The 10,000+ years of the Holocene Epoch have ended abruptly, and a new Epoch has begun on the earth: that of the Anthropocene.
Since becoming an utterly dominant species on the planet in the last few hundred years, humans have exploded in numbers. That population boom has had extremely negative effects upon virtually all of our fellow animal species, and many plant species as well. Each of these organisms existed within balanced organic webs we call ecosystems. There are millions of small, localized ecosystems, which link together like the threads of fabric, and in total are vast, even oceanic is scale. They all fit together like a gigantic jigsaw puzzle to sustain life on Earth through biodiversity and inter-dependence.
Because humans have tipped the balance of the scales by transforming the surface, destroying and poisoning habitat, and otherwise hunting or driving thousands of species to extinction, we have initiated a cascading failure in the ecosystem of the planet. Each species that fails weakens the fabric that supports its neighbors. Today the rate of extinctions is estimated to be about 100 times (some sources say over 700 times) the normal background extinction rate.
According to an article published by Jeremy Hsu, Senior Writer for LiveScience.com, the Earth is going to be a far different world in a few short years, as humans have hit the "reset button" for the global ecosystem.
Although the ecosystem seems like a solid, resilient structure, because of the complex inter-dependencies, it is rather self-supporting, not unlike the mechanical design of the World Trade Center. Thousands of species are disappearing, and they will take many thousands more with them in a collapse akin to a house of cards.
The beautiful and significant diversity of our planet is being rapidly replaced by a homogenized version of nature, in which 'invasive species' such as Norway rats and kudzu vines spread far and wide, exterminating competing species. Exotic pests and viruses transported by man have extirpated billions of trees like the North American Elms and Chestnuts that once marked our forest. With them went dependent species, a process that continues. It is impossible to predict the next massive disruption, but thousands of such processes are underway today worldwide.
"The main implication is that we're really rolling the dice," according to paleobiologist John Alroy, of Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia. "We don't know which groups will suffer the most, which groups will rebound the most quickly, or which ones will end up with higher or lower long-term equilibrium diversity levels."
This entire scenario of cascading extinctions built solely upon the interdependency of the species, and does not take into account the accelerating effects of global climate change. The expected global temperature increase, predicted by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to be six to eleven degrees centigrade this century, will add tremendous further stress to most species as it destroys habitats and heats lakes, rivers and oceans.
Ultimately, the species that originated these tremendous changes will be caught up in the avalanche of extinctions as our constantly-rising demands for raw materials speed the destruction of yet more forests for agriculture and development, and push the tentacles of development deep into the thawing arctic in search of the next portable energy fix.
Will mankind awake to the unfolding catastrophe before it runs its course? Will there be a viable reaction that will prevent it from continuing anyway? The answers to those questions clearly seem to be negative.
Certainly the planet will rebound from this round of mass extinctions, as it has from previous catastrophes. In the coming milennia, new species will evolve, and in their development create niches for yet others. Diversity will be regained as it has before. What is most likely is that our species will also be forced to adapt and change, or follow the others into extinction.