Cast your mind back sixty-five million years.
Most of the dinosaurs were going about their daily lives – hanging out at the beach, shopping on their dPads, meeting friends for drinks and a barbecue. A group of stegosauri played tennis all that summer; T. Rex performed to packed houses twice nightly; there was a general mood of optimism among the brontosauri (they were tall and thought they could see further than anyone else). For some, material prosperity had never been greater: luxury pads; fast cars; trophy spouses. For others, working in the sweatshops and living in the slums fenced off from Jurassic Playland, life was nasty, brutish and short.
The dinosaurs had no natural enemies (except, of course, each other). They had conquered the world millions of years before and remained its undisputed rulers. There was nothing to make anyone believe this would ever change. Some intellectual types bemoaned the hedonism and frivolity of dinosaur society – ‘Live now, pay later, Diners Club …’ – but ignorance is bliss, and all most reptiles wanted was to enjoy themselves.
Then a strange, bright object appeared in the sky. Few of the dinosaurs looked up and wondered what it was. Yet soon after it hit the Gulf of Mexico, there were no more dinosaurs left alive. A whole civilization was wiped out, including fast food restaurants. The mammals who witnessed this phenomenon called it the Fifth Great Extinction.
We human beings, of course, are entirely dissimilar to dinosaurs. We have greater reasoning powers. We can think of the future, foresee problems and take avoiding action. When trouble looms, we do something about it. Don’t we?
Here’s what we know:
- The previous four Great Extinctions were caused by climate change, ice ages, volcanoes – a familiar roll call.
- Currently, the Earth’s species extinction rate is anywhere from one hundred to one thousand times higher than normal – and that’s only the animals we know about.
- Three quarters of animal species could be extinct within several human lifetimes.
- We only have ourselves to blame: monocultural agriculture, habitat destruction, pollution – the great human technosphere.
Nobody knows whether or not humanity can survive this rate of loss. And that’s not taking into account all the other consequences of climate change. Some of these consequences tip over pretty fast once they get going. And they have got going.
Scientists are already beginning to talk about the Sixth Great Extinction. Some believe it to be well underway. For many human beings, normal life is pretty ugly. The coming years will see that ugliness spread like a dark stain across our bright glittering world.
It is highly possible that it is too late to do anything about all this. But if we are finally to rouse ourselves, hadn’t we better hurry just like anything?
Does humanity deserve to survive? Are you a dinosaur or a human being?