Why is No One Screaming?
Our Grandchildren and the Sixth Great Extinction
“Could it be that the older generations, whose role it is to awaken their sleepwalking children and grandchildren, are themselves fast asleep…?”
A most timely and unsettling story. Seems there was this fellow who lived in the US northeast back in the early 70’s who was both a naturalist and audio recording technician and one day he decided to take some audio equipment out into a regional or state park and record the sound of birds in a typical forest setting. Being both raised and at that time living in the vicinity of the park he was familiar with the particular stretch of woods, a fact that will come into play further on in the story. The audio footage was recorded in analogue (probably chromium oxide audio tape, quite popular back then).
What I am not sure of is; did he intend to use the audio footage as part of an amazing experiment some forty-five years later or did the experiment occur as the result of some momentary whim. Regardless, the experiment did occur. Around 2016 the technician – by this time in his seventies and having stored away the first audio tapes in a safe place all those years – engineered a second recording in the exact same forest, at the exact same location, on the exact same day of the year and near the same weather conditions as the first recording. Analogue recorders are rare in this digital age but there are still a few kicking around so both tapings were done using similar technology. After recording the sounds of the birds (2016) he took the audio tapes home, hooked them up to his stereo system and began listening to and comparing the two versions recorded forty-five years apart.
He was stunned.
The cacophony of bird songs, chirps, trills, caws and whistles filling the 1970’s recording, when compared to those recorded earlier that day in 2016, jarred the elderly technician to his core. His estimate – I remember from the documentary – was 50 to 60 percent…a 50 to 60 percent discernible reduction in the number of bird sounds in the later recording as compared to the earlier…in only forty-five years. This simple yet profound experiment instantly became an indictment of modern industrial man’s impact on the planet and at the same time resonated so deeply with the ground-breaking work of Rachel Carson and her unyielding investigation (back in the 1940’s and 50’s) of the pesticide industry’s lethal affect on bird populations in her home state of Wisconsin. Ms. Carson’s literary masterpiece, ‘Silent Spring’ would become the anthem and battle cry for future generations of animal and environmental rights activists and was now further validated by the audio technician’s recording experiment. Kudos.
Speaking of resonance…some recent data provided by WWF (going back as far as 1970) has estimated that due to human activity (agriculture, the livestock industry, over-fishing and habitat encroachment, etc.) the Earth has lost 50 percent of its wildlife and 70 percent of all aquatic life forms in only 48 years. Hmmm.
I’m sure this is not the last time you will hear the following statement coming from this scribe but wouldn’t that qualify us (and the rest of the biosphere) as being in the midst and fully engaged in another extinction event? The preceding five great extinctions; the Ordovician, Permian, Devonian, Triassic and Cretaceous each witnessed the disappearance of between 55-95 percent of the Earth’s species during their respective cataclysms. We, of the twenty-first century, are now fully involved in what could be considered the early stages of the Sixth Great Extinction and already our impact on the planet has wiped out half the Earth’s wildlife and almost three quarters of its aquatic life forms in the past 48 years. To somehow grasp the magnitude of the calamity our children and grandchildren are stumbling towards try adding the following factors;
- Another four billion (UN estimates) resource-hungry, garbage-producing, carbon monoxide-spewing, flesh food-devouring, rain forest-destroying humans to our already lethally over-populated planet by the end of the century.
- A super-critical (global-wide) shortage of potable drinking water.
- Climate change and atmospheric CO2 levels careening headlong towards the 600+ ppm range resulting in the apocalyptic spectre of wildfires, flooding, storms, drought, etc.
- A looming displacement and refugee crisis beyond human comprehension.
- The imminent release of mega-tons and mega-tons of methane-hydrates (25 times more powerful GHG than CO2) caused by the accelerated melting of the arctic permafrost and sea ice.
- The animal agriculture industry’s (beef, pork, dairy, poultry and seafood) criminal practice of raping the Earth’s forests, wetlands, rivers, oceans and non-renewable resources.
- The abominable Alberta Tar Sands Project.
The ‘E’ Word
“Not even on the radar”
And yet very rarely does one hear either of the two terms; ‘extinction event’ or ‘the Sixth Great Extinction’. What’s wrong with this picture? Either the usage of these two phrases is the incoherent rantings of a certifiable lunatic or they at least hold a modicum of validity in terms of the social and environmental train wreck we super-humans created. Which one is it? If the latter of the two positions – that the term ‘extinction’ does hold some validity – then why is the ‘E’ word so rarely used in our day-to-day conversations, in restaurants and coffee shops, in offices and factories, in art galleries and hospitals, at ball games and theaters, in living rooms and dining rooms, in law offices and the corridors of justice and government, in the mainstream media or the education system. It’s like it’s not even on the radar.
The last of the above locales really stands out for me, being involved in the Canadian education system for a good chunk of my life. Which begs the question; what do our kids really, really know about the world they are about to inherit from us twentieth-century types (myself included) whose lasting and dubious legacy includes the unabashed raping and pillaging of a once-pristine planet. What do our kids really, really know about the deadly ‘ambush’ they are walking into, an ambush so unconsciously manufactured by we of the twentieth-century.
