Could Our Planet Really Be Headed Toward The Sixth Mass Extinction?

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Following Oscar-winning actor and director Robert Redford’s address to the United Nations about his growing concern for the status of the environment, with specific regards to climate change, perhaps it is time we give more attention to these urgent calls-to-action we've been hearing for the past couple of months.

As of Tuesday, China, Brazil and the United States detailed their plans as to how these countries were going to take steps toward addressing the climate-warming issue.

However, scientists believe the policy actions they outlined are not enough to stop the rise in atmospheric temperature by 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, which is the point when an influx of worrisome occurrences, such as extreme storms, droughts, food and water shortages and rising sea levels, will occur.

Pope Francis’s recent encyclical spurred an overwhelming amount of debate over climate change.

Some believe his call-to-action to help stave off global warming and to abolish the concept of a rich elite is ridiculous, while others believe his statements are completely factual.

He stated, "We are not God. The Earth was here before us and was given to us."

Pope Francis’s encyclical goes beyond just discussing the sole care of the Earth via small means, like turning off water and not wasting food, and includes concepts of the growing gap between the rich and poor, consumerism and human greed.

Scientists at the National Autonomous University of Mexico released a paper detailing how we are currently on the brink of the sixth mass extinction, which is occurring at a rate 100 times faster than it normally would due to human influence.

The World Wildlife Foundation (WWF) lists African elephants as a species vulnerable to extinction.

Reasons for this include elephant poaching, illegal ivory trade and habitat destruction. Two of these acts are associated with man and his greed, which Pope Francis addressed.

Poaching and ivory trade is for capital, and the loss of habitat is due to humans moving into it in order to convert the land into developments.

The WWF also states that “poverty, armed conflict and the displacement of people by civil conflict also add to habitat loss and fragmentation.” Again, these are effects of the gap between the rich and poor Pope Francis signaled.

He stated:

"The idea of infinite or unlimited growth, which proves so attractive to economists, financiers and experts in technology… is based on the lie that there is an infinite supply of the earth's goods, and this leads to the planet being squeezed dry at every limit."

Pope Francis’s message refers to all of humankind, and it stresses taking care of the Earth should be seen as a moral duty and, ethically, the “right thing” to do. Humans should put the common good of caring for the planet before any economic interest.

April 24, 2013 marked the day of the Rana Plaza building collapse in Dhaka, Bangladesh, the deadliest disaster in the history of the global garment industry, killing 1,137 people, according to the Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights.

The garment workers refused to enter the building after seeing dangerous cracks in the walls and feeling overwhelmingly unsafe going inside.

The workers were beaten by paid gang members that the owner, Sohel Rana, had hired, and they were also threatened to have their pay withheld for the month of April if they did not return to work.

Feeling as though they had no other choice to feed themselves and their families, they entered, and within an hour, the building had collapsed.

The Rana Plaza building housed many garment factories that produced clothes for companies with cheap labor, in which the workers made roughly $0.22-$0.24 per hour. Bangladesh is among one of the world’s poorest and most polluted nations in the world.

Pope Francis’s point about the need to shift attention away from “economic interests” and, instead, to the moral responsibility humans have to care for the world is not only compelling, but also necessary.

On Sunday, June 28, many activists marched through Rome with signs with messages such as “Many faiths, one planet” and “Our world has a grave social debt to the poor.”

The concept of coexistence may just be the solution to combating the movement toward another mass extinction, however rose-colored it may seem.