If current trends continue, one half of all species of life on Earth will be extinct in 100 years. — E.O. Wilson
What will people do?
After the garden is gone. — Neil Young
Something terrible is happening. Does anyone notice? A few do. In developed countries, only the more observant see it. From time to time, though, we hear about it in the media. We’re destroying the global ecosystem, our life support system.
Too easy to deny
So what? We don’t have to listen to that. Nothing’s happening here. Sure, there’s not as much open land, we hear about companies cutting down something called “old growth forests,” some animals have disappeared. Big deal, our lives go on about the same.
Okay, so there’s some stuff happening in far away places. Something about global warming, deforestation, water shortages. Sorry, but we don’t see it here.
Denial has its place. Sometimes it helps us cope with intense emotions.
But sometimes it kills us. (Consider the denial that one has a serious medical condition.)
Right now, as a species, we humans are flirting with the latter. Dismantle a life support system and, before you’re finished, what happens to the life it supports?
A topic to fight denial?
I was thinking about our collective denial of the environmental crisis we’re creating, when I read a blog post by Nicola-Frank Vachon at The Solemn Monkey. (To understand the title, see the very worthwhile video on the “About me” page.) Besides an artistic essay which led me to confront the thought of our own self-destruction, it featured the video below. From the Species Alliance, I think it’s remarkably persuasive in driving home its point about the huge surge in extinctions we’re seeing today.
Our earth has seen five prior waves of mass extinction, the last one having eliminated the dinosaurs. This “sixth extinction,” (pdf) as many scientists now refer to it, is the result of human activity with causes including climate change and deforestation. Key among the underlying drivers of those causes are, of course, the topics we examine here: human population growth, our growing rates of resource consumption, and the drive for unceasing economic growth.
The video made me wonder if the specter of mass extinction, especially when effectively presented, might be enough to break through some of our denial. I would think many people would sense intuitively that a world with half as many species as we now enjoy would be grimly impoverished. Would it be livable? I hope we don’t have to find out first hand. Does the subject of mass extinction have a unique place in our toolbox of ways to wake people up to the realities of our ecological crisis?
Other worthwhile sources:
[Update, May 4, 07:] Gone, Julia Whitty’s excellent article on species extinction for Mother Jones.
The Sixth Extinction (book), by Richard Leakey and Roger Lewin
The Sixth Extinction, by Niles Eldredge for ActionBioscience.org
Population-Biodiversity Linkage, from the Union of Concerned Scientists
The Real Biodiversity Crisis, by Philip S. Levin and Donald A. Levin, for American Scientist Online
What Can Be Done to Protect the Chimpanzees and Other Great Apes of Africa?, by Mellisa Thaxton, for the Population Reference Bureau
Also, see the Facts page at the Species Alliance site. Here are three of those facts:
• Every species of great ape on the Earth (gorillas, orangutans, chimpanzees, and bonobos) is in imminent danger of extiction. (United Nations, http://news.bbc.co.uk/)
• Every species of tiger on Earth is in imminent danger of extinction. (World Wildlife Fund, http://web.archive.org/)
• The number of lions left in Africa has fallen 90% in 20 years — there are now only 20,000 remaining. (BBC, http://news.bbc.co.uk/)