Whose Extinction Is This, Anyway?

Elizabeth Kolbert says all the golden frogs in Panama are gone. There used to be gazillions, and now there are none, gone the way of the dodo and most of the trusting meaty animals we encountered in remote places and ate until there were no more.

The elk in Yellowstone started disappearing just as wolves became re-established recently, so of course wolf opponents said they done it. Only thing is, wolves and elk are rarely found in the same place. Grizzlies killed more young elk than wolves, by far, but bears were never so predatory in the past. And elk are having fewer elklets. What explains all this?

All the golden frogs in Panama are gone.

Turns out that fishermen illegally released lake trout in Yellowstone Lake, providing yet another example among thousands for why you shouldn’t try to rearrange nature. The native cutthroat trout couldn’t compete. Since the lake trout stayed deeper, the bears couldn’t get to them, and instead developed a fondness for baby back rib of elk.

But climate change is a bigger problem than predation. Elk ladies weren’t getting enough high quality food because their usual dinner crop failed to thrive in the newly changed climate, so they weren’t healthy enough to have babies. (Notice that it doesn’t matter whether you “believe” in global warming. The climate is warmer and the food is gone.)

Thus do we arrange demise. When we are successful, a species becomes extinct. We’re outrageously successful at extinction these days, and we are often clueless about why. Extinction is normal. That’s the way the world changes. Normal extinction occurs once every decade or century.

You may have read about the extinct Ivory-billed Woodpecker (the huge “Good Lord!” bird), the Great Auk, several dolphins, Stellar’s Sea Cow, the Hawaiian Po’ouli, the Pupfish, the Black Rhinoceros, several big cats, and lots and lots of others. All these vanished forever within living memory. But those amount to almost nothing, because species are going extinct as fast as we can discover them. Scientific estimates are hard to come by, but it appears we are losing several, maybe dozens, each day. The rate is at least 10,000 times faster than normal background extinction.

Normal extinction is on the scale
of one every decade or century,
not every day.

There have been five planetary wipeouts, great extinctions, we can document. Some of them were gradual, some were sudden, but all wiped out some 90% of species, and the world started over, taking millions of years for new species to evolve. The first of the great extinctions happened some 450 million years ago.

The fifth one was a doozy. A huge meteorite smashed into the Yucatan Peninsula 66 million years ago, setting fire to the whole world, making a tsunami that drowned large parts of the world’s land, and filling the air with enormous quantities of gasses, ashes, and dust that lasted years. The dinosaurs and over ninety percent of everything else were wiped out practically overnight. Slowly, Earth started over. The earliest primates arrived several million years later, and humans only arrived on the scene in the last 3/1,000ths of the time since then.

Unfortunately, we are in the midst of creating the next great extinction all by ourselves, quite a feat for such a young and supposedly smart species.

The Sixth Extinction is the title of a book by Elizabeth Kolbert. It spells out how we are in the midst of creating our own homegrown cataclysm that will leave the world changed forever. We are delusional if we think we will be unscathed. We are already scathed.

There have been five great extinctions.
The fifth, 66-million years ago,
wiped out the dinosaurs.
We are now busy creating the
sixth great extinction all by ourselves.

Most of the species that are going away virtually every day do not gain our undying devotion. The golden frog. Bugs, birds, small animals that are not particularly charismatic. Many of them we don’t even realize are gone, because we only know about a small part of all species. Others we can’t bring ourselves to care about. But we should, because all of living nature is a web, of which we are also a part. When one strand is cut, a species is unbalanced, and the effects of the broken web radiate out, often affecting other species in unexpected ways. When too many strands are cut, a species goes extinct. Humans are a species.

Human-created global warming is the major driving force behind the sixth extinction. Atmospheric carbon dioxide stands at a modern epoch record. This primary greenhouse gas has created constantly rising temperature and will rise relentlessly for decades, regardless of what we do about it now. As a result, major changes are happening all around us. Now.

Some percentage of atmospheric carbon dioxide gets dissolved in the oceans. When carbon dioxide is dissolved in the ocean, it forms acid. The raised acidity of sea water wreaks havoc with all manner of marine life. Animals that build an exoskeleton are particularly hard hit, because the acid prevents them from constructing their house. Coral can’t take the heat, and are dying all over the world. Anyone who has been in tropical waters to scuba or snorkel can vouch for the dead white coral and the sharply reduced numbers of fish.

Besides acidifying the water, CO2 heats up the whole world and causes subtle chemical changes everywhere. Plant species suddenly can’t survive the increased temp, and don’t get enough time to become established at higher and colder elevations. Migrating birds return and find no food. Resurgent insect pests eat whole monocultured forests that are too dry to put up a fight. Species, plant and animal, die every day, including some that humans depend on.

Extinction and climate change deniers
don’t do a lot of deep thinking.

Extinction deniers are the same people as climate change deniers. They don’t look at the actual evidence. Instead, they look out the window, see it is snowing, and conclude that therefore it can’t be warming. They see rabbits, sparrows, pigeons, and raccoons, and conclude that there are just as many animals as always. Such people become believers only when it hits them in the eye.

These are people who don’t do a lot of deep thinking. They draw their conclusions only from what they can see, and simply don’t understand that science describes how the universe actually works.

Appalling numbers of them think the sun rotates around the earth, which they think is the center of the universe. They deny the possibility of the Big Bang, and have no clue as to the actual size of the universe. They have kept themselves so ignorant it might take years of corrective education before they understood the fifth extinction, let alone the sixth. Instead, various things, like AIDS, earthquakes, and floods, are seen as God’s punishment for their favorite evil of the week, usually people who aren’t exactly like themselves, such as Democrats. Unfortunately, a fairly large number of such people have been elected to public office.

These people are fools, and they are doing their best to doom us all.

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