OPINION: The Extinction of Humanity

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As the temperatures swelter in the once-crisply cool climates of the world and water levels rise to mercifully meet our sun-burnt feet in violent wave after wave, we still do nothing.

Nothing significant enough is being done, or is even being discussed, to adequately combat this new global crisis that we not only face but are, in fact, already well in the midst of.

This crisis is alarmingly raising pertinent and (what should be more immediate) questions similar to those asked in Nadia Drake’s June 23 National Geographic article titled “Will Humans Survive the Sixth Great Extinction?” Drake raises questions with Pulitzer Prize-winning author and journalist Elizabeth Kolbert, who addressed how humans are driving this incredible rise in extinction rate that we’re experiencing. Kolbert said that there are many factors, such as “simply hunting. We brought in invasive species. We are now changing the climate, very, very rapidly, by geological standards.”

Kolbert was also asked if she thought we humans could be a victim of their own mass extinction. She mentioned that she wouldn’t claim that we necessarily couldn’t, in part because “we’re very adaptable. But I think the bottom line is, you wouldn’t want to find out.”

But then Kolbert went on to ask another interesting question, “Even if we can survive, is that the world you want to live in? Is that the world you want all future generations of humans to live in?”

We are allowing this extinction we’re driving, allowing ourselves to continue ignoring man-made climate change, allowing ourselves to go on living the same life with the same concerns we have gotten accustomed to. It’s far too easy, at least when we in large part ignore the terrifying truths of the matter, to be consumed with worry for finances, ourselves and our immediate children than to use our energy to worry about the variety of animal species that are disappearing, or our children’s grandchildren.

This tension of our attention is reflected in pieces like the New York Times’ June 22 article, titled “E.P.A. Warns of High Cost of Climate Change,” in which monetary concern is brought to the forefront of our climate change crisis. The article references the Environmental Protection Agency’s recent estimate that “In the absence of global action to curb greenhouse gas emissions, the United States by the end of the century may face up to $180 billion in economic losses because of drought and water shortages.”

It is also reflected in economic exercises like Anna Lieb’s June 18 article, “Putting a Price on Nature,” published on the PBS website, in which the author calculated through mathematical calculations based on economic and conservation studies, to create a sort of “natural capital,” which is exactly what the title of the article suggests.

Even in academia, there is a disconnect between what we hold as important, and what we should be shifting our attention to. Professor Timothy Mitchell, of Columbia University, looked at the connection between modern democracy and man-made climate change in his April 16, 2008 article “Carbon Democracy.” In it, he argues that “faced with the threats of oil depletion and catastrophic climate change, the democratic machineries that emerged to govern the age of carbon energy seem to be unable to address the processes that may end it.”

Ultimately, humanity is having to face extinction, because of the extinction of the ultimate trait of humanity: our adaptability. We are not adapting anywhere close to quickly enough to properly combat this self-created crisis. If it is our intellect and ability to change that we pride ourselves on, that not only enabled us to survive, but thrive in this world of ours, and in this area, climate change, we seem to be abandoning these our greatest strengths.

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Jonathan Greig
Hi, I’m Jonathan. I graduate this December, majoring in Anthropology, with minors in Creative Writing and Political Science. After that … we’ll see. Maybe graduate school in environmental anthropology. Maybe I’ll finally pursue my old childhood dream of becoming an infomercial host. It’s up in the air. Some of my interests and hobbies include devout sports fanaticism, religious study, and composing country songs that serve to explain the unearthly amount of disdain I have for country music. My band’s called Catfish Hurricane, you should check us out. Well, actually, you shouldn’t. I love writing, which is how I accidentally stumbled into this job. This stumbling into good things is my plan for life in general.