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Are Humans Really Causing Mass Animal Extinctions?


According to some scientists, an asteroid that struck the earth 65 million years ago was responsible for the extinction of three-quarters of all animal species, including the dinosaurs.


Now many scientists believe that a different kind of asteroid threatens to cause a similar extinction in the near future. But it’s not a space rock. It’s Us.


That’s the subject of a wildly popular new book entitled “The Sixth Extinction” by Elizabeth Kolbert, a staff writer at the New Yorker magazine.


As Kolbert tells readers, there have been five “mass extinctions” in Earth’s history—“[events] in which a significant proportion of life is eliminated in a geologically insignificant amount of time.” These extinctions were brought about, she says, by catastrophic events such as massive volcanic eruptions lasting a million years or more.


If you’re wondering how human activity can compare to an impact that’s estimated to have unleashed the equivalent of 1500 times the world’s combined nuclear arsenal, you’re not alone. The key, according to Kolbert, lies in the fact that “no creatures have ever altered life on the planet” in the way that we have.


Not surprisingly, anthropogenic global warming figures prominently on her list of the ways we’re altering life on the planet. But it’s not the only way. The threat we pose to our fellow creatures is multifaceted, and she says we’ve been at it almost from the beginning of our time on this planet.


In some cases, such as prehistoric America and Australia, excessive hunting—the “overkill” theory—led to extinctions. In other instances, destruction of habitat, CO2 emissions, and even traveling from one place to another has done the trick.


The result, Kolbert tells us, is a potential loss of species that rivals previous mass extinctions.


It should be noted that there are those, such as Bjorn Lomborg, author of “The Skeptical Environmentalist,” who argue that the rate of species extinction Kolbert and others quote is exaggerated. Still others cite studies that suggest certain species are more resilient than the catastrophic scenario would have us believe.


While Kolbert doesn’t say so explicitly, a reasonable inference from her book is that the rest of creation would be better off without us. As the New York Review of Books said in its review, “the general tendency of our species  . . . is to decrease biological diversity on this planet.”


James Lovelock, who formulated the Gaia hypothesis, has gone even farther. In 2009, he predicted that the planet would “cull” the human herd by as much as 90 percent to preserve “planetary welfare.”


While Kolbert’s rhetoric is measured, her depiction of man as a serial killer of species leaves you thinking that the relationship between us and the rest of creation is a “zero-sum” game; that there are only winners and losers in the fight for survival.


Missing in this and similar discussions is any notion of man as a steward. To be fair, Christians have not always acted in this way. But it is our God-intended role to care for the rest of creation, not exploit it, because we know that we are not its owner.


That of course requires acknowledging that there is something special about man, which secular environmentalists won’t or can’t do. And it leaves Kolbert and others struggling to articulate a reason why we should care about the fate of frogs in Panama.


Christians do have an answer, however: because God made them and we named them.


For more on a Christian understanding of biblically based environmental stewardship, please come to and click on this commentary.


BreakPoint is a Christian worldview ministry that seeks to build and resource a movement of Christians committed to living and defending Christian worldview in all areas of life. Begun by Chuck Colson in 1991 as a daily radio broadcast, BreakPoint provides a Christian perspective on today’s news and trends via radio, interactive media, and print. Today BreakPoint commentaries, co-hosted by Eric Metaxas and John Stonestreet, air daily on more than 1,200 outlets with an estimated weekly listening audience of eight million people. Feel free to contact us at where you can read and search answers to common questions.

Eric Metaxas is a co-host of BreakPoint Radio and a best-selling author whose biographies, children's books, and popular apologetics have been translated into more than a dozen languages.

Publication date: April 4, 2014

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