Mass Extinction

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The Paris Climate Accord of December 2015 offers a beacon of hope in the international effort to survive as a species.

Molly Hankwitz and Thomas Powell


“We’re fucked,” says Roy Scranton in Learning to Die in the Anthropocene, “the only question is how soon and how badly.” Is the coup de grace of global warming already arriving, along with great methane gas belches, overly warm, rising oceans and melting permafrost, in the form of a "natural" planetary cycle of mass extinction?  This possibility is one perspective on the Now.

While considerable evidence of mass biological extinctions having recurred in recorded time sheds additional difficult light upon our current, concerning predicament relative to life on Earth, is this what is going on? Is the current state of climate change the result of "natural" phenomenon or mostly due to human folly, greed, carelessness and disregard? Ample, quantifiable scientific reason suggests that we, as a species, according to Scranton, may already be living the effects of such a "natural" cycle and global event. Are we, then, inevitably doomed?

We should probably consider the possibility, in the midst of climate change and other significant data, that we, humans, could die-off, all the while remembering that the fossil record and other data shows consistent resurgence of multiple life-forms even after die-off and disaster. Optimistically, we may not be at the mercy of "nature" but be capable of creating reasonable solutions in time to sustain ourselves. 

Meanwhile, the activist and scientific community has repeatedly pointed out for decades that constant human taxation on Earth’s biospheres, which dramatically increased in the mid-Twentieth Century, is taking a terrible toll on Earth. Following WWII, and running virtually unchecked while driven by development and economic growth, capitalist industry has routinely depleted and exploited precious natural resources for consumption. They have blithely turned these resources into an excess of commodities, if only to feed and fuel the seven-decade long fertility boom of post-war America. This epoch of high-capitalism, global expansion and environmental destruction has, undeniably, thrust itself upon Earth’s most delicate ecological balance and has brought about what is now a major international concern: climate change and environmental collapse. We have more than a compelling reason, thus, to question the role of capitalist enterprise as a major contributor to environmental decline. Awareness of present shifts in Life's balance--polar ice cap melting, sea-level rise, polluted air, water, land; devastated forests, desertification, and remarkably shifting weather patterns--is the pathos of our time. Add to this, the spectre of a mass-extinction, a die-off, as part of a "natural" cycle of renewal or as a solution to depletion, and new questions arise with additional roles and responsibilities for humanity.

Issue #89 was started as a result of the recent Climate Conference and Paris Climate Accord of December 2015. The accord, while it can be criticized, offers a beacon of hope for internationalism and for human intelligence driven by survival instinct. The conference and accord have opened the door for fresh ideas from a younger and enthusiastic generation.

Bad Subjects Issue #89 has cast a wide net to explore the subject of mass extinction in the context of global politics, climate change, and denial. Maia Sikina and Kumar Sundaram investigate the post-Fukushima and post-Paris future of nuclear energy. Lysander Reid-Powell looks at a cartel of oblivious politicians in Washington D.C. We have also asked the question who will be, or already are, losing the battle of survival and who may have better ideas: immigrants, refugees, the homeless? Human rights activist Steve Martinot reports on the criminalization of homelessness in Berkeley, America’s most liberal city, and the blindnesses of city councils, while Manuel Pantín sends a "post card" from "paradise" in Trinidad and Tobago.

The Anthropocene, Earth’s new epoch, is critically examined by Mat Callahan, as well, while Thomas Powell tackles the thorny issue of solving global overpopulation. Bad Subject contributor Rosalie Riegle takes a deep look at environmental revolutionary, Pope Francis I, as he admonishes the US Congress’ “industry of death” while political die-hard and media expert Tamara Watkins looks by-products of Christian evangelical media and “end times” eschatology. Will this growing market become the next fountain of bigotry, homophobia, and misogyny, like right-wing talk radio has? What are strategies for the Left to engage this trend and others from cultures unlike our own? Finally, San Francisco writer David Cox brings us dystopian futures at the core of a selection of exceptional sci-fi films and Bad Subjects Senior Editor, Mike Mosher has the final word on teenaged ecology decades ago in his personal essay.

The threat of mass extinction and mass extermination, for very different reasons, have been subject matter for artists throughout the history of art Each generation of artists adds new insight and humor to an otherwise despairing scene of human righteousness and folly. Thus images by a select group of artists has been used to illustrate the articles and a gallery of mass extinction images for contemplation has been curated by Thomas Powell.


Molly Hankwitz Cox, Ph.D. is a Bad Subjects editor, a teacher, lecturer, visual and media artist, living in San Francisco.

Thomas Powell is a sculptor who lives in Northern California and writes on issues of aesthetics and politics.

Graphic © Lincoln Cushing 2015. Please see docspopuli.org .

Copyright © Molly Hankwitz and Thomas Powell. All rights reserved.

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