Is Extinction True?

The word about the Holocene Extinction, AKA the Sixth Mass Extinction, is beginning to spread. Lowbrow naysayers have linked together unrelated studies with the attitude, “Here we go again…” Others dismiss the work of the research team by casting aspersions on Paul Ehlrich, who has produced fatalistic studies in the past (which still hold relevant truths). A fair and informative interview with head researcher Gerardo Ceballos can be found at this link:

Given the naysayers are pooh-poohing the extinction for self gratification, the mariner feels certain that industries and reactionaries who have vested interests in keeping culture and economy the way it is, prefer nothing should change and will take delaying actions beyond the naysayers skepticism.

No one can predict with certainty how long the extinction process will take. This makes it easy for many to sit by the side of the road and wait to see what happens. “Waiting” is self destructive. No one wants to give up automobiles for enforced mass transit; utilities don’t want to shut down electrical plants in favor of distributed non-fossil fuel electricity; the coal industry doesn’t want to be banished; the magic of fracking, which isn’t magic and is a dirty industrial process, doesn’t want tightly controlled regulations that will cut into profits; households still want strawberries in grocery stores in January; travel destinations don’t want transportation restricted; households and industries don’t want to be relocated to restore an endangered habitat….ad infinitum.

The only point that no one except politicians seems to challenge is that global warming is happening increasingly fast. There is too much data to refute that. How fast is a matter of conjecture but it is easy to get into a conversation like, “I remember crabbing for Maryland crabs; I took home a bushel in one day!” The mariner knows firsthand that doesn’t happen anymore. He’s sure the reader can think of a personal comparison where wildlife was more plentiful, beaches were pristine, and water birds, seals and otters weren’t covered in crude oil.

Remember the Passenger Pigeon? It was by far the most numerous bird species in North America at the turn of the 1900’s. There were billions of them across all of North America. Deforestation and commercial hunting wiped out the Passenger Pigeon. The last one died in a zoo in 1914. The Passenger Pigeon is an example of how Homo sapiens expedites mass extinction. In the post, Advocacy at Home – Specie Ecology, posted earlier this month, the mariner provided a list of endangered animals that went on for pages. The mariner provides again a short quote from the Cree Indians:

“Only when the last tree has died, the last river been poisoned, and the last fish been caught will we realize we cannot eat money.”

As Naomi Klein says in her book, This Changes Everything, the Earth’s biosphere is not a for-profit issue. The world’s cultures and priorities must turn away from capitalistic solutions and reinvest – at cost – in the biosphere for our own survival.

The mariner leaves this issue for awhile. Like yeast in bread, the idea of mass extinction needs time to rise. He asks only that the reader pay attention to the news and magazine articles that discuss global warming, water shortage, weather energy and changes to the oceans, polar ice, and disappearing creatures because humans have destroyed their habitat.

Ancient Mariner

Civilization’s Link to Global Climate

In his effort to imagine what the experience of approaching extinction would be, that is, how and why seemingly stable cultures collapse; the mariner began looking for reasons why significant societies had failed in the past. Quickly, after reading studies from climatologists, anthropologists and language historians, he first had to learn what permitted societies to emerge.

The common opinion from many experts in many disciplines, is that modern humans (Homo sapiens) were stuck in Africa because of the ice age. Paleoclimatologist J.P. Steffensen in the January 7, 2002 issue of The New Yorker Magazine commented: “You can ask, why didn’t human beings make civilization fifty thousand years ago? You know that they had just as big brains as we have today.

When you put it in a climatic framework, you can say, “Well, it was the ice age. And also, this ice age was so climatically unstable that each time you had the beginning of a culture they had to move. Then came the present interglacial– ten thousand years of very stable climate. The perfect conditions for agriculture. If you look at it, it’s amazing. Civilizations in Persia, in China, and in India start at the same time, maybe six thousand years ago. They all developed writing and they all developed religion and they all built cities, all at the same time, because the climate was stable. I think that if the climate would have been stable fifty thousand years ago it would have started then. But they had no chance.”

The nuance of Steffensen’s comment is that, all along, humans were as dependent on global climate as any other creature. The advancement of human society through nomadic, agricultural, industrial, and modern periods has always been taught with the nuance that humans grew in sophistication and it was their independent intelligence that lifted them from the past ages. Steffensen implies that it was simply a stable global climate in which to have the human experience.

One would think that our brains should not have taken 10,000 years to move from grubbing for roots to growing roots, to canning roots, to making altered roots. However, there were those distractions:  war, predation, unlimited population growth, not replacing parts of the Earth we borrowed like water, dysfunctional environments left behind, lust, and unbeknown, thereby disrupting the global climate – the real reason our species is in trouble. 10,000 years was long enough to forget our place in the Earth’s command of life.

Heavy stuff. The mariner will continue another time.

Ancient Mariner