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Chemical pollution is contributing to the sixth wave of mass extinction according to scientists

Scientists say that the levels of chemical pollution found in water and air are threatening not only human health but the ecosystems of threatened species.

Scientists say that the levels of chemical pollution found in water and air are threatening not only human health but the ecosystems of threatened species.

Plastic pollution is all around us (even inside of us!); in food, we eat, the water we drink, and now scientists have even found microplastics on the highest peaks of Mt. Everest and in some of the deepest parts of the ocean.

Microplastics refer to small particles that are left as plastic breaks down over time. These pollutants are only one of many that scientists warn are reaching levels that could seriously harm humans and ecosystems that are critical to the survival of many endangered animals. 

A recent report published by the Intenrational Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), found that within the next twenty years more than five hundred threatened species may face extinction because of how human activity has led to climate change. Another report released by the scientific journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that without anthropogenic (human-led) climate change, it would take thousands of years for many of species to go extinct. Instead they predict that we are entering a sixth mass extinction and that many could be wiped off the earth in the coming decades. 

The relationship between pollution and extinction

Chemicals from agriculture and industry that seap into water systems have shown to have catastrophic consequences on human and ecological health. A new study from Environmental Science & Technology found that because of the levels of "novel entities" like plastics and other chemicals, humans are living beyond the planetary limits.

The authors of the paper argue that "urgent action to reduce the harm associated with exceeding the boundary by reducing the production and releases of novel entities, noting that even so, the persistence of many novel entities and/or their associated effects will continue to pose a threat."

2021 recorded as one of the hottest on record

NASA released a report last week showing that 2021 tied for the sixth hottest year on record, saying "Collectively, the past eight years are the warmest years since modern recordkeeping began in 1880."

Temperatures across the globe were up an average of 1.1 degrees celsiuscompared to the baseline NASA uses to compare shifts over the years. Should this threshold be met, entire ecosystems could collapse. Scientists have predicted that anywhere between seventy to ninety percent of coral reefs could die if global temperatures surpass the 1.5 degree threshold, due to a process called "bleaching" which happens as sea temperatures rise.

This process is difficult to stop as there are no easy ways to bring down ocean temperatures after they begin to increase.

Think about boiling water for pasta.

It is a slow process wherein the water absorbs heat until it reaches a boiling point. The ocean heats in a similar way, as the atmosphere becomes more polluted, more heat is trapped on earth causing the temperatures to rise, but exactly the rate of that process is unknown as scientists do not have a good handle on the plethora of feedback loops that will contribute to the ocean temperature increase.