Best of our wild blogs: 12 Aug 15

Jubilee Jubilations at the Sisters Islands Marine Park
Sisters' Island Marine Park

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Saving Singapore's native forests: Tony O' Dempsey

Nature Society member Tony O' Dempsey on how Islam informs his conservation work and what's wrong with perpetual economic growth.
Mrigaa Sethi SG Now 11 Aug 15;

The soft-spoken Australian first came to Singapore, by way of Malaysia, over 20 years ago on geographic information system projects. He never left. In recent years, he has become better-known as an avid cataloguer of Singapore’s native flora—he recently donated his photographs to the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum—and his conservation work through the Nature Society. Here, he tells us how he came to convert to Islam and why he’s so concerned about the native forests of Singapore

I come from the ulu area west of Brisbane. My family has a farm out in the grazing lands. My grandfather owned a sawmill in Ipswich. My father was a logging supervisor. He’d go out to assess a piece of forest, whether the species of trees were of commercial value. I used to walk around with him in the bush when I was five or six years old.

I picked up bush walking as a hobby, and I spent a lot of time in the wilderness areas of southeast Queensland for recreation. What I do here in the forest is just an extension of that.

Except here you can’t get in the bush and walk for days. Here, you’re just out in the bush for a few hours.

In reasonably flat areas like Singapore, you end up with swamp forests. And swamp forests are the most fascinating habitat you could possibly encounter, because the trees take on such different forms to survive. They grow different sorts of roots some of which loop up above the ground sometimes up to 20 meters from the tree.

Everything is reduced and compressed here. You think of Singapore as a country, but it’s really just a city. The capital of Australia is Canberra, which is a city. But the capital of Singapore is Shenton Way. Everything is scaled down here. So, the nature areas are smaller.

One thing is very special about Singapore: it’s one of only two major cities in the world that has a native forest growing in the middle of it. The only other one is in South America. We call it the green heart in the Red Dot. It’s value to the nation can only increase as time goes by, we need to retain the nature reserves in good condition for future generations.

I want to keep the forest in its original state. We’ve lost so much.

Bukit Timah Nature Reserve has a lot of condominiums built right up to the boundary of the Nature Reserve. Next thing, people complain about monkeys visiting them. Well, you can expect monkeys to visit you if you build on the land that they previously foraged on and nested in.

My interest in history came from my desire to explain why a particular forest type is growing in a particular spot. You start digging, and it becomes more and more interesting—pretty soon you’ve moved away from botany and you’re into the history of Southeast Asia.

When there’s an issue, NGOs like the Nature Society can’t communicate through the media effectively. Nobody can. They’re just looking for sound bites and sensationalism. If we want our position to be public, we have to write it and publish it ourselves.

In a few years, the population of Singapore is going to be living in concrete jungles within millimeters of each other.

If you don’t look after the nature reserve, it will vanish. Your population will have all sorts of problems associated with not having recreational opportunity. That could translate into social problems.

By putting a condominium next to a nature reserve, you’re effectively forcing the ecological boundary back. With all this noise, the animals shrink back. Light spills into the nature reserve, so you no longer have day and night. You have day and twilight. Animals that rely on darkness for their timings are not sure whether to come out or not. It screws up their whole lives.

Why are we increasing the population? To increase the GDP. Can we expect to increase the GDP year on year for the rest of our lives or for the next three centuries? Can every country in the world increase their GDP at the rate that they’re currently increasing? I don’t think so because the resources of this planet will not last.

Can we offer the quality of life that will attract people to come live here, or stay here as citizens, if you’re living wall to wall, shoulder to shoulder? Do we have the recreation space we need to mitigate the tight living space?

When I went to Malaysia over 20 years ago, I encountered Muslims. You don’t encounter Muslims in my part of Australia. I found them to be very gentle, quietly spoken people. By the time I ended up in Singapore, most of my circle was Malay. It was a natural thing for me to embrace Islam.

I take my religion very seriously. I’m learning to recite Quran in Arabic. But you have to learn what it means also, so there are teachers whom I follow, and I read extensively on the subject. Islam is a religion of knowledge and truth.

Islam is not the reason I’m a conservationist, but it informs my work. In the Quran, Allah informs us, “I will make mankind the vice regent of the Earth.”

