Elizabeth Kolbert’s The Sixth Extinction (published in 2014) reminds us that mass extinctions are not a novelty in Earth history;[1] and also that there have been some survivors of each of the five mass extinctions of the geological past.  In fact, primates were survivors of the last (i.e., fifth) mass extinction—termed the Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction event, and having occurred about 66 million years ago—and it is those primates that are our ancestors.

More recently, the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) has stated that:

Nature is declining globally at rates unprecedented in human history—and the rate of species extinctions is accelerating, with grave impacts on people around the world now likely . . . .

And:

The Report finds that around 1 million animal and plant species are now threatened with extinction, many within decades, more than ever before in human history.

In short, scientists, worldwide, are now in agreement that we are in a “sixth extinction” period!

A question that arises relative to that “1 million” figure is:

Will our species be among that 1,000,000 number?!

In addressing that question here, let me begin with a report published about a year ago in BioScience, titled “World Scientists’ Warning of a Climate Emergency,” and signed (to date) by “13,658 [scientists] from 156 countries.”[2] Among the statements made in that report are these:

Scientists have a moral obligation to clearly warn humanity of any catastrophic threat and to “tell it like it is.”  On the basis of this obligation and the graphical indicators presented below, we declare, with more than 11,000 scientist signatories from around the world, clearly and unequivocally that planet Earth is facing a climate emergency.

An immense increase of scale in endeavors to conserve our biosphere is needed to avoid untold suffering due to the climate crisis (IPCC 2018).

To secure a sustainable future, we must change how we live, in ways that improve the vital signs summarized by our graphs.

That last statement follows from their earlier statement that “The climate crisis is closely linked to excessive consumption of the wealthy lifestyle.  The most affluent countries are mainly responsible for the historical GHG [greenhouse gas] emissions and generally have the greatest per capita emissions (table S1).”   Although I agree with the statement that “we must change how we live,” I find that statement somewhat surprising, for two reasons:

  1. I would have expected them to write, rather, that we need to shift away from the main culprit associated with the global warming problem—our use of fossil fuels.
  2. Although changes in “how we live” have been the norm since the Neolithic Revolution (that began about 12,000 years ago), most of the societal changes that have occurred since then have not been the result of consciously-made plansRather, they have resulted from technological developments, for example.  And, it appears that there is a direction in human history,[3]—which suggests that  there are “forces” in operation that will make it difficult—even impossible!—to counter that direction!

For that reason, although, in this brief paper, I make a proposal that is consistent with the changing how we live “command,” I harbor virtually no hope that my proposal will ever be acted on.  Certainly I—as one who is 80, in poor health, and lacking in financial means—lack an ability to act on the proposal.

Because I see a direction in our history, one not seen, evidently, by those many scientists who have signed the BioScience report[4] and see that direction as being downward (!), their suggestion that “we must change how we live” strikes me as naive—and gives me reason to believe that our species is doomed!

But that’s not the only reason I have for believing that.  There are at least three other reasons, I believe, for being pessimistic about the human future.

First, there has been both “media silence” about global warming,[5] and “climate change denial” about it.    As an example of “media silence”:  Several years ago I sent an email to the lead meteorologist at one of the local television stations here in Milwaukee, asking why I never heard any of the weather reporters there mention “global warming” in their reports.  Surprisingly, I did receive a response, it being that they were forbidden to do so!

Now if a huge segment of our adult population is either ill-informed or misinformed about global warming, there will be little pressure put on our “leaders” to address the problem.  And there hasn’t been!

Second, though, one wonders if it would have mattered if the media had been informing the public honestly about global warming and the threat to our continued existence posed by it.  A primary feature of modern societies is the presence of diversions.  What makes their presence necessary is that modern ways of life are unnatural[6] and, therefore, require coping behaviors on the part of their “inmates”!  The various diversions that exist in our society not only help many of us, at least, to cope with modern life, but serve also to divert our attention away from “events” occurring in our society that may have great relevance for our current well-being, and future survival!  The global warming now occurring having importance for both (the wildfires still occurring in the West illustrating the first of those two points).  Thus, there’s good reason, I believe, to think of the many diversions that exist in our society as being a factor that will “help” (!) doom our species.

