Alas, the Alaotra grebe has gone extinct. Scientists (including me) have not seen extinctions on this scale since the dinosaurs disappeared at the end of the Cretaceous.
It joins a rather heartbreaking list.
Here is a list of some bird extinctions since about 1500.
Upland Moa (1500) a bird similar to a emu but stockier and heaver, Thaitian Sandpiper (1777), Raiatea Parakeet (1777), White Gallinule (1788), Kosrae Starling (1828), Kosrae Crake (1828), Kittliz’s Thrush (1828), Bonin Islands Grosbeak (1828), Delalande’s Coucal (1834), Mascarene Parrot (1834), Oahu ‘O’o (1837), Huppe (1840), Tahiti Parakeet (1844), Great Auk (1844), Spectacled Cormorant (1850), Norfolk Island Kaka (1851), Kioea (1859), Jamaican Lieast-pauraqué (1859), Cuban Red Maca (1864), Seychelles Parakeet (1870), Chatham Islands Penguin (1872), Samoan Wood-rail (1874), Newton’s Parakeet (1875), Labrador Duck (1875), Himalayan Quail (1876), Brace’s Emerald Humming Bird (1877), Hawaiian spotted Rail (1884), Bonin wood-pigeon (1889), Lesser Koa Finch (1891), Ula-ai-hawane (1892), Kona Grosbeak (1894), Stephens Island wren (1894), Greater Koa Finch (1896), Mamo (1898), Chatham Islands Rail (1900), Chatham Islands Fernbird (1900), Guadalupe Caracara (1900), Greater Amakihi (1901), Aucklands Islands Merganser (1902), Piopio (1902), Choiseul Crested-pigeon (1904), Molokai ‘O’o (1904), Black Mamo (1907), Huia (1907), Bogota Sunangel (19909), Slender-billed Grackle (1910), Grand Cayman Thrush (1911), Guadalupe Storm-petrel (1911), Laughing owl (1914), Carolina Parakeet (1918), Robust White-eye (1918), Red-moustached fruit-dove (1920), Paradise Parrot (1927), Ryukyu wood-pigeon (1930s), Hawaii ‘O’o (1934), Pink-headed duck (1936), Laysan Rail (1943), Wake Island Rail (1945), Slender bush wren (1972), Barred-winged Rail (1973), Colombian Grebe (1977), Mariana Mallard (1981), Guam Flycatcher (1983), Atitán Grebe (1989), New Caledonian Rail (1990), K’ma’o (1995), Norfolk Island Boobook (1996), Sulu Bleeding-heart (1998), Pohnpei Starling (2000), Po’o-uli (2004),
There are lots of reasons for these extinctions. But things are looking worse than ever for Earth’s species: the Gulf oil spill, climate change (including changing habitats and ocean acidification), and massive deforestation in critical areas of the world. Lots of species are in trouble.
Do we need to do anything?
What does stewardship mean? Not causing the extinction of species I think is implied in there somewhere. Often I hear the refrain, ‘people are more important than x’ where x means some species that needs protection from human incursions. I also am confronted with, “Why should we spend trillions of dollars on global warming when we aren’t sure?” and “Hey, it’s been colder where I live. Isn’t this refuting climate change? (No! This is a global phenomenon. And it might be better called, as my colleague, a climate scientist two doors down at BYU does, Global Weirding. In fact, while the arctic and alpine regions are warming, places like the northwest might see colder and wetter weather.)
This sad news about a beautiful bird, has made me want to talk about ecological collapse in some detail. The claim that people are more valuable than the environment, is a stunning misunderstanding of what sustains and supports life on Earth. It is the equivalent of the cartoon character who sits on the branch sawing off his support. The claim, ‘I’m so important that what I do to this branch doesn’t matter,’ of course is seeped in breathtaking naivety about how gravity works and the consequences of losing your support. And sawing the branch to the very limits of what one thinks it can support, is also the epitome of stupidity, “Let me see how far I can saw, I’m sure I can make the cut at least this deep. Whoops!’ Not bright behavior when one is a hundred feet up. That’s why we can laugh at our cartoon character. It’s so silly.
Yet that is exactly how we are acting. In the next five posts, I will explore five questions about climate change and economics within the context of ecological collapse. They are:
(1) What does it mean the oceans are becoming more acidic? What are the implications for fisheries, coral reefs, and ocean life?
(2) Is it a choice between economics (jobs, prosperity, etc.) or ecological action?
(3) How is the African, Middle-Eastern, Asian drought affecting people’s lives? How bad is this drought? Do I need to care about the poor of the world? Who is my neighbor?
(4) Species are changing distributions in ways never seen before? So what if a few insects are moving northward? (Wait, what do you mean that they are agricultural pests of crops and livestock?)
(5) What does it matter if it’s a few degree’s hotter? That’s not bad.