As has been mentioned in these dispatches previously, the planet is now in the early stages of its sixth mass extinction event, and humans are indeed responsible, according to yet another published study, this one in Science. According to the study, large vertebrate animals (megafauna), which include elephants and polar bears, face the steepest decline since they require large habitats and are targeted by human hunters. The loss of megafauna places ecosystems off balance and leads to consequences like massive rodent infestations that proceed to impact the well-being and stability of a large segment of species, including humans. The study highlights how the particularly steep decline of megafauna we are seeing now is characteristic of all the previous mass extinction events.
Yet, despite all the horrors we have created, we are still doing precisely what we know will be ultimately destructive. Denial! Denial! We are still accepting a cultural value that annihilates the Earth. If we don’t change, we are going to our own extinction. This is precisely what addicts do. Addicts—in other words most of our society—pretend there’s nothing wrong. As they laugh and talk and plan, they deny their dying souls. That’s what we’re doing to the planet. We fight about things that won’t matter if we are extinct.
What we see and what we cannot yet see, what we know and cannot yet know, become the edge places from which we create new ways for humanity to live as part of our Earth community, weaving from the frayed edges of what we leave behind a bridge to the potential and possibilities of what we can become. These qualities and abilities enable us to do a dance of co-creation, visioning and building the future out of and together with what exists today.
When I began writing this article, a friend of mine had recently entered hospice. While I was finishing the article, my friend died. She was not in the same town as I, but during the past month, we had been able to speak by phone several times a week. Given my friend’s decline and death and its impact on me, I was not taken aback by Daniel Drumright’s essay “The Irreconcilable Acceptance Of Near-Term Extinction,” posted last week on Guy McPherson’s Nature Bats Last blog.
Climate change is real, and it is human-caused. We engender climate change in different ways—overpopulation, using fossil fuels, and above all, by consuming. Before the advent of industrial civilization, humans used to consume, for the most part, what they actually needed. Today, consuming has become an addiction. In answer to McPherson’s question, “What underlies our drive to consume?” I would answer: the profound emptiness that inhabits the psyches of human beings in the modern, industrial world. Yes, many aspects of the industrial living arrangement force us to consume, but whenever those aspects are threatened by any talk of creating different living arrangements because those arrangements are creating climate change, both the politician and the ordinary citizen begin recoiling in terror. In other words, we consume voraciously because we cannot imagine another, more satisfying way of life, and we know that if we do not maintain our consumption-saturated lifestyles, we will be forced to confront our sense of emptiness and lack of meaning.
About a decade ago I realized we were putting the finishing touches on our own extinction party, with the party probably over by 2030. During the intervening period I’ve seen nothing to sway this belief, and much evidence to reinforce it. Yet the protests, ridicule, and hate mail reach a fervent pitch when I speak or write about the potential for near-term extinction of Homo sapiens.
“We’re too intelligent.”
“We’ll find a way out. We always do.”