Extinction Facts

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Like other youth inspired protest movements in the past, Extinction Rebellion seems to have little attachment to reality. These demonstrations saw the usual oil company bashing, plastic sign-waving and calls for “system change” that were the hallmarks of radical fringe leftist groups in the sixties and seventies.

While environmental issues like climate change need attention, calling for the end a product that has changed society for the better is not the way to go about change. Especially when these very same people are using products made from hydrocarbons

They claim that “We are facing an unprecedented global emergency. Life on Earth is in crisis: scientists agree we have entered a period of abrupt climate breakdown, and we are in the midst of a mass extinction of our own making.” As such they are prepared for protests until their demands are met. They are calling for 1) governments to declare a climate and ecological emergency. 2) That governments act now to halt biodiversity loss and reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero by 2025. And 3) that governments create and be led by the decisions of a Citizens’ Assembly on climate and ecological justice.

The scale of what they are demanding is incredible which likely explains why they want the governments of the world to surrender authority to new governing institutions focused on climate and “ecological justice.”  No serious person or even want-to-be-taken-seriously radical believes that any part of the world can get anywhere near net-zero greenhouse gas emissions in just over 5 years. To do so would require shutting down modern society where it exists, and reverting global lifestyles to third world levels. 

Extinction Rebellion seems to back up their claim on mass extinctions by linking to an un-sourced graph on the website of their logo designer. It seems to show that about 50,000 species went extinct in 2010.


On the same page another claim is that “somewhere between 30,000 and 140,000  species are becoming extinct every year.”

But lets look at the facts. So far science has identified, cataloged and described about 1.9 million species of on Earth. .

When you actually look at the data you discover that since the year 1500, roughly 869 species of mammals have gone extinct, 190 species of birds, less than 500 species of invertebrates, less than 100 reptile species and around 100 amphibian species. All told science can list fewer than 869 species which are known to have gone extinct in the last 500 years. 

Now, none of these numbers are good and many many species are more threatened now than they have ever been. But the numbers claimed by Extinction Rebellion might be a touch exaggerated. And their proposed solution might lead to a bigger problem.

You want to see extinctions, look for places with lots of poverty. Rich places protect bio-diversity – poor places cull it. Once energy is plentiful you start to care about the environment. When life is tenuous because energy and opportunity don’t exist, subsistence means that the environment does not matter.


But Extinction Rebellion doesn’t seem to be aware of this. Their call for a radically poorer world would without a doubt put all sorts of habitats and species at risk. Extinction Rebellion isn’t alone in not realizing that the road to hell might be paved with good intentions. Indeed, the current good intention of bio-fuels has resulted in millions of acres of jungle in Borneo being hacked down and burned so that palm oil plantations can be created to satisfy the virtuous demand for non-fossil fuel bio-diesel. The current estimate is that the Earth loses habitat that can house 6000 endangered orangutans every year. Almost 80% of orangutan habitat has disappeared in the last 20 years.


The issues facing the planet are serious, but human ingenuity has solved serious problems before. Resourcefulness will solve this problem. The wealth created by modern society will allow us to mitigate the consequences of the problem until innovation and invention help solve it. In the meantime, we will have to put up with well-meaning but spectacularly uninformed protesters.

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