- Most of the nation's biologists are convinced
that a "mass extinction" of plants and animals is underway, posing
a major threat to humans in the next century, yet most Americans are only
dimly aware of the problem, a poll says.
- The rapid disappearance of species was
ranked as one of the planet's gravest environmental worries, surpassing
pollution, global warming and the thinning of the ozone layer, according
to the survey of 400 scientists commissioned by New York's American Museum
of Natural History.
- The poll's release Monday comes on the
heels of a groundbreaking study of plant diversity that concluded at least
one in eight known plant species is threatened with extinction. Many scientists
believe that the rate of loss is greater now than at any time in history,
according to today's Washington Post.
- "The speed at which species are
being lost is much faster than any we've seen in the past -- including
those (extinctions) related to meteor collisions," says Daniel Simberloff,
a University of Tennessee ecologist and prominent expert in biological
diversity who participated in the museum's survey.
- Most of his peers apparently agree. Nearly
seven out of 10 of the biologists polled said they believed a "mass
extinction" was underway, and an equal number predicted that up to
one-fifth of all living species could disappear within 30 years. Nearly
all attributed the losses to human activity, especially the destruction
of plant and animal habitats.
- Among the dissenters, some argue that
there is not enough data to support that view. Many of the loss estimates
are extrapolations based on the global destruction of rain forests and
other rich habitats.
- Among non-scientists, the subject appears
to have made relatively little impression. Sixty percent of the laymen
polled professed little or no familiarity with the concept of biological
diversity, and barely half ranked species loss as a "major threat."
- The scientists interviewed in the Louis
Harris poll were members of the Washington-based American Institute of
Biological Sciences, a professional society of more than 5,000 scientists,
the Post says.