The belief in Islam is that we are second in charge here. Our job as vice regents is not to screw with the balance [of nature] but to take what we need but nothing more.

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Most people here concerned about food waste: Poll

Feng Zengkun, Straits Times AsiaOne 11 Aug 15;

Nine out of 10 people here are concerned about Singapore's food waste, a new survey has found.

The majority also want food and beverage (F&B) companies here to donate their unsold and near-expiry food that is safe to eat to the needy or sell it at a discount.

Students from the National University of Singapore's Chua Thian Poh Community Leadership Programme, working with new non-profit group Zero Waste SG, conducted the online survey from February to April this year.

It was completed by about 430 people aged between 16 and 72 with monthly household incomes ranging from less than $3,000 to more than $12,000.

More than nine in 10 said F&B companies here need to do more to reduce food waste. Last year, Singapore threw away 788,600 tonnes of food, of which only about 13 per cent was recycled.

The discarded food was a slight improvement over 2013's 796,000 tonnes, but still a sharp increase from the 703,200 tonnes in 2012.

The survey respondents also wanted to know more about how brands such as NTUC FairPrice, BreadTalk, McDonald's and Cold Storage reduce their food waste.

Many said they would support a company that did its part to cut down on waste. About eight in 10 would help publicise such efforts, while seven in 10 would buy more of the company's food or visit its outlets more often if it did this.

Zero Waste SG executive director Eugene Tay said: "Food and beverage companies should be proactive in addressing consumers' interest and reduce food wastage.

"One of the things they can do immediately is to donate unsold food to charities such as Food Bank and Food from the Heart."

NTUC FairPrice said that at its FairPrice Xtra outlets, when fruits and vegetables are left unsold due to blemishes, the supermarket chain cuts them into smaller pieces or trims them, then repackages and sells them at lower prices.

It also marks down the prices of seafood and chilled meats at all stores after they have been displayed for a day. It donates unsold but edible canned food to the community through Food from the Heart, and is exploring turning food waste into compost.

Supermarket chain Sheng Siong also sells fresh food with blemishes at a discount and uses food near expiry as ingredients in cooked meals for its staff, among other measures. A spokesman said that Sheng Siong has introduced more pre-packed fruits and food to prevent damage due to people touching and handling them: "For example, instead of bagging grapes, we now try to pack them in ventilated, transparent boxes."

McDonald's collects its used cooking oil and sells it to a recycling company to be made into soap and biodiesel. A spokesman said: "To minimise wastage, we adopt a 'cook in smaller quantities but cook more often' approach."

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Steps in place to save more water

Carolyn Khew, Straits Times AsiaOne 11 Aug 15;

Heavy water users here say they already had plans in place to lower their consumption, before a government plea last week for Singaporeans to be more prudent.

Last Monday, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan urged Singaporeans to use less as the water levels of Linggiu Reservoir dropped to a historic low.

Town councils told The Straits Times that they had already put in place water conservation plans following the dry spell last year, and would continue to monitor the situation.

The Linggiu Reservoir was built upstream of Malaysia's Johor River, so that it can collect and release rainwater to push seawater back into the sea, ensuring Singapore's water supply.

But since the start of this year, national water agency PUB has had to stop drawing water from the river temporarily on 77 occasions, due to seawater intruding from the sea.

Some town councils had implemented water conservation plans following the dry spell last year from Jan 13 to Feb 8 - one of the longest on record. They included reducing the frequency of block washing and reminding cleaners to reduce water wastage while cleaning common areas.

Activities that make up the bulk of their water usage include washing of common areas in apartment blocks, landscaped areas and multistorey carparks.

Jurong Town Council general manager Ho Thian Poh told The Straits Times that the council monitors how cleaners wash the common areas to prevent wastage, and they wash water tanks only when their water levels are low.

He added that the council will monitor the situation and if it becomes critical, "then we may review the frequency of washing".

Tampines Town Council chairman Baey Yam Keng said that his town council is also monitoring the situation and may start its "dry spell plan" if it does not improve.

"During the last dry spell, the town council restricted daily (high) pressure washing to certain locations," said Mr Baey.

