Sunday, February 13, 2011

Sixth / Seventh Major Mass Extinction: why I'm a Green.

An edited version of this post is featured on Witchvox in May, 2011:

I wrote this post in response so many of the articles appearing now that undeniably prove our ecosystem is swiftly tiling into something our species has never experienced and has little chance of surviving. It also serves to explain my motives for why I have always been a Green witch, even before I joined the Green Party, and why I fight so hard to make the Green Party policies around the world a reality.

When I was training as a petroleum engineer in University in the late 80's, we were already referring to the present era as the "Seventh (or Sixth) Major Mass Extinction".  (There is some debate in the Earth Sciences whether there have been five or six mass extinctions in the fossil record. There are hundreds of minor mass extinctions in the past, of course, and it is a case of scale, or percentage, to call some periods major mass extinction events or just hiccups. I've always been of the Six Major Mass Extinction School myself... )  However, the evidence has been in for decades about the species loss rate, and geologists have known about it for all that time. Why the data is finally making it out now instead of earlier is the same reason that that 'climate change' or peak oil didn't hit the public radar until a few years ago: because laypersons, especially government, simply won't believe it. So when I was in Earth Sciences, I learned back then what would most likely happen around the world when peak oil, climate change and mass extinction met, and I took particular interest in the extrapolations for Canada.  We studied the current climate change and peak oil as simply a reality in the 80's. The current models that prominent scientists are now announcing are the scaled down versions, by the way. It's much worse than that, and will happen far faster. That's why mass extinctions are called 'events.' Because they happen so fast.

Climate change and peak oil are theories the way evolution and gravity are called theories: so that it can be changed or thrown out in the unlikely event that data shows up to contradict it, but we need to act as though it is a proven fact. We know about how climate change works because paleoclimatologists have spent over a century, using better and more sophisticated techniques, studying how our climates have altered in the past, and correlating them with carbon and oxygen in the atmosphere, temperature, and compared wind speed, storm frequency and strengths, and other factors. The earth's climate is always altering, only never before due to intelligent intervention as far as we know, and the fossil record shows clearly what will happen when dramatic shifts occur in atmospheric carbon and other factors.

From such data, we also know that, once started, major mass extinctions, like climate change, are extremely hard to stop. When key species are destroyed, or even extremely reduced - they don't have to all die off to have a catastrophic effect - then the Domino Effect devastates whole areas. When it affects a large part of the planet and many, varied species, it's a major mass extinction event.

What most scientists haven't pointed out is that major mass extinctions leave usually less than 20% of the general population alive, mostly small animals. No large creatures survive a major mass extinction, since everything at the top of the food chain is destroyed. Now. I want you to imagine what this place will look like with nearly 80% of species gone, and no large or medium animals at all. Everything around you. All those plants, oh, except for that type of bush. And that bug. There are lots of those left. Oh, there is one type of river critter left, but humans can't eat it. That's why it's still around. 1 ,

Now, humans are at the top of the food chain (well, usually, but you get the idea) of a very species rich and diverse ecosystem, and as such, have very specific and complex nutritional needs. We are not a 'robust' species compared to, say, rats, for example, which can survive and thrive on just about anything. If you change our salt, humans get goiter and die. If we go even a few months without fresh plant material, and the correct ones, we get scurvy and die. You get the idea... So. With less than 20% of species remaining, how you will meet your nutritional needs? With no bees to pollinate our crops? Or hunt with no large or even medium sized animals left? We haven't physically adapted since discovering fire, except maybe in places like the far North where humans became carnivores to meet their needs, but that was after 30,000 years of everyone who couldn't survive on just meat dying slow, painful deaths, and unable to have children that could survive. *That's* what physically adapting means.

