Our dear old earth has experienced five major extinctions of its flora and fauna. Remember your college geology class? Those eras when major groups of animals just disappeared all of a sudden (“sudden” in geological terms). There was the Great Extinction in the Permian era, when 96 percent of animal species went extinct. Everything you see now is descended from the other four percent. Including us.
And thanks to the popular press, everybody knows about the Tertiary-Cretaceous extinction that felled the dinosaurs. Presumably caused by a big meteor that struck the earth near today’s Yucatan Peninsula.
We’re right in the midst of a another major extinction. It’s not a big meteor this time. The meteor is us.
They’re calling it the Anthropocene period, the age of humans. We’re modifying our planet in ways that natural forces did in past eras. We’re changing the atmosphere by releasing our waste gases into it. We're re-routing our streams and rivers and leaving them toxic. Oceans themselves are increasingly acidic. Our forests and grasslands are being lost. One of the consequences of these changes is that animal and plant species are going extinct at a rapid rate.
You would think that people would view these changes with alarm, wouldn’t you? But our leaders seem to be brushing this information aside, under the table, under the rug. What does it take to focus attention on the consequences of these changes? I share the frustration of my ecologist colleagues.
I recall the movie “Captains Courageous,” when Jackie Cooper was about to toss a bucket of waste overboard, and Spencer Tracy told him, “spit first.” When the wind brought his spit came back in his face, Cooper moved to the opposite side of the boat to dump his bucket.
That’s my recommendation, too. Before you dump waste or clear a forest or dam a river – spit first.
January 29, 2015
BTW - I enjoyed reading "The Sixth Extinction" by Elizabeth Kolbert. Available at America's book store. Should be required reading.
“When you are up to your ass in alligators, it’s hard to remember that your objective was to drain the swamp.” – Source unknown.