Sunday, March 22, 2015

The Sixth Extinction

“WTF is 'The Sixth Extinction' and why should I care?”

It is unclear who coined the phrase, “the sixth extinction.”  Elizabeth Kolbert published her book The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History last year, 2014.  In 1998, the American Museum of Natural History hammered a permanent plaque onto its floor memorializing the phrase.  And the most prominent paleoanthropologist in the world, Richard Leakey, published a book entitled The Sixth Extinction: Patterns of Life and the Future of Humankind in 1995.  So, while the phrase is sort of recent – no older than 20 years – it refers to what is called a “major extinction event” that began as long ago as 12,000 years (the advent of agriculture) or as recently as 300 years (the start of heavy industrialization) (experts argue over these things!).  And it refers to species extinctions at the hand of human beings, either intentionally or as a by-product of human activities.  To put it in perspective, the Fifth Extinction took place some 65,000,000 (65 million!) years ago, at the end of the Age of Dinosaurs (the Mesozoic Era – containing the Triassic, Jurassic, and Cretaceous Periods – from 250 million years ago to 65 million years ago), and the beginning of the Age of Mammals (the Cenozoic Era, from 65 million years ago to the present) which led to US.  To put even more perspective on it, the Sixth Extinction is happening at a faster rate (more species vanishing per year) than any of the other five major extinction events.

“So, OK, fella, so what?”

Virtually every species that you can view at your local (or non-local) Zoo is an endangered species.  As a matter of fact, you would be hard-pressed to name a species that is not endangered, or worse.  Except of course for our pets and our animal protein, our food.  And their future existence is not threatened so much because we love to bag big game on the African savannah, but because we humans continue to “develop” and settle more and more habitat, that used to be “wild” (not for them but for us).  In the language of the Third Reich, we seem always to need more and more “lebensraum” (loosely translated as elbow-room, literally translated as living space).

See the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species for an in-depth view of the state of the health of non-human life.  In the meantime, consider that every species extinction, every loss of biodiversity, brought about by humankind is a wake-up alarm crying, “Wake up fool, every species extinction brings you that much closer to your own extinction.”    I will not argue the point, I am content to let it fester in your subconscious.  And your conscience.

Our great-grand-children will all be vegetarians, and that is a good thing, a necessary thing.  For the record, I am NOT holier than thou, as I eat meat.  And they will have fewer children than we do; many will opt to have no children.  For the record, I am NOT holier than thou, as I have sired three children.

The planet needs fewer humans.  The sooner the better.  And not by violent death.  But by growing up as a species that is fit to survive.

Addendum: Tuesday 03/24/2015
So why is THIS piece in a political blog?  Ultimately, every BIG issue will be solved – or NOT – by the world’s governments, not by you and me working in isolation or in small groups.  Your recycling or your driving an electric car may make you feel good, and it may even earn you brownie points with the Big Guy upstairs, but neither really matters in the scheme of things.  If government does not intervene, we aren’t getting serious.  And in a working democracy, the people are responsible for the decisions of their government.

We are used to hearing about Climate Change, what used to be called Global Warming.  But Global Warming is just one out of a dozen environmental catastrophes that humans are inflicting on planet Earth.  Not to fear, the physical planet is not threatened by us; but life – animal life and human life – is threatened by day to day human activity.

So, Global Warming, the Sixth Extinction, the destruction of rain forests and coral reefs, deforestation, over-fishing and over-hunting, GMO (genetically modified organisms) foods, state- and nation-size droughts, the proliferation of indestructible waste; these are some of the problems that our success as a species is imposing on all of us because we are not paying attention to some of the real costs of our way of life.

Underlying them all are the unbounded success of technology, the world-wide spread of a middle-class lifestyle, and unchecked human population growth.  Can we roll the clock back?  No.  Do I think that we should or must?  No.  Can we continue down the path we are traveling now: moving forward without considering the costs?  No.  What must we do?  Face facts, get real, and make better long-term choices.  Simple?  No.  Necessary?  You bet your a**.

If we as a species don’t grow up and become 100% responsible for the consequences of our collective actions, our collective goose is cooked.  “When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things.”  1 Corinthians 13:11.

It's time.
Addendum: Monday, 10/20/2015
Hey, hey, hey, this just in, read all about it!  Are humans a bigger threat than climate change?  For whom is this news ... news?

Addendum: Saturday, 10/21/2017
I don’t know why this escaped me, but it did.  The central theme of Dan Brown’s 4th Robert Langdon thriller, Inferno (2013), is the Sixth Extinction.  Here is a video that encapsulates the thinking of the book’s unsung hero, Bertrand Zobrist (by the way, do NOT rent or watch the movie version of the film, as it is a betrayal of the book, even if it does have Dan Brown’s approval).