Friday, July 24, 2015

The Anthropocene Book of the Dead

So what exactly have we killed? What havoc have we wrought? What damage have we done that cannot be undone? What has the Anthropocene meant to our fellow travelers – the animals we’ve driven to the brink (or over the edge of) extinction, the ecosystems we’ve destroyed or rendered unrecognizable, and the communities, traditions, and ways of human life that have been cut down by the scythe of progress?

This blog is my small attempt to tell some of the stories of the creatures and things we have lost.  Already it’s proving difficult.  

I’ve started researching. I’ve begun looking up the names of the dead that were written down, and finding that not only are they gone, but for many the trail is already going cold.  A stub of a Wiki entry here, a short paper from the 1930s there, a mention in popular culture. There’s so much we’ll never know about what we’ve devastated.

As for what cannot be researched – the countless extinct beetles, nematodes, and fungi… the myriad ruined vernal ponds and drained wetlands… the clear-cut mountaintops that once were islands of stupendous diversity… the close-knit bands of nomads who walked out of what remained of the forest and into annihilation… the long lost tribes of folk with ancient, unique stories, their songs now silent – all those things brutally blotted out on our 8,000 year long path of destruction and not recorded? Most will surely remain nameless forever.

Why is it important? I’m not sure yet. Perhaps this is an attempt at atonement. Perhaps it’s an exercise in silly mawkishness. Maybe it’s something else.

I want it to be interesting and science-y and full of intriguing bits and bobs about the amazing forms life takes, and has taken, on this planet. I want it to make you holler, "How could we do that?!"

But I also want it to be a tone poem, and a history. A bearing of witness, and a warning. A shot across the bow to those in power who still believe they can pretend that nothing is happening, and that they will not be held accountable.

Tomorrow, I think I’ll start with the story of the last thylacine. It’s better known than most, easy to research, and there’s a recent viral internet hook to get me started. Please stay tuned – and let me know in the comments if you think I am off the mark.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

The Poetry of Extinction

The Formosan clouded leopard. 

The atlas bear and the piopio.

The tarpan.  The thylacine. The stout legged wren and the North Island snipe.

The Carpathian wisent and the sea mink.  The Danish clouded Apollo butterfly.

The Chatham bellbird.  The upland moa.  The crested shell duck.

The polydamas swallowtail and the aurochs.

The Cebu warty pig.  

The bushwren, the dusky seaside sparrow, and the Xerxes blue.

The quagga, and the Pyrenean Ibex.

The litany of their names is a kind of bitter poem. These and thousands more of our fellow creatures are gone.    

The Center for Biological Diversity reports that in the past 500 years, approximately 1,000 species have gone extinct as a direct result of human activity.  It’s of note that this number does not – it cannot – include those species that disappeared before science was able to discover and name them.

Through habitat loss, by over-hunting and over-fishing, by poisoning and poaching, we’ve increased the current extinction rate to up to 1,000 times than it would be without us. 

We have wiped out species that teemed by their millions like the passenger pigeon.  We have destroyed populations that were small, and special, and specialized, by erasing their homes.  We have lusted after furs and feathers and used them indiscriminately for our personal adornment until the lovely creatures that were sacrificed for our vanity are gone. 

We have greedily devoured animals that we found tasty, without even a passing thought that a wiser course might have been to conserve some for a future feast.  We have poisoned wetlands and rivers and streams, causing untold numbers of deaths.  We have marched across the landscape like behemoths, building our mills and mines and factories, laying our endless miles of road, destroying the perfection of the upland prairie to install monoculture crops that deplete the soil and provide no home or respite for the native birds that used to nest there.

The death toll is stunning.  The loss is almost unbearable.  Our heedless avarice and blind cupidity has swept them all away – and every day our plunder and pillage of what is left of the wild is wiping more species off the face of the Earth.

This blog will seek to memorialize those creatures in some small way, by telling just a bit of what is known about their stories.

I’m calling it The Anthropocene Book of the Dead.