A gathering of the world’s top biologists says that half of the world’s species could become extinct by the end of the century, a result of the manmade mass extinction even that has already begun. Currently, 1 in 5 of the Earth’s species is currently at risk of extinction. According to the organizers of the Biological Extinction conference, which will be held at the Vatican on Monday, “The living fabric of the world is slipping through our fingers without our showing much sign of caring.”

They focused on lower profile extinctions that receive little attention, despite being vital to sourcing essential food and medicine, as well as purifying air and water, absorbing carbon emissions, and helping to regenerate soil.

According to Paul Ehrlich, a biologist from Stanford University in California:

“Rich western countries are now siphoning up the planet’s resources and destroying its ecosystems at an unprecedented rate. We want to build highways across the Serengeti to get more rare earth minerals for our cellphones. We grab all the fish from the sea, wreck the coral reefs and put carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. We have triggered a major extinction event. The question is: how do we stop it?”

The meeting at the Vatican is one in a series on ecological matters, deemed by Pope Francis to be an urgent issue for the Catholic church.

Economist Sir Partha Dasgupta, of Cambridge University said:

“We need to unravel the processes that led to the ills we are now facing. That is why the Vatican symposia involve natural and social scientists, as well as scholars from the humanities. That the symposia are being held at the Papal Academy is also symbolic. It shows that the ancient hostility between science and the church, at least on the issue of preserving Earth’s services, has been quelled.”

Ehrlich’s involvement has prompted protests from some conservative Catholics, who oppose his belief that birth control should be widely used to slow down rapid population growth. A petition calling for the pope to revoke his invitation has garnered 11,000 signatures, according to Ehrlich.

Ehrlich has stood by his assertion that lower population would benefit humans and life on Earth as a whole:

“If you value people, you want to have the maximum number you can support sustainably. You do not want almost 12 billion living unsustainably on Earth by the end of the century – with the result that civilization will collapse and there are only a few hundred survivors.”

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