Why Should Humans Care if We’re Entering the Sixth Mass Extinction?

In this episode of Generation Anthropocene, learn what a new era of extinction means for diverse species—including our own

Many scientists believe we are standing on the edge of an unprecedented era of extinction. Blend Images / Alamy

Sometime in the near geological future, the landscape of life on earth as we know it will be transformed. It’s a mass extinction, and it’s only happened five times before in Earth’s history. There have been severe ice ages, perplexing losses of oxygen from our oceans, massive volcanic eruptions, meteor impacts. And now, we’re on the precipice of a sixth mass extinction ... and it’s nothing like our planet has ever seen before.

In Season 8’s final episode, producer Miles Traer dives into the sixth mass extinction: Are we in it? What can the previous mass extinctions teach us about what’s going on today? And how is it going to affect not just our lives, but the long term trajectory of human evolution? Paleobiologist Jonathan Payne takes us back into the geologic past and searches for biological patterns hidden in the rock record. In the previous moments of ecological chaos, Payne finds a surprising trend that no longer holds true today. Then, biologist Rodolfo Dirzo takes us into the heart of complex ecosystems to find out why large animals are so crucial for their health and survival. Based on experiments in the tropics and in East Africa, he shares what he’s seen when those large animals disappear.

Related podcasts by Generation Anthropocene:

Creating an Equation for Cities May Solve Ecological Conundrums

How a Farming Project in Brazil Turned Into a Social and Ecological Tragedy

How Geography Shaped Societies, From Neanderthals to iPhones

Get the latest Science stories in your inbox.