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, and is its form that of mass extinction? 

Considerable evidence of mass biological extinctions having recurred naturally in recorded time sheds an additional difficult light on our current predicament. Ample, quantifiable scientific reason exists to suppose that we humans may already be living amidst such a global event. Are we, then, as a species, inevitably doomed?

While some hope for the planet lies in knowledge that eventual recovery and reemergence of life forms has been present in other epochs, and has been a pattern over multitudes of centuries, it is critical to consider the possibility, in the midst of climate change and other data, as Scranton suggests, that we could actually die-off as part of this nature

Over and over again, the activist and scientific community has pointed out 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. Capitalist enterprise has blithely turned resources into commodities to sustain human life-style as we know them, 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 brought about what is now a major international concern: climate change, depletion of resources, and ecological, planetary collapse. Awareness of these shifts in the Earth's balance,of sea-level rise, polluted air and water, devastated forests, and shifting weather to name a few is the pathos of our present age. Thus, we have compelling reason to question consumer capitalism as the governing model and to put our hearts and brains, instead, towards seeking solutions which will slow the pace of environmental decline and, indeed, a potential cycle of Mass Extinction.

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; hopefully to greater planetary collaboration when it comes to environmental control.

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.

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

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