Mollusk Fossil and Computer  …when we need him prior to the Sixth Extinction?

And it’s one, two, three,
What are we waiting for ?
Just ask me, there is a reason,
Next stop is Extinction;
And it’s five, six, seven,
Open up the pearly gates,
While there is still time to wonder why,
We exclaim they are all gonna die!

The reason I usually don’t like post-apocalyptic movies such as The Matrix is that given the apparent destruction of wild nature what difference does it make rather a handful of humans survive or not? Part of what makes us human is the other creatures with whom we share the planet. According to Elizabeth Kolbert in The Sixth Extinction, An Unnatural History, “one-third of all reef-building corals, a third of all fresh-water mollusks, a third of sharks and rays, a quarter of all mammals, a fifth of all reptiles, and a sixth of all birds are headed toward oblivion.” And that is just in the near future. If the planet keeps warming and precipitation patterns alter as expected, it will only get worse.

Kolbert takes her readers through a history of extinction from the Ordovician (444 million years ago) to the 19th century when scientists began to come to terms with the idea that some of our fellow creatures had fallen from the evolutionary path. She offers up other important ideas such as the extinction rate has increased as humans have accidentally introduced new species of rats to fragile environments like islands where the newcomers destroy every defenseless creature they come across. The sheer number of species disappearing in our time is enough to leave a permanent mark in the geologic record.

I don’t know if climate change deniers also deny the sudden drop off of other creatures. In the face of overwhelming observational and statistical evidence, if the climate deniers have not yet also started denying the truth of species loss, they will likely do so any time now. The facts are that atmospheric carbon pollution and ocean acidification are driving coral ecosystems out of existence. Fungus infections are wiping our amphibians and bats. Some mammal and bird species move uphill to find cooler conditions but find less and less space since the land area of mountain tops is less than that at a mountain’s base.

The ecological concept of biomes (environments defined by dominant plant and animal species) is being replaced by “anthromes” (environments dominated by humans). The world of large animal biology (mice and bigger) is becoming simpler, that is, fewer different types of creatures as time goes on. Kolbert does not leave us with much hope: “The Sixth Extinction will continue to determine the course of life long after everything people have written and painted and built has been ground into dust and giant rats have—or have not—inherited the earth.”

It seems to me that when all other creatures worth hunting and killing are gone we will have only ourselves left for that purpose. The mutually hating fundamentalists of all religions have a lot to look forward to.

<Mollusk fossil and computer. Photo by dlw.>

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