Normalizing Extinction

IMG_1190A few years back I had the good fortune of visiting the rainforest in a remote part of Panama. I stayed in a small cabin at an ecolodge with the warm waters of the Caribbean Sea just steps away. There were no televisions, no internet access, and no phones or electricity, except in the main house. In back of the lodge was a trail that meandered through a dense forest brimming with tree frogs, sloths, iguanas, leaf cutter ants, and countless species of birds hopping from branch to branch. Just a couple feet into the water and I counted dozens of bright orange sea stars. And at night the sea shore came alive with biolumeniscent dinoflagellates, who would respond to my flashlight signals in short bursts of blue-green neon. The abundance of life in that tiny corner of the world crowded out most signals of modern civilization.

IMG_1195But, as with any trip like this, I eventually had to return home where the reality of “The Great Dying” is everywhere. Like climate change, the Sixth Mass Extinction, is not a hyperbolic, political trope. It is, in fact, the death of all complex forms of life on earth, including our own species, at our own hands. And by all accounts, with mass die offs from bees to salmon to frogs, it is in full swing. Elizabeth Kolbert, author of “The Sixth Extinction” makes this plain:

“If we assume, very conservatively, that there are two million species in the tropical rainforests, this means that something like five thousand species are being lost each year. This comes to roughly fourteen species a day, or one every hundred minutes.” (1)

Yet in the midst of this tremendous catastrophe, the magicians of our consumer society continue to normalize the carnage. Indeed, under the economic model of global capitalism all life, human and non, is measured by its ability to produce or create material wealth for a select, privileged few. It is a system that encourages both amnesia and indifference. So it is unsurprising that mass species extinction barely registers on its radar unless their profit line is effected. This is how over fishing, clear-cutting acres of virgin forests and piercing the Arctic seabed for oil, like a fiendish vampire, can all be justified and even celebrated as “growing the economy.” As long as it produces intangible numbers that indicate wealth, it is all fair game. And in the mean time it manages to numb our senses to the spiral of death that is beginning to engulf us.

Photo Jason Hawkes National Geographic

Garbage and sewage chokes a river. Source Getty
I often go back to places like that rain forest in Panama in my mind when I feel hollowed out from the alienating sterility of industrial society. It is a sacred place in my memory. A part of me never wishes to actually return there, because I fear that, like so many other wild places, I will be struck by the cruel realities of a world under siege.   I fear my own memory of all the creatures that are no longer there.  But this is not how the story should end.  In his article “Against Forgetting” Derrick Jensen urges us to do just that:

“But here is what I want you to do: I want you to go outside. I want you to listen to the (disappearing) frogs, to watch the (disappearing) fireflies. Even if you’re in a city—especially if you’re in a city—I want you to picture the land as it was before the land was built over. I want you to research who lived there. I want you to feel how it was then, feel how it wants to be. I want you to begin keeping a calendar of who you see and when: the first day each year you see buttercups, the first day frogs start singing, the last day you see robins in the fall, the first day for grasshoppers. In short, I want you to pay attention.

If you do this, your baseline will stop declining, because you’ll have a record of what’s being lost.”

 

These species at the very least deserve the recollection of their existence; and the only way to break free from the indifferent paralysis imposed on us from an apathetic, self-absorbed culture is to remember, and mourn and take action.  Indeed, the catastrophe unfolding around us can be overwhelming; and we may not be able to hold back the enormous tide of destruction coming our way. But we have a choice. We can step into our grief, feel the pain and use it to deepen us and our capacity for compassion. Or we can sleepwalk through it all into oblivion, normalizing the cruel madness, as the dominant culture encourages us to do. One way has the potential to lead us to meaning and enrich our lives no matter what the outcome. But the other will surely deaden our souls and lead us to our doom.
Panama by Kenn Orphan
Kenn Orphan 2015

(1) “The Sixth Extinction” by Elizabeth Kolbert at Amazon:
http://www.amazon.com/The-Sixth-Extinction-Unnatural-History/dp/1250062187

(2) “Against Forgetting” by Derrick Jensen.  http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/science/2013/07/decline_of_wildlife_in_america_where_have_all_the_animals_gone.html

 


6 thoughts on “Normalizing Extinction

  1. Jacobson et al — appropriately named The Solutions Project . org
    Well researched, thorough, plans for all 50 states are complete and plans for additional 139 countries are being produced. We need a committed, international effort — that means we need a grassroots movement to help motivate the political will to act.

    Powering the World With Wind, Water, and Sunlight: Mark Jacobson at TEDxPaloAltoHighSchool less than 17 minutes

    Dr. Mark Z. Jacobson, Stanford:
    … testified three times for the U.S. Congress. Nearly a thousand researchers have used computer models he has developed. 2005: American Meteorological Society Henry G. Houghton Award for “significant contributions to modeling aerosol chemistry and to understanding the role of soot and other carbon particles on climate.” 2013: received an American Geophysical Union Ascent Award for “his dominating role in the development of models to identify the role of black carbon in climate change” and the Global Green Policy Design Award for the “design of analysis and policy framework to envision a future powered by renewable energy.” He has also served on the Energy Efficiency and Renewables advisory committee to the U.S. Secretary of Energy.”

    Frequently-Asked Questions (FAQs) About 100% Wind, Water, and Sunlight (WWS) All-Sector Energy Plans for the 50 United States

    “Q: What is the purpose of these plans?
    A: The purpose of these plans is to provide policy makers and the public with a technically- and economically-feasible pathway toward a sustainable, secure, and reliable energy infrastructure that eliminates health and environmental problems due to air, water, and soil pollution and global warming. The plans, if implemented, will result in long-term energy stability, energy price stability, human and environmental health, job growth, and energy security.

