SEE -- 1/8/4 Posted By:


Thu Jan 8, 2004 1:32 pm |

Extinctions Pending

SEE report for Thursday, January 8, 2004

The weather has been overcast and cool--but not cold--with a bit of rain--but not much. All in all, I can't complain. (Well, I could if I tried, but my heart wouldn't be in it.)

I note with interest that there have been five "Great Extinctions" on Earth over the past half-billion years. We are, in fact, at the threshold of a sixth. The first, the Ordivician, occurred some 440 million years ago when--some scientists theorize--the gamma-ray burst from a nearby supernova (about 10,000 light years from Earth) stripped away Earth's protective ozone layer so that ultraviolet radiation from the Sun could kill off most of the life, animal and plant, on the surface of the planet. (The event also triggered prolonged, densely overcast skies--a sort of nuclear winter--which brought on an ice age that got a lot of the survivors.) The second, the Devonian, 360 million years ago, killed 60% of all species. The worst, the Permian-Triassic some 250 million years ago, killed 90% of all life. Then in the late Triassic, 220 million years ago, half of all the species on Earth bought the farm. The last (well, now the next-to-last) mass extinction was the famous one 65 million years ago caused by a giant meteor crashing into the Yucatan. That took out the dinosaurs (who had been dominating the planet for over 200 million years) and half of all the other species on Earth as well, and cleared the way for the rise and dominance of mammals--that's us.

Over the past few dozen score of years (to paraphrase Abraham Lincoln shamelessly), we and our forefathers have brought forth on this planet a new civilization, conceived in freedom of information and dedicated to the proposition that the planet and the human race can best survive--and thrive--through unbridled scientific inquiry. We are now engaged in a crisis of unprecedented proportions, testing whether that civilization--or any civilization--so conceived and so dedicated can long endure.

Our scientific technology has produced tools and toys that have already decimated the ecology of our beloved planet. (By the way, the word "decimated" comes from a Roman army policy of executing one out of every ten soldiers after they lost a battle in order to motivate the remaining soldiers for the next battle.) Moreover we have created an enormous "extinction debt"--that term refers to species that no longer have an adequate breeding pool so that their extinction is assured, but there are still individuals surviving. We learned last week, for example, the tragic news that ALL of the other species of great apes (including the gorillas, chimpanzees, and orangutans) will probably be extinct within the next few decades.

I only sing this lament. I do not have the money or power or wisdom to turn this terrible situation around. I doubt that anyone does.

Richard Crews

[Note--Richard Crews has been a colonist in residence at the Living Universe Foundation's (LUF's) Space-Environments Ecovillage (SEE) in Bastrop, Texas since February 2001, and files reports every few days of the progress there.]