Holocene Extinction

The Holocene Extinction

The World Wildlife Fund’s comprehensive list of endangered species has long been a rich resource of ecological guilt trips for us humans. Resplendent with the common and scientific names of the cornucopia of species that humanity has nearly nudged out of the spotlight of existence, the list gives us a very tangible reminder of the cost of our expansive and luxurious way of using and discarding of, as we call them, our “resources”. Indeed, the mere term we all use to describe, erm, the rest of the planet does seem to lead straight back to Genesis and our apparent “dominion over earth.” While the jury is still out on whether or not that means “domination” or “stewardship”, we all seem to have taken the former to the bank and, furthermore, taken a mortgage out against it.

As if we didn’t already know this, it seems the results are in! According to a widely co-authored article that appeared in Science Advances months ago, the Earth has entered her sixth period of mass extinction, her first since the dinosaurs, ahem, bit the dust over 65 million years ago. The study points out that extinction rates have increased about eightfold since the dawn of the 20th century and that, if no evasive action is taken on behalf of the humans, they too will be wiped out by a sudden lack of biodiversity!

Look, I don’t mean to poke fun at a noble group of scientists trying to make the case for species conservation. From what I have read and gathered from those more qualified to judge than myself, it’s a very convincing and well conducted study that has received paltry criticism and rebuke. It’s just a little funny to see the following headline show up on the ever entertaining, never a disappointment “trending” component of your Facebook page: “Holocene Extinction: Study Says World in Midst of 6th Period of Mass Extinction.” Thank you Mr. Zuckerberg, but this is old news.

The term Anthropocene, which refers to the ecological period of Earth’s history where human influence has had a significant global impact on the planet’s ecosystems was coined all the way back in 2000 by Paul Crutzen and Eugene Stoermer. One of the logical and necessary elements of this definition is the undeniable (and undeniably tragic) species depletion caused by human activity. The real tragedy of the Anthropocene and Earth’s 6th period of mass extinction is that they will most likely be met with crossed arms and a skeptical glare from those who matter most. Thanks to the modern obsession with continuity and always being right from the start, our policy makers have their hands tide by their stalwart opposition to a message we’ve heard from the environmental lobby for decades: human activity and prosperity comes at the cost of species diversity and ecological stability. At this point, we all know what’s up. The fact remains: no one wants to see some idiot flailing a pair of flip flops in the air at a political rally.

As for the publication Science Advances, don’t sweat it! I myself am constantly, if not habitually late to parties.