    Q: Why don’t the plans include power generation from nuclear energy plants?
    A: Nuclear energy is not included in the solution because it results in 9-25 times more carbon and air pollution than does wind energy per unit energy produced, partly due to the fossil energy used to mine and refine uranium continuously during the plant’s life, partly due to the construction of the plant, and partly due to the fact that the time between planning and operation of a new nuclear facility is 10-19 years, whereas that of the proposed technologies (wind, water, and sunlight) is much less, generally 2-5 years for wind and solar, resulting in opportunity-cost emissions from the background fossil-fuel energy sector during the period that nuclear is waiting to come online. In addition, nuclear poses catastrophic risks due to the historic worldwide relationship between nuclear energy facilities and nuclear weapons proliferation and due to nuclear reactor accidents. Further, in the U.S., radioactive waste currently accumulates at nuclear energy facilities, and no plan exists to store that waste permanently.”
    http://web.stanford.edu/group/efmh/jacobson/Articles/I/FAQsUSStates.pdf

    Link for WWS energy plans
    http://www.stanford.edu/group/efmh/jacobson/Articles/I/WWS-50-USState-plans.html

    Like

  2. Great article Ken. Thanks for the Jensen link. Your articles touch me, and make me sad – but I love the truth, and at least I can grieve with you and others who are awake to all that we are losing. I have not given up, and will fight as best I can until my death – but I know how heavy the odds are for our extinction. I wish it could be otherwise, but I want to die knowing the truth and not evading or denying it. Thanks for all your efforts.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. In Dec. World Leaders are to meet in Paris to discuss Global Warming, at issue is the amount of greenhouse gases we our emitting, and their plan of action.

    “A greenhouse gas is any gaseous compound in the atmosphere that is capable of absorbing infrared radiation, thereby trapping and holding heat in the atmosphere. By increasing the heat in the atmosphere, greenhouse gases are responsible for the greenhouse effect, which ultimately leads to global warming.” Live Science

    Globally we our emitting 40 – 50 Billion Toxic Tons a Year.

    The United States emitted 6.8 Billion Toxic Tons in 2014

    In the 1850s – 1870s parts per million of Carbon in our atmosphere was between 260 – 280.

    In the 1980s, there was 350 ppm of Carbon.

    2015 – 404 ppm in Our Atmosphere.

    We just passed the 1C. base line Temp. Rise !

    India, Pakistan, Japan, and the Middle East, Record Breaking, Heat Killing Waves !

    The Pacific Ocean is 3 – 8 degrees warmer than Normal.

    Massive Salmon, Starfish, Sea Lions, and Bird Die-Offs, On the Pacific Coasts.

    The Jet Stream is acting like a balloon that is loosing air.

    The Arctic Ice and Snow may be gone at the end of this Summer. A Huge Natural Cooler for the Northern Hemisphere, that man or woman have never lived without !

    How long will Greenland keep the Northern Hemisphere Cool ?

    The meeting in Paris, should be about Closing the Fossil Fuel Faucet.

    “Professor Chris Field is bullshitting the planet. On whether 1.5C is still feasible” Kevin Hester

    “The message is already clear, that if the world does want to strive to limit warming to 1.5C or less, we don’t have very much of the carbon budget left.” Professeor Chris Field

    “There is no carbon budget any more and 5C is baked in according to both Shell petroleum and the International Energy Authority. ” Kevin Hester

    “Chris Field is the founding director of the Carnegie Institution’s department of global ecology and professor for interdisciplinary environmental studies at Stanford University. He is the co-chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) working group two (WGII) and US nominee for the chair of the IPCC.”
    With people like this driving the IPCC you can see why we are all done for.” Kevin Hester.

    There is No Carbon Budget

    California emitted 459 Toxic Tons of Carbon Dioxide in 2014.

    Gov Browns call to reduce this to 1990 levels so we can continue to emit over 400 million Toxic Tons a year, will not help us stop or slow down Global Warming and Sea Levels Rising.

    “Updates to the 2020 Limit.
    Calculation of the original 1990 limit approved in 2007 was revised using the scientifically updated IPCC 2007 fourth assessment report (AR4) global warming potentials, to 431 MMTCO2e. Thus the 2020 GHG emissions limit established in response to AB 32 is now slightly higher than the 427 MMTCO2e in the initial Scoping Plan.” Ca. Gov. Data

    What will the Temp. be at 415 ppm ?

    “Ice sheets contain enormous quantities of frozen water. If the Greenland Ice Sheet melted, scientists estimate that sea level would rise about 6 meters (20 feet). If the Antarctic Ice Sheet melted, sea level would rise by about 60 meters (200 feet).” National Snow and Ice Data Center.

    When will Sea Level Rise to 220 – 300 Feet ? 2020 ? 2025 ? ?

    What will the ppm of Carbon be when this happens ?

    As of Now, they are talking about capping GHGs at 450 ppm.

    What will the Temp. be at 450 ppm ?

    We must transition to 100% Renewable Energy

    Implement a California Residential and Commercial Feed in Tariff.

    California Residential Feed in Tariff would allow homeowners to sell their Renewable Energy to the utility, protecting our communities from, Global Warming, Poison Water, Grid Failures, Natural Disasters, Toxic Natural Gas and Oil Fracking.

    A California Commercial FiT in Los Angeles, Palo Alto, an Sacramento Ca. are operating NOW, paying the Business Person 17 cents cents per kilowatt hour.

    Sign and Share this petition for a California Residential Feed in Tariff.
    http://signon.org/sign/let-california-home-owners

    Liked by 2 people

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