on our planet
- our only home - is in big trouble. Many creatures are dying out
completely and it's almost all because of what people are doing.
So far as the rest of life is concerned, humans are the worst disaster
to hit this planet since a massive fireball 65 million years ago.
Find out more about endangered life and what you can do about it
in this guide.
here to find out how you can use this guide.
made some special Quizzes which you'll find
in different parts of this guide. Scoring
is automatic. Can you make it 100 per cent each time? For some questions,
there might be more than one answer (square radio buttons) or only
one answer (round radio buttons). Have a go anyway and see how much
you're discovering about Life in Danger.
Life on Earth is 3,500 million years old today... well, more or less. Living
things have certainly been around on our planet for a very long time.
case you hadn't noticed, 3,500 million is a very long time indeed.
(In fact, life may be as much as 4 billion years old!) Imagine that
each of those years was one foot in length. How far would that line
of feet run for?
But now life is in trouble, and the reason I'm afraid is you people. I'll
come to that in a moment but first,
Early life on Earth was very simple -- just tiny blobby things called bacteria.
After a while, slightly different green blobby things called algae
began to appear.
These had 'learned'
one very special thing: how to use the sun to make food. This was to be
the most important development ever for future life on the planet. These
tiny green blobs were the first simple plants.
And without plants, no animals could exist. If you were to hop into a
time machine and go back 3500 million years, you'd quickly die for two
reasons: the air you breathed would be poisonous and there would be no
So why isn't the air we breathe today poisonous?
Changing the air - Part of the 'food' of
all plants is a gas that is poisonous to us animals called carbon dioxide.
They slurp this up, along with water and sunlight, to make sugars by a
very clever process called photosynthesis. And in doing this, they make
what to them is a waste gas called oxygen. I'll bet you know that no animal
can live without it. So you see how important these little plants were
then and still are today.
Try my Life on Earth
Quiz to see
how you're doing.
The wonderful web of life
Animals began to appear on
the planet in a big way about 530
million years ago,
that lived in the sea. A little after this, plants began to grow
on the land instead of just in the sea...
and were quickly
followed by animals
which wanted to eat them.
Then came the dinosaurs...
Later came penguins, polar bears
And right from the start, humans began damaging other life and the planet
Modern people are just beginning to understand a little about the web
of life and the vital importance of biodiversity.
They are beginning to realise that they have damaged
it badly and, most importantly, that they depend upon it too. People
too, like penguins and porcupines.
Tree of Life Explorer lets
you travel right into the Tree
of Life. See if you can find humans!
This is an incredible tool for
finding out about every single
mammal species on Earth, and it
shows how each one is related to
all the others. Go on, try it!
bangs and mega-deaths
Have you heard about mass extinctions? Probably not...
...but because of people doing so much damage to
the planet and to the web of life, lots of animals and plants are dying
out completely. That's what extinction is. And once a creature is extinct,
that's it. There are no second chances. It's gone for ever.
But there's nothing new about mass extinctions. Ninety nine percent of
all the different types of life - called species - which have ever lived are now extinct. What is completely new is
that this is the first extinction caused by people and their wasteful
and polluting ways. All the other extinctions in Earth's long history
seem to have been caused by violent natural events.
The best known of these was the final extinction
of the dinosaurs about 65 million years ago.
Less well-known but much worse was a mysterious mega-extinction that happened about 250 million years ago. This was so bad that it destroyed
around 96% (96 out of every hundred) of all species of life on the planet.
Understanding mass extinction shows that the global life system is delicate.
If it's messed up, it could mean the complete collapse of the life-support
systems we all depend upon.
important lesson to learn from mass extinctions is that they hit complex
life hardest. It's things like bacteria and rats and cockroaches that
survive -- not people or (sob!) penguins. You have been warned!
Apocalypse soon: the beginning of the
Are people really threatening life on the planet? What's the evidence?