The Edge of the Precipice
“Where are the screams… why is no one screaming?”
If we noticed our child or loved one sleepwalking towards the edge of a dangerous cliff our immediate reaction would be to scream (at the top of our lungs) in hopes of awakening the child from his/her slumber in time to avoid the fatal fall. A laudable and humanly compassionate reaction no doubt. And yet that is the situation we find ourselves in today concerning our children and grandchildren…our youth. They too are sleepwalking towards a social and environmental tragedy and yet we, the older generations are, for the most part, silent.
Where are the screams???
I doubt it’s a case where we just don’t care…people do seem to care (in an off-handed and distracted fashion) for their children. A more plausible supposition might hold that we (the older generations) exist in a general state of denial (and perhaps willful ignorance) as to the dire implications embodied within the term ‘extinction event’ itself. But a third consideration may hit closer to home and that is; we, the older generations, whose role it is to awaken the sleepwalking children, are ourselves fast asleep. Could this be why we don’t hear anyone screaming?
The Big Sleep
This era we are currently witnessing here in the early stages of the twenty-first century could be best described as the age of unconsciousness, the age of mass distraction. The ‘big sleep’ perhaps. Unprecedented. The world has never seen anything quite like it. Advanced modern technological humans are literally drowning in a sea of mind-numbing, soul-deadening distractions which are totally of our own making. One could talk for hours on this subject but what’s the point? Just look around.
We who reside in (so called) advanced, modern, relatively prosperous, western democracies are being sucked down into the vortex of our little ‘doings’, our little ‘comings and goings’ which mainly revolve around the accumulation and management of wealth, careers, shopping, real estate, banking, stock portfolios, socializing, family, health, vacations, pets, fitness, etc. Add to this our blind and unwavering subservience to the ubiquity of electronic media (television, movies, computers, I-phones, etc.) and it’s easy to see how we became this lost generation of slavish and acquiescent automatons.
No need to go into any detail here because again, what’s the point. One either accepts or rejects the assertion that we are mired in the early stages of another extinction event. Which brings us back to our main topic…our children and grandchildren. If one has even a hair-line crack of openness to the notion of extinction…even a crack…then how do our youngsters (a.k.a. ‘millennials’) factor into such a scenario? We grandparent and great grandparent types – the last few remaining survivors of the twentieth century – will soon die off leaving our grand kids alone to fend for themselves. What does that mean?
Really, what does that mean???
Don’t our children and grandchildren deserve to be informed, pre-warned and leveled-with in terms of the realities they will face as they flounder unconsciously into the gaping maw of another extinction event? Don’t our children and grandchildren deserve to be screamed at…if it means approaching these most perilous times with their eyes at least partially open.
This is where the education system should come into play. Our children need accurate, science-based information on what the Sixth Great Extinction will actually mean to them and these programs should begin at the elementary level, perhaps as early as Gr. Three or Gr. Four. Kids today are ‘street savvy’ and can process this kind of data. Unfortunately, most of the info pertaining to extinction events comes from movies, comic books and video games, hardly what you could call accurate or science-based. School curricula today provide little information on what can be considered the most pressing issue of our time and combined with the general air of silence and denial coming from the adult world (plus the wall-to-wall pervasiveness of electronic distractions) our children are being lulled into a state of unconsciousness and complacency, especially in terms of the ‘ambush’ they are sleepwalking towards.
The Sin of Omission
Omission (noun): Failure to do something…especially if that something one has a moral or legal obligation to do.
There is a popular religious concept known as a ‘sin of omission’…not sure exactly but I think it means to intentionally omit some vital piece of information that winds up causing harm to someone. Although being non-religious myself and not subscribing to the idea of sin, the phrase ‘sin of omission’ has an interesting over-lap with this essay’s central theme which is our children and grandchildren’s juxtaposition with the now-unfolding Sixth Great Extinction. By failing to inform our youngsters about the ambush that awaits them in the next few decades are we not doing them a great harm and injustice? It being 2018, we certainly know enough now about climate change and GHG’s that we cannot honestly plead ignorance anymore. And with the year-round media coverage of apocalyptic wildfires, floods, storms and droughts we can no longer deny that human activity and the modern industrial state are the primary causes of global warming.
The science is strong and graph after graph after graph shows key indicators and exponential curves disappearing off the charts like they’re on steroids. Isn’t it time we so-called Homo sapiens (wise men… hmmm) accepted that we are now in the throes another extinction event and begin a concerted and long overdue effort (especially through our education system) to prepare and educate our children and grandchildren about the challenges they face in these most dangerous times. To stand idly by and say nothing out of pure ignorance or denial is a sad state of affairs but to stand by and say nothing when the facts are staring us right in the face is downright criminal.
Let the screaming begin.
Aug 22, 2018