Other non-domestic users such as petrol station car-wash operators and industrial firms are also watching their water usage.

ExxonMobil said that it carries out daily checks for leaks and water wastage. "Our car-wash operators use mainly pressure jets for their operations, which use less water," a spokesman said.

"We also regularly remind all the service station workers and car-wash operators to ensure the prudent use of water resources."

Dr Cecilia Tortajada, a senior research fellow from the Institute of Water Policy at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, noted that the last time Singapore increased water tariffs was in 2000.

"It may be time to adjust them once again so that users are aware of the importance of practising water conservation," she said.

"Water prices are increased all over the world, not only in Singapore, with the same objective."

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Many partygoers took care not to leave trash behind: Volunteers

Feng Zengkun Straits Times AsiaOne 11 Aug 15;

Madam Ewe Peggy, 63, and Madam Shirley Lai, 63, volunteers from the Singapore Glove Project picking up trash at the Esplanade during the National Day Parade preview

Singapore's 50th birthday bash on Sunday brought out the best in many people as they picked up their rubbish and urged others to do the same.

Clean-up volunteers at the Padang and the Marina Bay area also said that many partygoers were mindful not to leave their trash behind, although there were some litterbugs.

The National Day Parade 2015 organising committee estimated that cleaners picked up about 12 tonnes of rubbish from the Padang and The Float @ Marina Bay after the parade. About 13 tonnes was picked up at The Float and F1 Pit Building after last year's parade.

Mr Jonathan Lim, 33, an administrative officer, was among a 180-strong team from the World Mission Society Church of God that spread out across Marina Bay on Sunday with trash bags to encourage people to keep the area clean.

"The rubbish bins in some places were already full and people were so happy and willing to come up to us to throw away their trash," said Mr Lim. Working from 3pm to about 10pm, the team filled about 1,000 medium and large bags.

Public Hygiene Council volunteer Low Joo Kek, 58, an aviation operations manager, said the Padang "was not too bad" after the event "although there was still room for improvement".

Students Tan Jie Ying, 17, and Ang Ye Xiang, 14, were among the people who cleaned up after themselves at the Padang. "We are just doing our part for a clean Singapore," they said.

IT coordinator Daryl Teo, 49, collected all of his family's rubbish in a plastic bag before leaving the stands at The Float.

"This is our country and this is a public place. It's just the right thing to do," he said.

About 90 cleaners were deployed at the Padang, floating platform and Marina Bay to clean up the areas.

Boxes were also placed at entry and exit points around the Padang and the floating platform to make it easier for people to throw away their rubbish.

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Heavy rain across Singapore brings high water levels

According to a post by the National Environment Agency (NEA) on Twitter at 2.17am, “heavy thundery showers with gusty wind” was expected over northern, eastern and central areas between 2.25am and 3.15am.
Channel NewsAsia 12 Aug 15;

SINGAPORE: Heavy rain in the early hours of Wednesday morning (Aug 12) caused water levels to rise above normal across Singapore.

One Channel NewsAsia reporter said that at about 2.15am, water levels rose above the kerb throughout the estate and main road around Tampines Street 32. The heavy rain in the East started at about 1.30am, and subsided by around 2.45am.

According to a post by the National Environment Agency (NEA) on Twitter at 2.17am, “heavy thundery showers with gusty wind” was expected over northern, eastern and central areas between 2.25am and 3.15am.

At 5.42am, NEA said the “light to moderate rain” would be clearing in the early morning.

Earlier on Tuesday, "widespread flooding" was also reported by students at the Nanyang Technological University (NTU). Heavy rain reportedly started at about 1.40pm in the afternoon, and the area at NTU’s North Spine was one of the areas affected.

In July, the National Environment Agency (NEA) said that short-duration thundery showers due to strong solar heating of land areas are likely on four to six days in the first fortnight of August. These were expected to take place mostly in the late morning and early afternoon.

In addition, thundery showers with gusty winds due to Sumatra squalls can be expected on two or three days in the morning, said NEA, with most of the thundery showers are expected in the first week of August. It added that dry and warm conditions with maximum temperatures of around 34°Celsius can be expected in the latter half of the fortnight.

This comes after hot weather and below-average rainfall was predicted for July.