One good way to find out what's going on is to look at 'indicators' --
you know, rather like traffic lights.
Green means clear, go-ahead;
amber means caution, watch out; and red means
stop! I'd say these traffic light indicators
are on red. Let's look at some examples of indicators.
The most famous forests in the world are those of the Amazon in South
America, but there many others. Some are in the tropics (tropical rainforest)
but most are in Russia and Canada (boreal forest). It is the tropical
rainforests which are particularly rich in different types of plants and
these forests more and more both for their timber and to make new ranch
land for raising yet more animals for rich people to eat (poor people
can't afford meat). The boreal forests are going fast too, mostly for
making paper for newspapers, magazines and offices.
People have already cut down half the world's forests. The Europeans have
cut down almost three-quarters of theirs. But what's really scary is that
each year an area of forest gets cut or burned down
which is larger than Greece, Florida or Bangladesh.
Remember, it's not just the trees that are lost but all the animals whose
home it was like monkeys,
Lakes, rivers and wetlands -
are home to many species like birds, frogs and fish. Yet in the last 30
years, these creatures have declined
by almost half. Particularly
worrisome are the frogs
and other amphibians. Nobody knows for sure why these creatures are dying
so fast but it seems likely that chemical pollution (particularly certain
types of pesticides
and global warming are at least partly responsible.
The seas and oceans
- As you know, the sea is home to many animals including fish (yum! Sorry
but I have a thing about fish) and mammals like seals and whales and dolphins.
And, most importantly so far as I'm concerned, it's home to many types
of seabirds including penguins like me! And -- you guessed it! -- many
of my seabird friends are in the trouble.
Our numbers have dwindled by over a third in under 30 years.
Part of the reason wildlife in the seas is having problems is that people
are taking much more than their fair share of fish. And it's not
as though people even eat all the fish they catch. Lots of the fish are
just ground up to make fertilisers or food (fish meal) for other animals
which people then eat.
The world's fishing grounds, once home to a wonderful
mix of different creatures, are dying as powerful ships with big
trawling nets and sonar systems to spot fish shoals suck up millions of
tons of fish, including young ones which aren't even old enough to breed
and make more fish. Peru once had the world's biggest fishing industry.
That collapsed because of over-fishing. The Grand Banks, a vast area of
shallow water east of Newfoundland in Canada, used to be bursting with
fish like cod. That fishery collapsed in the early 1990s, destroyed by
people's greed like the Peruvian industry.
Now another sea is almost fished to extinction: the North Sea (north west
Europe). Here, big cuts in the number of fish people can catch have been
ordered by governments to try and stop the collapse.
people – never learning lessons and always wanting to make more money
- have started fishing in the Antarctic Ocean and are even sweeping up
the krill which all the birds like me, whales and seals depend on as well
as the fish themselves. And some countries are still killing whales.
Coral reefs -
Have you ever seen a coral reef? These are home to myriads of plants and
animals rather like the tropical rainforests on land. They are very beautiful
too. But they too are in big trouble and
many are dying because of what is called bleaching.
my Apocalypse Soon Quiz
to check out how you made it through that scary part of my guide.
What's going on?
Now do you see what I mean when I say life is in trouble?
All the indicators are on red; stop! Help!
And the trouble (sorry! I always seem to be having to say this) is you
good land in concrete, buildings and new roads
the land, air and water (seas, rivers and lakes) because of cars, airplanes,
ships, farming chemicals and fertilisers, garbage (especially plastic),
sewerage, fish farming
the oceans of fish so that in many parts there are hardly any left
to kid yourselves that there's no problem
All these things cause other animals and plants to die off and become
extinct... and they are doing in a big way. They either starve to death
or are poisoned. But the biggest cause of this man-made extinction is
loss of habitat - the destruction of places in which creatures used to
ways people are wrecking the planet
RARE from Joel Sartore on Vimeo.
climate change and ozone-destruction
caused by pollution from humans' machines could completely upset global weather patterns
and cause catastrophe. No-one yet knows what will happen but we do know
it is already starting
alien species. Sometimes people do this by accident but often it's deliberate.
