What Have We Done to the Earth? On ‘The Sixth Extinction’
By Adam Boretz
I never cease to marvel at the human ability to ignore inconvenient truths.
Present us with a fact that is not to our liking — smoking cigarettes causes cancer; it’s pretty much impossible for an invading army to win a land war in Afghanistan; the music of Bon Jovi is simply offensive — and we just tune it out.
Which, of course, brings us to Elizabeth Kolbert’s The Sixth Extinction — and the biggest truth we want to ignore/deny: that human behavior is bringing environmental apocalypse to planet Earth.
It’s important to remember that massive environmental destruction is now a foregone conclusion: even if our “leaders” could get it together and implement every proposed environmental protection, we’d still be pretty fucked. It’s now a question of when, not if — a fact that makes we wonder about our current appetite for post-apocalyptic novels: are we drawn to these books not for their fictions, but for their previews of our distant future, of the world our children and children’s children will inherit?
To my surprise, I found The Sixth Extinction somewhat reassuring. In clear, deft prose, Kolbert details the species we have lost and are going to lose, along with the planet’s history of mass extinctions: there have been five prior to the current one, which is a direct result of our impact on planet Earth. While The Sixth Extinction isn’t an easy or fun read, being presented with facts, science, and context is a refreshing change to the histrionic environmental discourse found online – a discourse that pretty much amounts to various memes expressing either:
(a) climate change is happening and is too terrible for me to really think/learn about so here is a picture of a pretty river and a environmentally conscious catchphrase; or
(b) climate change isn’t happening and is just a big lie so here is picture of President Obama and an overtly racist catchphrase.
But, perhaps what I found most reassuring about The Sixth Extinction is how the Earth has recovered after its previous mass extinctions. Sure many species were lost forever, sure the destruction was apocalyptic, sure it often took millions or years, but the Earth endured. Which means that after we bring destruction upon ourselves, in the 7.59 billion years before our planet is consumed by the sun, life on Earth will most likely endure, recover, change, adapt, and – in a way — be reborn. And I (clearly in the minority on this one) have always been more concerned with the fate of the Earth and its non-human occupants than that of humanity.
Here’s another — although significantly less important — inconvenient truth: Jay Cutler is not a very good quarterback.
Last week, Ryan send me an email with a link to an article titled “The Stats Don’t Lie: Jay Cutler Is Outplaying Aaron Rogers.” There’s a lot one could say about the sad desperation of that article, but I think I will just leave it with some stats from today’s loss to Denver: