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We’re Fueling the Next Global Extinction

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EDITOR’S NOTE:&nbspThis article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To stay on top of important articles like these, sign up to receive the latest updates from TomDispatch.

Worlds end. Every day. We all die sooner or later. When you get to my age, it’s a subject that can’t help but be on your mind.

What’s unusual is this: It’s not just increasingly ancient folks like me who should be thinking such thoughts anymore. After all, worlds of a far larger sort end, too. It’s happened before. Ask the dinosaurs after that asteroid hit the Yucatán. Ask the life forms of the Permian era after what may have been the greatest volcanic uproar the planet ever experienced.

According to a recent UN global assessment report, up to 1 million (that’s 1,000,000!) species are now in danger of extinction, thanks largely to human actions. It’s part of what’s come to be called “the sixth extinction,” a term that makes the point all too clearly. Except in our ability to grasp (or avoid grasping) our seeming determination to wipe away this version of the world, we’re in good company. Five great moments of obliteration preceded us on Planet Earth.

And by the way, that impressive figure for endangered species should probably be upgraded to at least 1 million and one (1,000,001!). As anthropologist Richard Leakey said years ago, “Homo Sapiens might not only be the agent of the sixth extinction, but also risks being one of its victims.” In other words, it’s evidently not enough for us to turn ourselves into the modern equivalent of the asteroid that took down the dinosaurs, ending the Cretaceous period. It looks as if, in some future that seems ever closer, we might be our own asteroid, the one that will collapse human civilization as we’ve known it.

Planet on Fire

While there are deep mysteries in our present situation, its existence is—or at least should be—anything but a mystery. It’s not even news. After all, in 1965, more than half a century ago, a science advisory committee reported to President Lyndon Johnson with remarkable accuracy on the coming climate crisis. That analysis was based on the previous two centuries in which we humans had been burning fossil fuels in an ever more profligate manner to fashion and develop our way of life on, and command of, this planet. As one of those scientists told Bill Moyers, Johnson’s special assistant coordinating domestic policy, humanity had launched a “‘vast geophysical experiment.’ We were about to burn, within a few generations, the fossil fuels that had slowly accumulated in the earth over the past 500 million years.”





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