Species extinctions: Is clarity needed?

A couple of months ago, a British journalist who wrote a number of climate-change-related books over the noughties and into the 2010s, Fred Pearce, penned a trenchant piece titled “Global extinction rates: Why do estimates vary so wildly?” It’s an apt question and one I’d asked myself when I began researching, in the clumsy way amateurs do, the survival prospects of the fifteen Cranes species. Like Pearce, there seemed to me a disjuncture between oft quoted warnings of the current global extinction rate being “up to 100 times higher than the background rate” and my initial study of the IUCN data (the most authoritative), which shows only rare identified extinctions. So I read Pearce’s article with interest.

Unfortunately, the journalist isn’t about to proffer an opinion but merely to canvas the wide range of estimates. By his telling, observed, documented species losses are most infrequent; there may or may not be a gross understatement in the total number of global species often quoted as 1.9 million; modelled extrapolations bring up those assertions of frequent, accelerating extinctions; the whole field is a mess of imprecision.

As of now, I’m in limbo. It’s clear that even if documented extinction rates remain low, average numbers in almost all non-human species have declined and are now declining at faster rates, to the extent that we might be hovering on a precipice of clear vanishings of species. Humankind is undoubtedly bludgeoning and squeezing out the other species. But I am not alone in wanting more precision. And precision only comes about with governments acting with haste to fund concerted, wide-range studies. More science is needed.