- CNA/ek

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Malaysia: Plant and animal species on Mount Kinabalu evolving

RUBEN SARIO The Star 12 Aug 15;

KOTA KINABALU: Mount Kinabalu is a hotbed of evolution, an extensive Malaysian-Dutch scientific expedition has determined.

The 2012 expedition, the findings of which were published in the Aug 12 issue of Nature magazine, involved the Dutch Naturalis Biodiversity Centre and Sabah Parks researchers.

It showed that new plant and animal species have been evolving on the 4,095m mountain.

“It is thought that tropical mountains are locations where very old species survive. However, our research reveals that most of the species are young,” said Naturalis scientist Menno Schilthuizen.

He said the study involved collecting tens of thousands of plants, animals and mushrooms including ferns, mosses, orchids, snails, leeches, insects, spiders and frogs at 37 locations on and around Mount Kinabalu.

Schilthuizen said they then used DNA sampling to determine which plant and animal species unique to the mountain had in fact evolved.

They found that most of the species that occurred on Mount Kinabalu were in fact younger than the mountain itself.

“We also found that the endemic biodiversity consists of two groups.

“Some of the unique species are immigrants from faraway areas such as the Himalayas or China, which were already adapted to a cool environment,” Schilthuizen said.

The other endemic plants and creatures evolved from the local species that occurred at the foot of the mountain and gradually adapted to the cooler climate, Schilthuizen added.

“Our research has revealed the extent to which species are able to evolve to keep up with climate change and this allows us to make predictions for the future,” he said, adding that this was all the more reason for the protection of endemic species.

Schilthuizen said like other tropical mountains, Mount Kinabalu was exceptionally high in biodiversity.

“There is an exceptional number of species on the mountain due to the variations in temperature and environment in the different elevations,” he said.

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Malaysia: Sabah sees growth in protected areas through heart of Borneo

New Straits Times 11 Aug 15;

SANDAKAN: Sabah has doubled the ‘Totally Protected Areas’ from 800,000 hectares to 1.55 million hectares, about 21 per cent of the state, since the inception of the Heart of Borneo (HoB) initiative in 2007.

Sabah deputy state secretary Datuk Joseph Guntavid said the areas include the classification of new Class One Protection Forest Reserves, totalling some 137,000 hectares in the HoB linking key conservation areas such as the Danum Valley, Imbak Canyon and Maliau Basin.

“The State Government has also pledged to further increase its Totally Protected Areas to 30 percent or 2.1 million hectares of the state’s total land area over the next 10 years,” he said at the opening ceremony of the Ninth HoB Trilateral Meeting, officiated by Deputy Minister of Natural Resources and Environment Datuk Ir. Hamim Samuri here, today.

The HoB initiative is a government-led and NGO-supported programme initiated by a joint declaration by the governments of Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei in 2007.

Joseph added that the State Government has set aside 53 percent or about 3.9 million hectares of the state’s land mass as protected areas in the form of forest reserves, state parks, wildlife sanctuaries and conservation areas.

Joseph, who is Sabah HoB Committee Chairman, said much has been accomplished in the state through the HoB, including awareness raising through the annual HoB conference.

He said other outcomes for Sabah include the rehabilitation of about 3,500 hectares of degraded forest corridors, documentation of biodiversity through scientific expeditions in 18 forest reserves and the establishment of 19 field outposts within the HoB landscape for wildlife monitoring and to tackle forest encroachment.

“The future plans are to continue with these activities with greater emphasis on public awareness to avoid forest biodiversity loss, develop ecotourism attractions within the HoB for local benefit and to promote institutional linkages in existing and future protected areas,” he said.

Joseph said the initiative aims to conserve and efficiently manage rich biodiversity within 22 million hectares of tropical rainforests in Borneo.

He said Sabah has designated about four million hectares or 18 percent of Borneo’s total HoB area for various land uses. --Bernama

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Indonesia: 1,692 hot spots detected in Kalimantan 11 Aug 15;

The government is planning to induce rainfall over Kalimantan as the NOAA-18 satellite has found 1,692 hot spots in the area in the last eight months, an agency stated on Tuesday.

The National Disaster Mitigation Agency’s (BNPB) emergency director J. Tambunan said that some 36 percent or 616 of the hotspots were in West Kalimantan.

