Wednesday, May 16, 2012
The Great Dying
That's a commonly used label for the Permian Extinction, 252 million years ago, in which 95% of living species went extinct. There is controversy over the underlying cause, but it does appear that marine life with carbonaceous skeletons -- molluscs and corals, mostly -- were wiped out due to higher ocean temperatures and more dissolved carbon dioxide, which made the water more acidic.
Oh yeah, the same thing is happening today, plus a lot of other huge changes that are causing another Great Dying. You've probably heard about this report from the World Wildlife Fund, which says that humans are consuming the earth's resources faster than they can be replaced. They don't even emphasize CO2 emissions, which seem to have triggered the Permian Extinction, but plenty of people are on that case, obviously.
The collapse of resources essential to human life will mean the collapse of the human population and, no doubt, catastrophic consequences for the social order. True, back in the '60s there were predictions that this would have happened by now, and it hasn't. A major reason is the so-called Green Revolution, which transformed agriculture with massive fossil fuel inputs. Don't be fooled by advertising or nostalgia: farming has nothing to do with nature and there is nothing less like nature than farm country. That just means that we bought time by doubling down on the mechanism that got us to the looming resource crises of that era: extracting the remains of ancient vegetation from beneath the earth and burning it for fuel.
That is what made it possible for the human population to expand from a few million to what will soon be more than 10 billion. It is the indispensable basis of our entire civilization and way of life, even for poor farmers and urban slum dwellers, although affluent people consume far more of fossil fuel and the abundance of products it makes possible.
We can't continue to live this way. It's over. But politics, in the U.S. and just about everywhere else, is not about the fundamental issues we face. Not at all. They are ignored. I don't care if you're liberal or conservative, Tea Party or Occupier, you are living in denial. What you are arguing about does matter, but it won't matter much longer if we keep on as we are. Wake up.