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the sixth extinction: the current decline in global species, which follows the five previous mass extinctions from millions of years ago 

We've come to the end of a year at the end of a decade. If it had a color, it'd be green. Its signature image? How about that of the plight of the polar bears — former kings of the wild floating on big ice cubes in open water, the result of melting ice caps, a resonating image for climate change. Sad, yes, but what does a polar bear have to do with us? Author Jeff Corwin, in a piece for the Los Angeles Times last month, warned of the rapid extinction of global species (one every 20 minutes, or 50 percent by the end of the century), including the polar bear. One must also consider the role these species — from the cuddly otter to exotic, foreign insects — play in their ecosystems and how those ecosystems relate to ours. Consider the honeybee: Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported losses of 29 percent of bee colonies from September 2008 to April 2009. If bees, victims of climate change, can't pollinate, then humankind, which relies on it, is at risk. That's a depressing note to end the aughts — a decade we have spent trying to figure out what we did wrong and what's to blame: Global warming? Overpopulation? SUVs? McDonald's? Coal mining? Everything else? But now, as Corwin suggests, we can stand before the sixth extinction (you know, the one after the dinosaurs), focusing on the light at the end of the tunnel and what we should be doing right. — Alex Woodward

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