Bearing Witness to Extinction

as published on CounterPunch.org

“Extinction is the rule. Survival is the exception.”

– Carl Sagan

“To argue that the current extinction event could be averted if people just cared more and were willing to make more sacrifices is not wrong, exactly; still, it misses the point. It doesn’t much matter whether people care or don’t care. What matters is that people change the world. This capacity predates modernity.”

– Elizabeth Kolbert, The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History

Wild Outer Mongolian Takhi – photo by Terry Fitch of Wild Horse Freedom Federation

According to a study by the WWF the earth has lost over half of its wildlife in just 40 years. A staggering statistic that should shake every conscious person to their core. Each of us is a witness to this Great Dying, the sixth mass extinction, the last one being 65 million years ago which wiped out the dinosaurs. Yet despite overwhelming evidence of a rapidly crashing biosphere many leaders, if not most, in the privileged global north seem oblivious or apathetic to the carnage. All around the planet wildlife populations are in a free fall, from birds to amphibians to mammals to marine life to insects. But today the interests of capital not only dominate our economic, media and political order, they dominate our consciousness.

The Latin meaning for homo sapiens is “wise man.” But as I ponder our precarious position on the precipice of the Sixth Mass Extinction I cannot help but be struck by its glaring irony. Standing in a cemetery crowded with the bones of countless species I am left with little room to marvel at our cleverness. The magicians and merchants of corporate consumerism have fostered this pernicious disconnection from the natural world and have created a labyrinth of distractions and doubts that numb the senses to our own looming demise. It is a difficult box to break free from. Insipid optimism is demanded of all subjects of the global corporate kingdom. Those who defy it are often derided or ridiculed as alarmists. Sometimes they are rendered invisible. It is a kind of optimism that eschews facts. A cult of thinking that chides anyone who dares look at things as they truly are.

But to deny the ecocide unfolding before us today is a feat of astounding absurdity. And it should be clear to anyone paying attention that this is not a natural event. Human beings have become a force of nature. And an extraction and exploitation economy, that benefits fewer and fewer people each year, has created the conditions that are leading toward the collapse of the biosphere on which we all depend. Thanks to decades of indoctrination, however, we have been meticulously trained to ignore, downplay or rebrand capitalism, a planet killing ideology, which separates living beings into worthiness categories for the wealth accumulation of a few. It has ushered in an age where when one species is decimated another “previously less desirable” one is turned to for unbridled exploitation. Haddock, cod and tuna were ruthlessly harvested until their numbers crashed catastrophically, so fish like farmed tilapia were “up marketed” to replace them. And this is not only true of fish populations.

Biodiverse forests are scraped away for more profitable monocropslike palm oil with the result being a catastrophic loss of habitat for scores of species like the endangered orangutan.  Mountaintops are blown to smithereens and once pristine streams are buried under tons of toxic ash for mere minutes of electricity. Plastics continue to be manufactured for one use while the detritus lasts millennia, dumped into the world’s oceans by the truckload every minute of every day, choking hundreds of thousands of species of birds, turtles, whales and other marine life. Indigenous habitats are sponged off the landscape to make room for squalid factory farms that sentence millions of sentient beings to a life of unimaginable terror, cruelty and gruesome horror all to meet the demand for cheap and unhealthy fast food. And the ever untouchable war industry continues to decimate wildlife. In fact, the US military has been cited as one of the world’s biggest polluter and contributor to global climate change.

But ours is a culture that encourages denial, obfuscation and distraction. It relies on our indifference and uses it to rob us of our collective agency. After all, paying attention might cause us to question aloud the entire premise on which this madness is based and demand radical systemic and societal change. The choice, however, is ultimately ours. We can continue to avert our gaze from the looming chaos and believe the lie fed to us that we are separate or even superior to the lifeweb that envelopes this planet. We can sleepwalk toward extinction with a shopping bag in one hand and the latest smartphone in the other. Or we can acknowledge sorrow as a natural response to catastrophe. In grief we make a choice to not only honour the countless species that have already been lost, but to oppose the ongoing carnage, recognize our part in it especially in the global north, and realize we too are subject to extinction. It is in no way accepting things as they are or giving up; and it is not a solitary affair either.

Stepping into our grief is indeed bearing witness to the monstrous crime of ecocide. It is a bold act of defiance to a culture of denial, distraction and death. Grief is the beginning of transformation. And acknowledging it with sincerity lends a voice of testimony that can lead toward revolutionary dissent. It is the only coherent answer to an imposed and unnatural extinction. But it is also a rallying cry for solidarity and rebellion. Indeed, this may be the last chance we have left to make a stand on a dying world.

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5 comments

  1. Kindred Spirits and a Global Battle

    Kindred Spirits

    From ANIMALS AUSTRALIA

    Sheep trade is finished…”

    Sydney Morning Herald, December 2018

    This was a very welcome media headline to end what has been a huge year in our efforts to end live
    After 50 years of condemning animals to unconscionable cruelty — after half a century of thinking their secrets would stay hidden at sea — the live sheep export industry’s days are well and truly numbered.
    They’re numbered because compassionate and determined people have refused to stay silent.
    Because, day and night, for eight months, you have answered our call for help every time we found a strategic opportunity to fuel this campaign for the animals onwards.

    Now, as a result of our collective efforts, live exporters no longer enjoy majority political support. Two additional live export bills were introduced to the Federal Parliament during the final parliamentary sitting week, sending a striking message from a powerful new cross-bench straight to the Morrison government that this issue is more palpable than ever, and will not go away.

    These are your voices, your emails, your phone calls, your letters, being echoed by your political representatives.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you for sharing this excellent post, R.T.

    I have often wondered what people several hundred years from now will look back on regarding this critical time we are living in. It will probably be in shame of their ancestors, as they stand in wall to wall concrete, with only sterile silence in the environment.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Well, looking back at the previous several hundred years? The shame of what was done to the Native Americans, the African Americans, the slaughter of wolves, mountain lions, bison? I guess we can understand how they will feel, right?

      I hope & pray that there are enough of us who love the environment we live in to stop the current push to destroy it.

      Liked by 1 person

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