And don't think we can breed and adapt quickly enough if the environment changes as fast as we know it can. Speaking as someone who gave birth twice, it isn't easy, and it takes years before a child can fend for itself. Even with full time sexuality, we breed far more like whales or elephants or bears than rabbits or cats and dogs, and look how fast whales and elephants and bears become endangered, how vulnerable they are, and how long it takes to recover their numbers when devastated... Oh, yes, much of their population reduction has not only been due to habitat destruction; human hunting has played a large role. But that factor will affect our numbers as well. Wars? Those petty little skirmishes over boarders and territory and resources? That was nothing. Think about what will happen when resources aren't just scarce-they are going extinct. And increasing our defence budget won't help. In the end, those resources will still disappear, and the climate change will still wipe out nearly every species alive.

Arguably, there has never been an animal as smart as humans before, as far as we know, so that may alter the odds a bit. However, humans do not adapt to their environment. In fact, humans actually adapt other species and environment to best fit our own needs. Usually. In this case however, our tech is fighting a losing battle with the greatest force in the world: the world itself. And the odds are very much against us. For science and tech to win out, we'd have to place every bit of our non-essential resources and effort into finding a way to halt or even slow down our own destruction. Paleoclimatologists have been searching the fossil records frantically for decades to find a answer, since not all extinctions were major, and sometimes climate change was limited to certain areas or reversed itself. Perhaps our salvation lies in the planet's past, which will certainly become our future. But very few fund that work or any other that might help us. *That's* why Dr. Suzuki said that governments that ignore this impending doom should be put in jail for crimes against humanity. Not that it will help any, but it will indicate a change of mentality that could actually aid us in our fight to put a slowdown on our own species extinction.

All creatures die. I will die. My son, whom I just gave birth to, will die. Even all species eventually die out. It's only a matter of time, the average for an individual species being about one million years. But our species will flare in the blink of an eye, in geologic time, and then burn out, far faster than most do. And the best part is that it will be all our fault, unlike other mass extinctions... Just think about how many cultures have been destroyed since the 1600's. Now imagine no more human culture at all. Anywhere. No more art. No more history. Nothing. That is what extinction means, and it's completely different from our own individual deaths. And though it seems inevitable, I will do my damnest to push the odds just slightly more in our favour. That's one of the reasons I put my energy into the Greens...

Some people call me extreme, but I *know*, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that every mile you drive pushes us that much closer to extinction. That every burger you eat from Mickey De's, that every purchase of a cheap doo-dad made in China and imported for Wal-Mart, every bottled water you consume, is one more nail in our coffin that we can't recover from. That every pill swallowed unnecessarily, and that's most of them, is just a bit more of our precious oil permanently taken out of the cycle for our use. Every purchase I make, I seriously question whether I need it, REALLY need it, and I mean every single one, down to the most banal. And I look at the packaging. I have never owned or driven a car, and I live in a century-old house that is about 900 sq. ft for all four of us. I live like a retreater in my city, trying to be as close to the earth and use as much appropriate technology as I can, since we will need them in the very near future, and they use up far less resources than our current culture. You think that we will be wasting oil manufacturing pharmaceuticals in 20 years? I study herbalism, because we are going to need that knowledge again. I grow my own food and herbs and bake and cook with simple, local ingredients. And I memorize where I can, and make music, which is one of our most important unique features as a species. I don't have to work hard to remember how important all this is. I live it because I know it, and I am never swayed or distracted by trivialities or the promise of creature comforts. I am relentless, and I never compromise.

I'm an environmentalist and an activist, and yes, a Goddess Earth Worshipper, because I have to be. And we all need to be, in a very real sense, or we are all dead. We personally will all die, of course, but our children are all dead. And their children. And then there will be no more. Ever.

Make no mistake. We are not fighting for the survival of the polar bears or the whales or the rainforest. We are fighting for our own survival.  I comfort myself knowing that, of the 20% of species that will survive, life will continue on the earth, in some form. It simply will not be anything we can imagine, and it probably won't have consciousness and culture the way we do. And no one, nothing, will ever know that we came this way. I, for one, do not believe is for the best...