Earth Day, 2015:
The dinosaurs were killed during the Fifth Extinction — which scientists suspect was caused by an asteroid. Now, we are living through an epoch that many scientists describe as the Sixth Extinction, and this time, human activity is the culprit. As one scientist put it: We’re the asteroid.
Elizabeth Kolbert is the author of the new book The Sixth Extinction. It begins with a history of the “big five” extinctions of the past, and goes on to explain how human behavior is creating a sixth one — including our use of fossil fuels and the effects of climate change.
“Amphibians have the dubious distinction of being the world’s most endangered class of animals,” she writes. “But also heading toward extinction are 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 sixth of all birds.”
“We are effectively undoing the beauty and the variety and the richness of the world which has taken tens of millions of years to reach,” Kolbert tells Fresh Air’s Terry Gross. ” … We’re sort of unraveling that. … We’re doing, it’s often said, a massive experiment on the planet, and we really don’t know what the end point is going to be.”
I have a vague memory of the first Earth Day celebration, a teach-in held on April 21, 1970. I was just coming alive back then – my hair and curiosity getting longer by the day. From a small world only a block square in Brooklyn, I had begun commuting to Hunter College on the upper east side of Manhattan, focused on books and classes. Yet other things were catching my attention.
I remember a group outside of the college with signs and tables, a small protest about a much larger event. Like the few I saw outside my high school window a few years back, walking in circles (who were they?) with signs about Vietnam (where was that?), while the “hitters” from down by the beach drove by, taunting them, trailing a massive American flag, throwing bottles and cans.
I stared out that window. I didn’t understand. I didn’t get it. But as time went on, I understood that we did some things right and some things wrong. Intention, expectation, and outcome weren’t all properly aligned. But most of that was realized in retrospect. Even this many years later.
As in most things…