Endangered Species DayEarlier this month, the U.S. Senate passed a resolution declaring Friday, May 21, Endangered Species Day. The support was unanimous. The resolution “encourages the people of the United States to become educated about and aware of threats to species, success stories in species recovery and the opportunity to promote species conservation worldwide and to observe the day with appropriate ceremonies and activities.”

According to the Huffington Post, “this year will be the 5th annual Endangered Species Day. Every year, parks, wildlife refuges, zoos, aquariums, botanical gardens, museums, libraries, schools, scout troops, and community organizations hold Endangered Species Day events on the third Friday of May.” This year is no different, and there will be special events held throughout the country.

There is a greater sense of urgency on Endangered Species Day 2010. A recent report by the United Nations sees possible mass extinctions in the planet’s near future. According to the London Times, the U.N.’s third annual Global Biodiversity Outlook found that a third of species could face extinction this century. The Times also cited a study by the International Union for Conservation of Nature which found that “21 percent of all known mammals, 30 percent of amphibians, 35 percent of invertebrates and 70 percent of plants” are endangered.

What’s behind this impending ecological disaster? Mostly, we are.

The U.N. report clearly states the “five principal pressures directly driving biodiversity loss (habitat change, overexploitation, pollution, invasive alien species, and climate change) are either constant or increasing in intensity.” We are responsible for all of this. “Humans are continuing their exploitation of the planet and other species,” says National Public Radio’s Paul Raeburn, “and it’s contributing to what some scientists have called the sixth extinction, a mass extinction similar in size to the one that ended the reign of the dinosaurs.” Climate change may be the biggest culprit, as 89 percent of the nations who contributed to the U.N. report identified climate change as the main problem facing endangered species.

So what are we doing about it? Not much. According to Raeburn, “A decade ago, world leaders set 21 goals to meet by 2010 to protect the world’s biological diversity, and here’s how well we’ve done: None of the 21 goals, not even one, has been met on a global scale.”

Humanity continues to dither, and wildlife continues to die. Some may think we are somehow separate, but that kind of thinking is deeply flawed. “Humanity has fabricated the illusion that somehow we can get by without biodiversity, or that it is somehow peripheral to our contemporary world,” says Achim Steiner, executive director of the U.N. Environment Program. “The truth is we need it more than ever on a planet of six billion heading to over nine billion people by 2050.” Production of food and medicine, as well as access to fresh water, are all at risk due to disruptions in the Earth’s biodiversity. No wonder U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says, “The consequences of this collective failure, if it is not quickly corrected, will be severe for us all.”

So what are we, as individuals, to do? The Endangered Species Coalition has several suggestions of what people can do the help stop extinction. Particularly useful are the 10 Easy things you can do at home to protect endangered species. And of course, there are countless Endangered Species Day events happening all across the country.

Photo Credit: Endangered Species Coalition