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On the Verge of Mass Extinction

April 17, 2011

From space, Earth seems an abstraction — a magician’s trick on a darkened stage. And from that distance one might never imagine that it is a petri dish of life that first appeared in the sea almost four billion years ago in the form of single-celled anaerobes that were almost completely wiped out two billion years later – poisoned by oxygen that was beginning to accumulate in the atmosphere.

Then, in an explosion of life spanning millions of years, nature’s first multicellular organisms began to multiply… and then stopped. 440 million years ago, a great mass extinction killed off nearly every species on the planet leaving the vast oceans decimated and empty. Slowly, plants began to evolve, then insects, only to be wiped out in the third great mass extinction upon the Earth. The cycle repeated again and again. Reptiles emerging, independent of the sea only to be killed off. Then dinosaurs, struggling to life along with the first birds, fish, and flowering plants – their decimations were Earth’s fourth and fifth great extinctions.

Only 100,000 years ago, Homo Sapiens appeared – man. From cave paintings to the Bible to Columbus and Apollo 11, we have been a tireless force upon the earth and off – cataloguing the natural world as it unfolds to us, and rising to a world population of over six billion people – all descended from that original single cell… that first spark of life. But for all our knowledge, what no one can say for certain is what or who ignited that original spark. Is there a plan, a purpose or a reason to our existence? Will we pass, as those before us, into oblivion, into the sixth extinction that scientists warn is already in progress?

What will be the form of our ultimate demise? Will it come, all of a sudden, with the eruption of a supervolcano, the impact of a meteor, or one swipe of the wrathful sword of our creator? Or will we slowly and agonizingly pass from existence due to climate change, environmental degradation, or incurable disease? Will we cease to exist due to global or cosmological catastrophes beyond our control, or because of all the ill-conceived choices we’ve made? Will it come in one year or in a thousand… or not at all? We can only hope that, if we go the way of the dinosaurs, this sixth mass extinction will give rise to a better life form to replace us, and that the Earth can somehow recuperate from the egregious assault that man’s existence visited upon it.

–adapted from Agent Scully’s monologue in the X-files episode “The Sixth Extinction II: Amor Fati”–

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One Comment leave one →
  1. April 18, 2011 10:26 PM

    Oh the multitude of questions!

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