Cats and rats in Australia have driven many once common creatures almost
to extinction by hunting them
the natural world by cutting and burning rainforests, covering the ground
with more houses, office blocks, factories and roads or using life-destroying
Genes could be in trouble too. If you've read my guide about genetic engineering, you'll know that they are the building blocks of life. And yes, they're in trouble because of what people are doing to them. This is
partly because of genetic
engineering and partly because of something called the gene pool.
could make matters even worse because the world could come to depend on
even fewer varieties of food crops. And all these will be controlled by
the big corporations who will own the seeds - and even be able to stop them
growing properly if they haven't been sprayed with special chemicals which,
of course, they will also own.
But supposing human
scientists aren't quite as clever as they think they are and nature
plays a trick on them by creating some new type of plague (yes this
happens all the time because of evolution) which wipes out one or
two of these 'genetically pure' crops all across the world, you could
end up with an Irish
famine on a huge scale.
The common sense solution
is to learn from nature and be sure to preserve that wonderful mix of
genes which gives us all that even more wonderful variety of life.
my Wrecking the Planet Quiz
to see how you're doing.
Life really is in peril
If a comet hits the planet and causes big trouble for life like it did
66 million years ago in the fifth mass extinction, nobody is to blame.
Comets aren't alive and they don't think.
But people do think and that, perhaps, has turned out to be more dangerous
for other life than any comet. It is 'thinking people' ('wise man' Homo
sapiens – huh!) that are bringing about this frightening mass extinction.
Not mindless comets or volcanoes.
Anyone with a little vision can see the indicator traffic lights are on
red. But hardly anybody seems to be looking – particularly not politicians
and the people who run corporations.
If lots of people drive cars and don't stop at the traffic lights, you
know what happens: there's a huge crash and people get hurt or killed.
Well that's what is starting to happen to our planet and its life. So
why don't people care? Why are they trashing the planet with their
feet? Why are they already gobbling nearly half of the world's available
food energy supply?
What you Kids can do about it
you kids hold the future of the whole planet in your hands. It is you
who inherit the Earth. Adults - including your parents and family - are
doing the damage today because many of them simply don't realise what
they are doing to the planet. But you do! So what you choose to do as
you get older can make a big difference.
Here's what you can do to start the ball rolling:
At home and at school
your clothes more
use energy-efficient light bulbs, shower heads
etc. Don't take baths.
vacation fun near home so you don't have to do loads of travelling -
particularly on . They are mega-polluters
you have a back yard or garden at home, see if you can make a pond.
And how about making a wildlife refuge too? You know, somewhere for
birds to nest (make bird boxes) with bushes and small trees - even heaps
of sticks and leaves where small animals can hibernate in the winter.
A tidy neat garden is not a good place for wildlife - especially if
you spray pesticides and use artificial fertilisers.
a local club with your friends, parents and school teachers. Get people
who know about ecology to come and talk. Raise funds to help Earth-friendly
charities like Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, Rainforest Action Network,
Survival, Sierra Club - there are lots.
The future of all of us depends on what you kids of today do to make sure
tomorrow comes for people, penguins and polar bears…
What do you think about
about life in danger? Have you any good ideas about what we can do to
make things better? If you do, please write to me. As long as your message
is sensible and friendly, I promise to reply. I will also put your message
on my Friends page. Use
the toolbar at the bottom of the page to contact me.
you've found my Life in Danger guide
useful, please would you be kind enough
to make a donation to help run my website.
I know you kids don't have credit
cards or anything but perhaps you could
persuade either your parents or your
school to make a donation. It's so
easy and you can do it via the donate
link above or here.
here to go to my Life in Danger links
page to find out about groups concerned at what people are doing
to all other Life on Earth.