposed in the report, according to the article? What specific challenges do developing countries face in balancing economic development and conservation?

7. The article concludes:

In the next two years, diplomats from around the world will gather for several meetings under the Convention on Biological Diversity, a global treaty, to discuss how they can step up their efforts at conservation. Yet even in the new report’s most optimistic scenario, through 2050 the world’s nations would only slow the decline of biodiversity — not stop it.

“At this point,” said Jake Rice, a fisheries scientist who led an earlier report on biodiversity in the Americas, “our options are all about damage control.”

Do you agree that it is likely that world action can only slow, not stop the decline in biodiversity? How optimistic are you that changes will result from the release of the United Nations report?

Finally, tell us more about what you think:

— What is your reaction to the United Nations report? How seriously do you think we should take their warnings? Make a case for or against, depending on your stance.

— What endangered species live in your community or state? (You can find out here.) How do you think you and your community would be affected by the predictions outlined in the report?

— What do you think should be done to address the extinction of plants and animals? What actions do you think you as an individual can take? What should the United States do? Which of the report’s recommendations do you think is most important? Which is most realistic?

— Research one area of human activity from the report, such as wasteful consumption, hunting and poaching, or illegal logging and fishing, and explore its role in the decline of biodiversity.

— Visit the Times Topics page for Endangered and Extinct Species and choose a species that interests you to learn more about.

Further Resources:

Lesson Plans from The Learning Network:

Fighting Extinction: Researching and Designing Solutions to Protect Endangered Species

Endangered Orangutans and the Palm Oil Industry: An Environmental Science Case Study