The Sixth Extinction & The Anthropocene

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“For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places. All these are the beginning of sorrows. Because of this, the earth will mourn; the skies above will grow dark.”   

– from King James Bible     

Watching the above photo of a fisherman facing the pain of this great grief of death around him due to the warming oceans of his Island home, and reading Per Espen Stoknes post on the ‘Great Grief’ in which he admonishes us to mourn our loss of the Earth:

Contact with the pain of the world, however, does not only bring grief but can also open the heart to reach out to all things still living. It holds the potential to break open the psychic numbing. Maybe there is also community to be found among like-hearted people, among those who also can admit they’ve been touched by this “Great Grief,” feeling the Earth’s sorrow, each in their own way. Not just individual mourning is needed, but a shared process that leads onwards to public re-engagement in cultural solutions.

It’s as if we are witnesses, ahead of time to our own death, mourning our own burials and of the animals and insects, creatures of the oceans, lakes, and rivers; along with plants and other life-forms that we share the planet with in which many are full of such denial of both the Sixth Extinction and Climate and Civilizational collapse that even to acknowledge the truth has become their greatest crime and self-incriminating act of irrational thought and behavior. One imagines as more and more of the Sixth Extinction takes on actuality and becomes undeniable that humans will enter both a period of anger and resentment, and then a final stage of mourning and both social and… let’s face it irrational, awe and shock at the truth of their limits and finitude…

I remember Arthur C. Clarke’s novel Childhood’s End, recently made into a TV series – now on imdb, in which humans after a short generation of utopian life are brought to the realization that Earth will shortly be annihilated, only the children are saved… families begin to accept their fate, while others as expected grind their teeth in sheer unbelief and denial… the difference between Clarke and this: we are now living it… its not fiction, anymore… and, yet, only a few of us see it for what it is, the rest will remain in denial for a long while…

In her book ‘The Sixth Extinction,’ by Elizabeth Kolbert writes, we are witnessing a similar mass extinction event happening in the geologic blink of an eye. According to E. O. Wilson, the present extinction rate in the tropics is “on the order of 10,000 times greater than the naturally occurring background extinction rate” and will reduce biological diversity to its lowest level since the last great extinction.

The earth’s water cycle is being dangerously disturbed, as warmer oceans evaporate more water vapor into the air. Warmer air holds more moisture (there has been an astonishing 4 percent increase in global humidity in just the last 30 years) and funnels it toward landmasses, where it is released in much larger downpours, causing larger and more frequent floods and mudslides.

As Scientific American stated in their review of her work: Of all the species to have ever lived on earth, more than 90 percent are thought to be extinct. Most of them perished sometime over the past half a billion years, in one of the five major mass extinctions that have profoundly reshaped the world. Kolbert, a contributing writer for the New Yorker, argues that we are now in the midst of a sixth extinction, one distressingly of our own making. Part travelogue, part exegesis of extinction’s history and literature, each chapter focuses on a single already vanished or critically endangered species and the scientists who study it, revealing a planetary crisis through heartrending close-up portraits of the Sumatran rhinoceros, the little brown bat, the Panamanian golden frog and other unlucky creatures. Fittingly, the book closes with a short chapter on Homo sapiens and an unflinching refusal to sugarcoat the ways we have broken our world.
“We tend to think about extinction as loss of a species from the face of Earth, and that’s very important, but there’s a loss of critical ecosystem functioning in which animals play a central role that we need to pay attention to as well,” Dirzo said. “Ironically, we have long considered that defaunation is a cryptic phenomenon, but I think we will end up with a situation that is non-cryptic because of the increasingly obvious consequences to the planet and to human wellbeing.”
Most of us worry about day to day survival, wars, our children, the economy, the political corruption, etc…. and, such larger issues as Climate Change, Sixth Extinctions, etc. barely even register upon our psyches much less have an impact on the way we live… that is, unless we are already sold on what is happening; the vast majority, if they do know, are good at hiding it from themselves and everyone else. Climate and Extinction denial seem part of the state of reactionary rhetoric on the right, so that the truth is denied outright as some Leftist propaganda or political fiction to sway the masses… this will not always be the case though, no… someday in the near future they will no longer be able to deny the oceans rising round their New York City mansions or their Island homes in the Caribbean, or other luxury spots around the world. No, then it will be far too late to acknowledge the truth.

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