And the Next Dark Ages
In over 275-hours of college, graduate, and post-graduate education, I have only 10-hours of science. That is less than 4% of my time in any scientific study. However, those 10-hours were in geology. Therefore, while my experience in the sciences is extremely limited, I do have some background. Due to that background, I know more about trilobites than most Americans do. While that vast knowledge has not benefited me at all expect in writing this article, I like knowing about trilobites.
While I know something about trilobites, this article is about the sixth extinction. For those with limited science background like the one I have, there have been 5-extinctions prior to the sixth, which has not occurred...yet.
The first mass extinction occurred ca. 450-440 Ma (million years ago) at the end of the Ordovician and beginning of the Silurian evolutionary time period. The result was that 60% to 70% of all the species on earth died off.
The second mass extinction happened ca. 375-360 Ma as the Earth moved from the Devonian to the Carboniferous time period. Again, about 70% of all species no longer existed. However, this extinction covered 20 Ma with a number of lesser extinction during that period.
The Permian-Triassic extinction was the third and occurred 251 Ma. This was called the Great Dying and somewhere between 90%-96% of all species died. Along with the massive percentages of extinction, it took vertebrates about 30-million years after the third extinction to recover.
The fourth extinction was the Triassic-Jurassic dying off that occurred ca 200 Ma with 70%-75% extinction of all species. Interestingly, this extinction killed off the vast majority of non-dinosaurian groups, which allowed the dinosaurs to survive without many natural enemies.
Finally, the last of the 5-extinctions, the Cretaceous-Paleogene event happened 66 Ma ago, which killed off all of the land based dinosaurs and 75% of the other species. And as the Triassic-Jurassic event allowed dinosaurs to exist without interference from other animals, this Cretaceous-Paleogene mass extinction included the dinosaurs. That meant that mammals and bird had an easier time of surviving without much competition.
Now, most scientists believe that impacts from extraterrestrial objects like comet or asteroids and volcanic activity were the main causes for the extinctions. While scientists might discover another cause, humans did not cause any extinction, since we have only been around for the past 200,000 years. On the cosmic calendar reduced to a year, humans emerged in the last couple of minutes of the entire year. Having said that, we are in the process of implementing the sixth extinction. Not only are we destroying the world in which we live but many leaders and ordinary people do not care. Even worse, many deny the issue of global warming and/or we are responsible for it.
Boehner said, "Listen, I'm not qualified to debate the science over climate change. But I am astute to understand that every proposal that has come out of this administration to deal with climate change involves hurting our economy and killing American jobs." He is not qualified to debate climate change but is qualified to decide what might kill our economy and our jobs. Mr. Speaker, that is a logical disconnect. You are not qualified to debate the science regarding global warming, but you are qualified to decide that if we react to climate change our American economy will be ruined while the world is destroyed as we know it. Apparently, Forrest Gump's quoting his mother was correct, "Stupid is as stupid does."
My daughter, Michelle, and I were discussing global warming during her visit back home for a couple of days. I went on about the radical right of the Republican Party and their dissing the obvious. Michelle gave me a link to a video done in 2009, which took an imaginary child born near the beginning of the 21st century predicated what her life would be like during most of the century. It is over an hour-long journey into the future looking at what her life might be like.
It begins discussing how access to petroleum built the factories and industries of America along with even the housing patterns of suburban America. In addition, it talks about how Americans consume many times more meat than much of the rest of the world.
Several years ago, I wrote an article entitled The Case of the Boiling Frog. The link to the video that Michelle sent me includes their mentioning of the boiling frog experiment. Both the frog and many people in the world today are like the boiling frog that dies due to getting use to hotter and hotter water. The video predicts that by 2030 about 2/3 of the Earth's population will be facing critical stress regarding water not to boil in but to drink.
Interestingly, Samuel Coleridge wrote The Rime of the Ancient Mariner at the end of the 18th century. When I was in high school, I had to memorize parts of that poem for English class. I have loved the storyline of Coleridge's message. It is about a sailor that did not care about nature and killed an albatross without regard to what that meant about being a good steward of things of the world. The mariner did not see anything wrong with wasting things or animals in this world. As a result, the mariner is punished by the crew for causing them to be "Alone on a wide wide sea! And never a saint took pity on my soul in agony."
The careless mariner complains about his and the crew's condition and recounts:
However, the mariner is given a reprieve from his punishment at sea. He must spend the rest of his life telling the world of his mistake and sin of killing the albatross. The poem then moves to the mariner telling a guest at a wedding his sad story. Coleridge concludes,
Also, Orwell wrote 1984 about the dictatorial government taking over the world. However, within the next century, we will see a far worse change in the world than what Orwell could have imagined unless radical changes are made before 2084. By then, the world would have gladly opted for a place and time like 1984 than what they are facing a century later.
Personally, I hope that the world wakes up and changes the modus operandi that is causing global warming. Like Boehner said, "I'm not qualified to debate the science over climate change" and neither am I. However, unlike him, I can read and research the issue. Even a novice like me, gets the issue quite clearly.
There were two thoughts that swirl around within my head about this issue of global warming.... One comes from an ancient Greek writer and a modern American one.
The Greek's culture produced the story of Pandora's box. Pandora is given a box and told not ever to open it. However, Pandora opens the box in violation of Zeus' command. The result was all sorts of plagues, pestilences, problems, and troubles spill out like a whirlwind of woes. Realizing that she made a great mistake, Pandora quickly closes the box. Nonetheless, all the various rages have been let loose.
Pandora responds quickly and closes the lid. One thing still remains inside the box. That one thing was HOPE. In spite of myriads of woes that she released, she and the world still have hope.
William Faulkner accepted the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1949. The following is a part of his acceptance speech.
I have known of Pandora's Box and Faulkner's acceptance speech for most of my life. They expressed hope in the seemingly hopelessness of life. I hope that both of them are correct.
A short amount of time will tell whether the world responds to this danger of the sixth extinction. At 71-years of age, I will not be around in 2084 to see where we have gotten. I am very dubious though. I hope that humans will act to correct mistakes that they have caused to the world in which we live. I sincerely hope that Faulkner is correct, "I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance."
If Pandora and Faulkner are not correct, I fear that we will enter another time like the Dark Ages in Europe, which occurred between 500-1000 CE. After the Fall of Rome, Europe nearly died as a civilization. There were tiny dots of light flickering in small places scattered throughout Europe during the Dark Ages. During the protracted general darkness of half of millennium, not all the lights were extinguished.
The Flemish painter, Pieter Brueghel, painted two classic paintings of what the Dark Ages would have been like.
Interestingly, it should be noted that Brueghel painted in the period after the Dark Ages. That period's name was the Renaissance...the rebirth of civilization. It was a glorious time of renewal of the Greco-Roman culture and civilization.
That too might occur for humans in our next Dark Ages starting sometime in the late 21st century. However, the next Dark Ages will last for many hundreds of thousands of years...not 500-years like the first one.
Visit the Stupid is As Stupid Does page to read more about this topic.