What may be the most important reason, however, for believing our society to be doomed is the fact that we now live in an oligarchy—so that what the public thinks and wants no longer matters!  So that even if the public were well-informed about global warming, and even if the diversions that exist in our society were not diverting the attention of the public away from important matters, the fact that we are now an oligarchy would be the determining factor in dooming our species!

That we are now an oligarchy was a conclusion reached in research published a few years ago (title:  “Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens”), by researchers at Princeton and Northwestern Universities, using “a unique data set that includes measures of the key variables for 1,779 policy issues,” and involving the use of multivariate analysis.  That research:

indicates that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence.  The results provide substantial support for theories of Economic-Elite Domination and for theories of Biased Pluralism, but not for theories of Majoritarian Electoral Democracy or Majoritarian Pluralism.

A discussion of the study is given in this article.

What is the relevance of this for global warming?  Naomi Klein, e. g., has referred to the two facts (i.e., the occurrence of global warming and fact of oligarchy) as a “catastrophic coincidence”!  She states:

we have not done the things that are necessary to lower emissions because those things fundamentally conflict with deregulated capitalism, the reigning ideology for the entire period we have been struggling to find a way out of this crisis.  We are stuck because the actions that would give us the best chance of averting catastrophe – and would benefit the vast majority – are extremely threatening to an elite minority that has a stranglehold over our economy, our political process, and most of our major media outlets.  That problem might not have been insurmountable had it presented itself at another point in our history.  But it is our great collective misfortune that the scientific community made its decisive diagnosis of the climate threat at the precise moment when those elites were enjoying more unfettered political, cultural, and intellectual power than at any point since the 1920s.

Note that Klein implies that our global warming is now “insurmountable,” because of the dominating “elites” and the “reigning ideology” that they foster, and which protects them!

What Robert J. Burrowes would add to that is that

the global elite has been able to control much of the funding available for climate science research and a great deal of the information about it that is made widely available to the public, particularly through its corporate media.  For this reason, the elite wields enormous power to shape the dialogue in relation to both the climate science and the time frame.

And:

The elite will use any means – including psychological manipulation, propaganda issued by its corporate media, national educational institutions, legal systems and extraordinary military violence – to achieve this outcome whatever the cost to life on Earth.

In short, the global elite is so insane that its members believe that killing and exploiting fellow human beings and destroying the biosphere are simply good ways to make a profit.  Of course, they do not perceive us as fellow human beings; they perceive and treat us as a great deal less. [[7]]  This is why, for example, the elite routinely uses its military forces to attack impoverished and militarily primitive countries so that they can steal their resources.

That the ruling oligarchy—a global one, Burroughs notes—assumes, at least tacitly, that if and when our species goes extinct, they will be spared, is to demonstrate insanity, as Burroughs so rightly wrote!  The oligarchs seem to be so “wrapped up” in their various machinations that they have no interest in how humans are impacting Earth System!  Nor any knowledge about it, for that matter!

Because of that, and because Earth—being a systemwill “fight back,” I expect that critical “tipping points” will soon be crossed, global warming will then begin to feed on itself (i. e., increase without human “help”), and be, then, impossible to stop—so that our species will then join the 1,000,000 other species “slated” to go extinct soon.

The reason why it’s so important to know the precarious position that our species is in at present, is that someone “out there” may come to know this, and become motivated to do something to try to stave off our extinction.  Let us hope that that’s the case, and that those efforts are successful!

Frankly, though, I have little confidence that this will happen!  (:

Alton C. Thompson reside in the “garden city” of Greendale, WI

[1]  Scientists “estimate that at least 99.9 percent of all species of plants and animals that ever lived are now extinct.”

[2]  The brilliant—and honest!—leader of the “Trump cult” in effect challenged that conclusion on September 14, 2020.  Scientific American magazine appears to agree!

[3]  As Eugene Linden, for example, argued 41 years ago in his Affluence and Discontent (pp. 63 – 178), that direction being downward!

[4]  See my History is Against Our Species!

[5]  By the way, “global warming” is preferable to “climate change,one reason being that the latter term has had political overtones.

[6]  Anthropologist Alan Barnard recently wrote that we humans “have been designed to live, by hunting wild beasts and by collecting wild plants.”  In Hunters and Gatherers:  What  Can We Learn From Them (2020), p. 56.

[7]  There’s also their thievery!


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