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A century ago, a strain of pandemic flu killed up to 100 million people—5 percent of the world’s population. In 2013, a new mystery illness swept the western coast of North America, causing starfish to disintegrate. In 2015, a big-nosed Asian antelope known as the saiga lost two-thirds of its population—some 200,000 individuals—to what now looks to be a bacterial infection. But none of these devastating infections comes close to the destructive power of Bd—a singularly apocalyptic fungus that’s unrivaled in its ability not only to kill animals, but to delete entire species from existence.
Bd—Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis in full—kills frogs and other amphibians by eating away at their skin and triggering fatal heart attacks. It’s often said that the fungus has caused the decline or extinction of 200 amphibian species, but that figure is almost two decades out-of-date. New figures, compiled by a team led by Ben Scheele from the Australian National University, are much worse.
Scheele’s team estimates that the fungus has caused the decline of 501 amphibian species—about 6.5 percent of the known total. Of these, 90 have been wiped out entirely. Another 124 have fallen by more than 90 percent, and their odds of recovery are slim. Never in recorded history has a single disease burned down so much of the tree of life. “It rewrote our understanding of what disease could do to wildlife,” Scheele says. “It’s a terrifying summary,” says Jodi Rowley from the Australian Museum. “We knew it was bad, but this really confirms how bad. And these are just the declines we know about.”
Bd is hard to dislodge. A typical disease might cause an epidemic and burn out, only to be later reintroduced from a reservoir. But once Bd arrives, it doesn’t fade out, and it cannot be removed. Like rats on islands, it becomes a nigh-permanent fixture of the areas it invades.
They and us have not long to live. Yes! It is time to panic.
"I was exploring an abandoned military base, must of been abandoned for 60 years. I found a secret storage area. A large 4000 year old stele had hieroglyphics on it. It must have been there at least a hundred years, hidden by the deep state. I know it must have been a prophecy of some sort. And there was something in the prophecy that looked like this: "
"I just know that this must be serious. I can't tell where the secret base is, because an unmanned drone turned its mind wipe beam on me, but I've got this picture that I drew of the prophecy."
We are jeopardizing our future by not reining in our intense but geographically and demographically uneven material consumption and by not perceiving continued rapid population growth as a primary driver behind many ecological and even societal threats (Crist et al. 2017). By failing to adequately limit population growth, reassess the role of an economy rooted in growth, reduce greenhouse gases, incentivize renewable energy, protect habitat, restore ecosystems, curb pollution, halt defaunation, and constrain invasive alien species, humanity is not taking the urgent steps needed to safeguard our imperiled biosphere.
. . .
To prevent widespread misery and catastrophic biodiversity loss, humanity must practice a more environmentally sustainable alternative to business as usual. This prescription was well articulated by the world’s leading scientists 25 years ago, but in most respects, we have not heeded their warning. Soon it will be too late to shift course away from our failing trajectory, and time is running out. We must recognize, in our dayto-day lives and in our governing institutions, that Earth with all its life is our only home.
World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity: A Second Notice
continued rapid population growth as a primary driver behind many ecological and even societal threats