Even if we save the climate by 2050, we could still be pretty alone: That’s too late for thousands of animal and plant species.
Hooray, it’s the year 2050 and the climate is saved! Who would have considered this possible three decades ago? That it could actually be possible to contain global warming at 1.5 degrees!
So, everything went all right again? Unfortunately, no. Because for thousands of animal and plant species every help came too late. They are extinct. Where once the Great Barrier Reef off the Australian coast was swarming and sparkling for over 2,300 kilometers as one of the largest hotspots of biodiversity, white limestone skeletons are now standing over long stretches, over which a few starving starfish are crawling.
No surprise: Already in 2019, it was clear that even if the 1.5-degree target was reached, 70 to 90 percent of coral reefs would die, accompanied by the loss of thousands of species.
But it is not only climate change, the activities of humanity as a whole, that have triggered the long feared greatest mass extinction since the end of the dinosaurs. Where once there were species-rich rainforests, today only soybeans grow or nothing grows because erosion has washed away the thin layer of fertile tropical soil. Where once there were wilderness or diverse cultural landscapes, today there are settlements and industrial areas.
Last chance: Zoo
Even in the protected areas, which are already far too small in terms of numbers and surface area, masses of species have disappeared forever: poached like rhinos, elephants and turtles, or like frogs and salamanders dying of a worldwide spreading fungal infection.
In 2050, humanity would have had an answer to many of these problems: population growth has come to a standstill, industrial agriculture has been cut back, meat consumption has been reduced, the amphibian killer mushroom has been defeated, extensive new protected areas have been created and devastated areas have been renatured.
The only thing is that the species that still lived there in 2019 simply no longer exist. Once extinct, they are gone forever. The most beautiful restored biotope is of no use there.
Already in 2019, the situation for global biodiversity was clear and as well scientifically verified as man-made climate change. The World Biodiversity Council IPBES had unmistakably pointed out the imminent catastrophe: An estimated one million species were on the verge of extinction, not at some point, but in the coming decades.
Apart from the fact that in the year of Trump and Bolsonaro the world was far from saving the world – even if everything had been done immediately and without further delay to protect threatened species in their habitats, it would have been too late for many of them.
Yet, back then the biotopes were damaged too much, too fragmented the remaining habitats, too weak and poor in individuals the surviving populations, too polluted the oceans, too widespread free-range cats and introduced bio invaders.
When only about 50 Java rhinos trotted through the jungle, it had long been clear that they had no chance in the wild. The same applied to the last 10 Vaquita pig whales, the last 15 Chilean Loa frogs, the last four Yangtze giant soft tortoises … The only way to preserve these species would have been to breed them under human care.
Lack of a well-founded population management system
But mankind has failed to build such reserve populations. This would have been easily possible. The necessary knowledge and techniques to permanently save endangered species through conservation breeding were available. All that would have been needed was more money and space.
Especially the particularly affected smaller species such as amphibians, reptiles, fish and invertebrates could be bred with comparatively little effort in the aquariums and terrariums of zoos, scientific institutions and dedicated private owners. One would only have had to expand capacities and coordinate owners in order to establish a biologically sound population management.
In many larger animal species, this has long since worked successfully: bison, Przewalski’s horse, common ibis, Arabian oryx antelope, Spix’s macaw, Zhous’s hinged turtle, axolotl – numerous species could initially be saved from extinction by conservation breeding, or their outdoor populations, which were about to disappear, were strengthened by the reintroduction of bred animals.
“Only freedom is species-appropriate,” said the animal rights activist.
It went in the right direction – but then everything came differently. Instead of the zoos being expanded, they came under more and more pressure. Instead of involving private owners to strengthen breeding efforts, private keeping of wild animals was banned. “Only freedom is species-appropriate”, chanted animal rights activists, who projected their own emotional life onto other species, although rhino and lemur leaf frog would certainly have shown them the bird in view of the conditions in this alleged freedom – or the Socorro dove, which had already died out in the open in 2019 and could only live on in zoos and with breeders.
Emotion prevailed over knowledge of facts
But it was of no use, feeling triumphed over knowledge of facts: one zoological institution after the other was closed, transformed into reception stations for native field, forest and meadow species or into homes for some cuddly animals.
Now, rows and rows of generously pampered deer are still standing around in extensive grounds, while pampered dogs and cats romp over monstrous luxury playgrounds, where all the animal welfare donations have flowed into instead of using them to preserve endangered species.
Too late. Too late. Now they are extinct. No child will ever marvel at a living elephant, a giraffe or a rhinoceros again, and only half of the eight thousand amphibian species are left.
This mass extinction is not only tragic, because every species is an irreplaceable value in itself – one can justify this ethically, religiously or also only from the observation of the joy, which they donate to the human being.
Any species can be of inestimable use
Every species can also be of inestimable use to humans, but you just don’t know beforehand which one. In 1928, for example, who would have thought that a year later, thanks to an ugly mould, a substance called penicillin would be discovered that would save millions and millions of lives?
The dramatic impact of the disappearance of so many species on global ecosystems can already be felt in 2050. The absence of many natural predators and the sudden release of ecological niches are causing widespread invasive species, harvest pests and disease vectors to spread unchecked.
2051: Outbreak. A new pathogen, deadly for humans, suddenly appears and races around the world. The researchers do not succeed in developing an antidote in time. Bad luck, because that would have happened long ago – like countless other natural substances that slumbered unrecognized in plants and animals around the world.
The active substance that could have saved mankind was stuck in the skin of a small Amazonian frog that had been exterminated sometime around 2040 when one of the last Brazilian pieces of rainforest was burned down. It was still a frequently bred species in terrariums in the 2030s. Before the keeping prohibitions and the zoo-closures.
This has gone really stupid.
2050 – those who want to survive
It’s over by the middle of the century. Planet and humanity have reached the point of no return, an uninhabitable earth leads to the collapse of civilization and international order – if we do not radically change course.
This is what it says in the report published by the Australian think tank Breakthrough National Centre for Climate Restoration.
We want to take this forecast as an opportunity to reflect in a series on what will happen by 2050, what can happen – and what must happen – to avert the disaster.
We want to know how to live your life to doom, and we want to think about a complex and potentially more beautiful future for humanity – one that we are likely to miss