“We predict the atmosphere for Kalimantan, especially for West Kalimantan, will be dry,” Tambunan said as quoted by

The rainfall has been declining since July 2015. The phenomenon increased the number of hot spots up to 230 areas in West Kalimantan.

This dry condition has been predicted to continue for the next few months. To minimize the hot spots, the government will try various things, such as modifying the weather through artificial rain.

The weather modification technology (TMC) is a benefit of the synergy between the BNPB and the Assessment and Application of Technology Agency (BPPT) Artificial Rain Technical Unit of the Environment Affairs and Forestry Ministry.

“Based on our experience last year, forest fires occurred during the August to October term in West Kalimantan. We will do the TMC operation to minimize the hot spots, which tend to increase,” Tambunan added.

The TMC operation in West Kalimantan would be applied for two months with the main post in Supadio Airport. BPPT will post some staff at two meteorology control posts in Sekadau and Teraju. (edn)(++++)

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Indonesia: Prolonged drought takes farmers’ jobs, but not their will to work

Slamet Susanto, The Jakarta Post 11 Aug 15;

Farmers in Galur, Kulonprogo, Yogyakarta, have refused to surrender to the severe drought that has parched their rice fields and are instead taking advantage of the soil to use it as material to make bricks.

“We dig and gather the layer of clay as material to make bricks,” said Sutrisno, of Nomporejo village, Galur district, Kulonprogo.

The clay is then sold at between Rp 70,000 (US$5) and Rp 100,000 for each pickup truck.

A pickup truck of clay is usually derived from digging between 10 and 20 square meters of land, depending on the depth dug.

“My farm is around 2,550 square meters and can produce 100 pickup trucks of clay. The amount is quite decent, rather than leaving the land idle,” said Sutrisno.

Currently, hundreds of hectares of farmland in various areas in Yogyakarta have dried up and cannot grow crops. Apart from farmers in Kulonprogo, those in Piyungan district, Bantul regency, Yogyakarta, are also adapting to the drought by making bricks.

Farmer Saryanto claimed he produced bricks every dry season and could produce between 5,000 and 10,000 bricks each drought.

He said he could earn Rp 700,000 from selling 1,000 bricks. “The proceeds can be used for our children’s schooling,” said Saryanto.

Meanwhile, in Bali, the drought affecting hundreds of hectares of rice fields in East Selemadeg district, Tabanan regency, has prompted farmers in the area to seek other jobs.

“The drought has damaged 30 hectares of my rice fields and I’m confused as how to earn a living,” farmer Wayan Madya was quoted by Antara as saying on Monday.

He added residents in Bongan hamlet, where most of them are farmers, would lose their employment as they rely solely on their farms.

“The drought in our village recurs annually and this year is the fifth time,” said Wayan.

He claimed that during the drought, the farmers stop tilling their fields, but seek other jobs, such as construction work.

“I and my colleagues work as construction laborers and earn daily wages,” said Wayan.

Around 800 hectares of rice fields in East Selemadeg, Tabanan, have been hit by drought for the last couple of months. The local farmers feared crop failure if the drought continues.

“The rain has not fallen for the past two months. Our fields are currently facing drought, which could trigger crop failure,” said I Nengah Nuada of Bongan hamlet, East Selemadeg district, located 50 kilometers from the provincial capital Denpasar, adding that all he can do is resign himself to his fate due.

In West Java, as many as 671 villages have been declared to be in a state of drought emergency, says a local official.

“Based on the coordinated meeting last night and our verification, we have currently set 671 villages and 132 districts in West Java in the emergency status,” said West Java Disaster Mitigation Agency (BPBD) emergency section head Budiman.

He added 16 out of 27 regencies and cities in the province had been declared to be in an emergency as of now.

They are Sukabumi, Indramayu, Tasikmalaya, Bogor, Bandung, Pangandaran, Garut, Kuningan, Cirebon, Cianjur, Bekasi, Karawang, Sumedang and Ciamis regencies and Tasikmalaya and Bogor cities.

The Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) has recently warned that the dry season this year could last longer than that of previous years because of the weather phenomenon known as El Niño.

