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It Will Take 10 Million Years to Recover From This Man-Made Apocalypse

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By Jordan Davidson

The climate crisis has us spiraling towards higher temperatures while also knocking out marine life and insect species at an alarming rate that continues to accelerate. But, just how long will it take Earth to recover? A new study offers a sobering answer: millions of years.


The researchers tried to answer how long it takes biodiversity to recover following a mass extinction. Their paper, published in Nature Ecology and Evolution, looked at the fossil records of plankton which existed for nearly 20-million years near the last mass extinction, which killed off most dinosaurs and 80-percent of Earth's animals, nearly 66 million years ago. Species diversity recovered after 10 million years, Newsweek reported.

"From this study, it's reasonable to infer that it's going to take an extremely long time — millions of years — to recover from the extinction that we're causing through climate change and other methods," said study co-author Dr. Andrew Fraass to Newsweek. "It is an apt warning about the time it takes to recover from massive losses in species."

The findings have striking implications for the long-term health of the planet and the future of humanity as we confront a climate crisis, habitat destruction and invasive species, all of which parallels ancient times, according to a University of Bristol press release.

"This should serve as an important reminder: some ecological niches lost due to anthropogenic climate change will never reappear," the authors wrote in their study. Essentially, the Earth will be drastically different after a mass extinction, according to Forbes.


The study complements other recent studies that have found declining plant and animal populations as a threat to the global food chain. Earlier this year, a separate study published in Biological Conservation found insect populations declining so rapidly that 40 percent of insect species threatened with extinction.

"The repercussions this will have for the planet's ecosystems are catastrophic to say the least, as insects are at the structural and functional base of many of the world's ecosystems since their rise at the end of the Devonian period, almost 400 million years ago," the study authors wrote.

The authors of the insect study chose their words carefully to stress the importance of insects to all life on the planet.

"We only use the word "catastrophic" once, and we use it very carefully," said study co-author Francisco Sanchez-Bayo of the University of Sydney to Civil Eats. "We chose that word deliberately: If 30 percent of insects, the largest group of animals on Earth, are in danger, that is catastrophic. Damage from a tropical cyclone can be characterized as catastrophic, but that is localized. This is global. This is a true catastrophe."

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"Faced with global warming, rising sea levels, and the climate-related extremes they intensify, the question is no longer whether some communities will retreat—moving people and assets out of harm's way—but why, where, when, and how they will retreat," the study begins.

The researchers suggest that it is time to rethink retreat, which is often seen as a last resort and a sign of weakness. Instead, it should be seen as the smart option and an opportunity to build new communities.

"We propose a reconceptualization of retreat as a suite of adaptation options that are both strategic and managed," the paper states. "Strategy integrates retreat into long-term development goals and identifies why retreat should occur and, in doing so, influences where and when."

The billions of dollars spent to rebuild the Jersey Shore and to create dunes to protect from future storms after Superstorm Sandy in 2012 may be a waste if sea level rise inundates the entire coastline.

"There's a definite rhetoric of, 'We're going to build it back better. We're going to win. We're going to beat this. Something technological is going to come and it's going to save us,'" said A.R. Siders, an assistant professor with the disaster research center at the University of Delaware and lead author of the paper, to the New York Times. "It's like, let's step back and think for a minute. You're in a fight with the ocean. You're fighting to hold the ocean in place. Maybe that's not the battle we want to pick."

Rethinking retreat could make it a strategic, efficient, and equitable way to adapt to the climate crisis, the study says.

Dr. Siders pointed out that it has happened before. She noted that in the 1970s, the small town of Soldiers Grove, Wisconsin moved itself out of the flood plain after one too many floods. The community found and reoriented the business district to take advantage of highway traffic and powered it entirely with solar energy, as the New York Times reported.

That's an important lesson now that rising sea levels pose a catastrophic risk around the world. Nearly 75 percent of the world's cities are along shorelines. In the U.S. alone coastline communities make up nearly 40 percent of the population— more than 123 million people, which is why Siders and her research team are so forthright about the urgency and the complexities of their findings, according to Harvard Magazine.

Some of those complexities include, coordinating moves across city, state or even international lines; cultural and social considerations like the importance of burial grounds or ancestral lands; reparations for losses or damage to historic practices; long-term social and psychological consequences; financial incentives that often contradict environmental imperatives; and the critical importance of managing retreat in a way that protects vulnerable and poor populations and that doesn't exacerbate past injustices, as Harvard Magazine reported.

If communities could practice strategic retreats, the study says, doing so would not only reduce the need for people to choose among bad options, but also improve their circumstances.

"It's a lot to think about," said Siders to Harvard Magazine. "And there are going to be hard choices. It will hurt—I mean, we have to get from here to some new future state, and that transition is going to be hard.…But the longer we put off making these decisions, the worse it will get, and the harder the decisions will become."

To help the transition, the paper recommends improved access to climate-hazard maps so communities can make informed choices about risk. And, the maps need to be improved and updated regularly, the paper said as the New York Times reported.


"It's not that everywhere should retreat," said Dr. Siders to the New York Times. "It's that retreat should be an option. It should be a real viable option on the table that some places will need to use."

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