After the mass extinction, what then?
Updated: Aug 10, 2019
Lean closer, so I can whisper. Our human race is bent over, holding its breath, looking for a bootstraps rescue.
It's not going to happen. Remember the fifth global mass extinction? Well, no you don't, nor do the dinosaurs. The sixth mass extinction is already under way - no need for a meteor - and most humans are about to join the rush, exiting stage left through this century and the next.
You think I need happy pills? No, I'm an optimist. But I'll get to that in a minute.
Sorry to brandish statistics, but here's one from David Attenborough that's hard to deflect: already, 96% of the mass of all mammals on earth are humans and their livestock. That's 4% for the rest. Here's another, same source: already, 70% of all the earth's birds are domesticated poultry. Mostly chickens.
The tipping point is behind us. Apocalypse is now.
Are you thinking that science will find a solution? Forget it. Science has a downside: it allows more humans to breathe the air the way a wider motorway allows more cars to hit the road.
Or maybe you're thinking that the crisis will force nations to cooperate, reduce populations, and learn to live in stable harmony with the earth. But history is an early warning system that we're not yet capable of such profound accord.
Maybe next time.
We've been a busy species, haven't we? Suppressing and extinguishing other species - including those that directly support our existence. Existence 101: when lions and gazelles run out of food, fewer lions and gazelles; when the waterhole is poisoned, empty savannah, end of lesson.
The first great and necessary fall of humanity will happen via climate change, disease and war. Triple whammy. There's little point in making judgements about it. There's not even any 'should'. My mother said there's no such thing, and who can argue with an authority like that?
Now, pay attention. With a shift in thinking it's easy see the silver lining. Try this: imagine all living things on earth as a single being with a trillion faces. I'm calling it Gaia for short (ancient Greek for the goddess of Earth), but we don't have to go spiritual about this, that would be a copout. Think of it as the collective consciousness of all animal and plant life - our group co-operative impulse at a deeper level than ever measured by scientific ruler - weaving life's tapestry from the fabric of itself.
That's how to see daylight through this thickening fog.
Here's the point. We humans - part of Gaia - are subconsciously helping turn human boom into human bust: for example, declining sperm count, rising antibiotic resistance, contributions to climate change, generous contamination of the waterhole. Then there's the fear reaching up from the collective amygdala: the internet-amplified anxiety, outrage and hatred, the rise of terrorism from within, the abandonment of reason, and the rush to install populist leaders who feed our fear of others.
Truth, the first casualty of war, is already a shapeshifter. Distorted reality rules. Fake, manipulated reality rules, with deep fake on the way. We're losing trust in our ability to know objective reality when we see it. Fear trumps trust. It also trumps freedom and liberal democracy, which have always contained the seeds of their opposite. The seeds have germinated with enthusiasm.
Again, none of that is a judgement. Our species psychosis is necessary.
I won't try to express feeling for the humans that will board the ghost trains – that would be an empty gesture. Instead, I'm filled with hope for afterwards. And we can all feel that hope when we identify not just with humans, but with all Life. Capital L. Gaia. Our deepest level of connection.
That's supposed to be optimistic?
It is. Look ahead: which of these would you choose? Billions of us in an increasingly depleted, poisoned world, or millions of us in a richly diverse healthy world. But, I digress; we don't get to make that choice.
So, should we give up? Stop trying? Show fate the white flag? When the hot lead balloon appears, will I go out on the hillside and spread my arms and say, "Take me, it's time."?
Of course not. I'm part of Gaia, but I'm an individualised part. So are you. We can still be happy and laugh and live life with zest. We can still care for ourselves, our families and friends and neighbours. We can still choose to live without fear and hatred, and let our tongues and hearts speak the same language. And if we can avoid putting more poison in the waterhole, well that's an investment – not just in our post-apocalypse, new human rellies, but in life.
Even as we accept this first decline of mankind, we can celebrate life, which includes death, and light and dark, up and down, joy and sorrow, triumph and failure - each couple pretending to fight while dancing in perfect embrace.
Life will survive and thrive anyway. If madboys throw nuclear stones and crack the glass for millennia, to Gaia it will be just a passing instant. Just another meteor. Our perfect, blue dot will go right on floating through sunbeams, rich with newly evolving life.
What will Homo sapiens be like afterwards? Homo novus sapiens? That's guesswork. But extinction seems unlikely to extinguish everyone. And it won't extinguish knowledge, so there's no point in nostalgia for the stone age.
Maybe, next time round, we'll start off with the knowledge that mankind is not an island. That could be handy.
What about love? Is there a place for love in all this?
Oh yes. Life is Love, and Life isn't dying out anytime soon.
See? I'm an optimist. Michael Brown