The BMKG predicts that the El Niño effect will extend Indonesia’s dry season, which normally takes place between April and September, until November, and affect 18 out of the country’s 34 provinces, including North Sumatra, West Java, Central Java, East Java, West Nusa Tenggara and East Nusa Tenggara.

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Thailand: Environment Ministry encourages people to refrain from using plastic bags

Thai Visa News 11 Aug 15;

BANGKOK, 11 August 2015 (NNT)-The Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment is encouraging people to refrain from using plastic bags and foam containers one day every month.

According to Natural Resources and Environment Minister General Daopong Rattanasuwan, the Department of Environmental Quality Promotion and 16 private companies have launched a campaign urging people to stop using plastic bags and foam boxes.

People are encouraged to follow the advice, which is aimed at promoting the use of cloth bags, one day a month beginning on August 15th and on the 15th day of every month thereafter. The Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment will monitor the use of plastic bags every two months in the beginning and assess the success of the scheme every 4 months.

The campaign will be introduced 2-3 days a week instead of once a month if public responses are positive. The Natural Resources and Environment Minister said plastic bags are very popular items among cities and large communities as they are easy to use.

As the bags are discarded shortly after use, Thai people need to be aware of their impact on the environment. Thailand could lower the use of plastic bags by as many as 1 million a day if everyone use of just one fewer plastic bag a day.

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During mass extinction, no species safe: study

Dominant species spread across the globe are just as vulnerable during a mass extinction event as more fragile ones, which could be bad news for humans, researchers say
Marlowe Hood AFP Yahoo News 12 Aug 15;

Paris (AFP) - Dominant species spread across the globe are just as vulnerable during a mass extinction event as more fragile ones confined to a single locale, according to a study published Tuesday.

As Earth enters the sixth such concentrated annihilation of life over the last half-billion years, this could be bad news for humans, the researchers say.

The last major wipeout occurred 66 million years ago when a giant asteroid put a relatively quick end to the age of dinosaurs after their spectacular 150 million-year run.

By comparison, humans have been around for about one tenth of one percent of that time.

Outside of these moments of planetary upheaval -- each of which decimated 50 to 95 percent of life forms -- species tend to disappear at a steady "background" rate that has varied remarkably little.

During the previous big five extinction, however, that rate increased by at least 100-fold.

And that's about where we are today.

"Rates of extinction amongst modern animal groups are as high, if not higher, than those we see in the fossil records during times of mass extinction," comments Alexander Dunhill, a professor at the University of Leeds, and lead author of the study.

Most mass die-offs were associated with climate change, itself triggered by some cataclysmic event -- a massive, continental-scale rupturing of volcanoes in the case of the Triassic-Jurassic juncture 200 million years ago.

"Organisms are unable to adapt quick enough to rapidly changing conditions and thus become extinct," Dunhill said.

Looking at the fossil record of land-living animals around the Triassic-Jurassic event -- in which 80 percent of species ceased to exist -- Dunhill and colleague Matthew Wills asked whether geographically far-flung creatures fared better.

The answer, published in the peer-reviewed journal Nature Communication, was "no".

"Wider geographical range conferred greater resilience ... throughout most of the Triassic and Jurassic," the study concludes.

"However, this insurance weakened towards the end of the Triassic, and was imperceptible during the mass extinction itself."

Thus, the age of giant amphibious reptiles and crocodile-like creatures gave way to the dinosaurs, which in turn yielded to small mammals and birds when their time was up.

Will the same "rule" apply to species alive today, including our own?

There are disquieting parallels, Dunhill said.

The volcanic effusion 200 million years ago spewed vast amounts of CO2 and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, causing rapid -- and deadly -- global warming.

"In effect, we are creating the same conditions today via human activity, only on a more rapid timescale," he said.

"Adding to that, human-caused habitat destruction and general exploitation of the natural environment is also a major driving force of extinction today."

Humans may be more resourceful and resilient than any creatures to have slithered, walked or swum across the planet.

"You could say that we have altered our habitat so much that we may well be exempt from such evolutionary process," Dunhill said.

"But most of the world's population is still heavily dependent on the natural world for food, water and energy," he added.

"Massive and rapid upheavals in the natural environment will certainly impact humans in a negative way."

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