“We Are Speeding Extinction And Altering the Natural World”

For a long time, people just thought of biodiversity as saving nature for its own sake,” said Robert Watson, chairman of the group that conducted the assessment. “But this report makes clear the links between biodiversity and nature and things like food security and clean water in both rich and poor countries.” B. Plumer, The New York Times

ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post with Answer Key

Fishing nets and ropes are a frequent hazard for olive ridley sea turtles, seen on a beach in India’s Kerala state in January. Getty Images


Excerpt: Humans Are Speeding Extinction and Altering the Natural World at an ‘Unprecedented’ Pace, By Brad Plumer,

“Humans are transforming Earth’s natural landscapes so dramatically that as many as one million plant and animal species are now at risk of extinction, posing a dire threat to ecosystems that people all over the world depend on for their survival, a sweeping new United Nations assessment has concluded.

The Missouri River encroaches on homes in Sioux City, Iowa, during a 2011 flood Stocktrek Images: Media Bakery

The 1,500-page report, compiled by hundreds of international experts and based on thousands of scientific studies, is the most exhaustive look yet at the decline in biodiversity across the globe and the dangers that creates for human civilization.

A summary of its findings, which was approved by representatives from the United States and 131 other countries, was released Monday in Paris. The full report is set to be published this year.

Moe Flannery of the California Academy of Sciences inspected a dead gray whale in Tiburon, Calif., last month, one of seven whales that have washed up on shore. Huston Chronicle

Its conclusions are stark. In most major land habitats, from the savannas of Africa to the rain forests of South America, the average abundance of native plant and animal life has fallen by 20 percent or more, mainly over the past century. With the human population passing 7 billion, activities like farming, logging, poaching, fishing and mining are altering the natural world at a rate ‘unprecedented in human history.’

Cattle grazing on a tract of illegally cleared Amazon forest in Pará State, BrazilCreditLalo de Almeida for The New York Times.

At the same time, a new threat has emerged: Global warming has become a major driver of wildlife decline, the assessment found, by shifting or shrinking the local climates that many mammals, birds, insects, fish and plants evolved to survive in.

When combined with the other ways humans are damaging the environment, climate change is now pushing a growing number of species, such as the Bengal tiger, closer to extinction.

Volunteers collected trash in March in a mangrove forest in Brazil. MSN.com

As a result, biodiversity loss is projected to accelerate through 2050, particularly in the tropics, unless countries drastically step up their conservation efforts.

The report is not the first to paint a grim portrait of Earth’s ecosystems. But it goes further by detailing how closely human well-being is intertwined with the fate of other species.

Extinction is happening at 1,000 times the normal speed. Quartz

In the next two years, diplomats from around the world will gather for several meetings under the Convention on Biological Diversity, a global treaty, to discuss how they can step up their efforts at conservation. Yet even in the new report’s most optimistic scenario, through 2050 the world’s nations would only slow the decline of biodiversity — not stop it.”

ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post

NOTE: Lessons can also be used with native English speakers.

Level: Intermediate – Advanced

Language Skills: Reading, writing, and speaking. Vocabulary and grammar activities are included.

Time: Approximately 2 hours.

Materials: Student handout (from this lesson) and access to news article.

Objective: Students will read and discuss the article
with a focus on improving reading comprehension and improving oral skills. At the end of the lesson students will express their personal views on the topic through group work and writing.

I. Pre-Reading Activities

 Predictions: Analyzing headings and photos

Directions:  Have students  examine the titles of the post and of the actual article. After they examine the photos, ask students to create a list of  words and  ideas  that they think might be related to this article. 

II. While Reading Activities

Word Inference

Directions: Students are to infer the meanings of the words in bold taken from the article. They may use a dictionary, thesaurus, and Word Chart for assistance.

  1. Extinction is occurring at an unprecedented pace.
  2. As many as one million plant and animal species are at risk of extinction.
  3. The report is the most exhaustive look yet at the decline in biodiversity.
  4. A new threat has emerged, the decline of wildlife.
  5. Biodiversity loss is projected to accelerate through 2050.
  6. The report is not the first to paint a grim portrait of Earth’s ecosystems.
  7. As natural landscapes wither the services they provide to humans have been dwindling.
  8. The devastation of nature has become so severe, wildlife refuges will no longer be sufficient.
  9. All told, three-quarters of the world’s land area has been significantly altered by people.
  10. 85 percent of the world’s wetlands have vanished since the 18th century.

Word Map by Against the Oddstiff


Grammar Focus: Word -Recognition

Directions: Students choose the correct word to complete the sentences taken from the article. They are to choose from the options presented.

Humans/Human are produced/producing more food than ever, but land degradation is/are already harming/harmful agricultural productivity on 23 percent of the planet’s land area, the new/knew report said. The decline/declining of wild bees and other insects/insect that help pollinate fruits and vegetables is putting up to $577 billion in annual crop production at risk.

Reading Comprehension: Fill-ins

Directions: Place students in groups and after they have read the entire article, have them complete the following sentencestaken from the article. They can use the words and terms from the list provided, or provide their own terms. They are to find the meanings of any new vocabulary.

The ___rain forest ___immense ___of carbon dioxide and helps slow the pace of ___warming. Wetlands ___drinking water. Coral reefs ___tourism and fisheries in the Caribbean. Exotic tropical___form the basis of a variety of medicines. But as these___ landscapes___ and become less biologically rich, the services they can provide to ___have been dwindling.

WORD LIST: absorbs, sustain, quantities, plants, humans, Amazon, natural, wither, global, purify.


Discussion Questions for Comprehension /Writing

Directions: Place students in groups and have them discuss the following questions/statements. Afterwards, have the groups share their thoughts as a class. To reinforce the ideas, students can write an essay on one of the topics mentioned.

  1. According to the article, what activities have increased global biodiversity loss?
  2. Why could it become harder in the future to breed hardier crops and livestock?
  3. The article states that, “in addition to advocating the expansion of protected areas, the authors outline a vast array of changes aimed at limiting the drivers of biodiversity loss.” What will the following groups of people have to learn to do?  Farmers and ranchers; Consumers in wealthy countries;  Governments around the world.

Group Projects

Directions: Have groups visit the  Earth Day Network and do the following:

Make a list of ways each endangered species might be saved.

Create a list of things we can all do to help the environment.

Create  collages, graphs or pictures of endangered species.


Directions: Allow students 5 minutes to write down three new ideas they’ve learned about the topic from the reading,  two things they did not understand in the reading, and one thing they would like to know that the article did not mention. Review the responses as a class.