When my youngest child was born, there was no internet. When I was born, hardly anyone we knew had a car. When my mother was born, people were cooking on solid fuel black-leaded ranges. My little grandchildren cannot imagine not being connected online, think cars are ordinary and busses more exciting, and can fix a simple meal in a microwave as toddlers.
The Sixth Extinction, by Elizabeth Kolbert analyses the consequences to the planet of the changes we have absorbed in a lifetime or a century or two.
Starting usually with an example, an indicator species, she opens up a world of expert exploration into the land, water, air, and animal and plant occupants of a quickly changing planet. The golden frog of Peru is vanishing. What happened to it and other amphibians? The coral reefs are bleaching – life on them dying. What is happening to them and their occupants? What happened to the flightless birds of New Zealand and Hawaii- and why?
We know one of the great extinction events of the past, 65 million years ago, was the end of the dinosaurs and Jurassic Park will not bring them back. That extinction was caused, in the present consensus, by a massive asteroid hit in the area of the Yucatan. When my middle daughter was first fascinated by dinosaurs, though, that had not yet been uncovered: in fact she was six when the first proposing of the theory took place.
All the evidence, from so many areas of research, points to the sixth extinction now, involving high CO2 etc in the air, acidification of oceans, deforestation, the spread of organisms worldwide because of human travel, and many factors besides. All these changes endanger and cause the extinction of many species in an ongoing and accelerating story.
It’s a sad story. But I found encouragement in reading of so many scientific researchers who care enormously, and dedicate their careers to examining the facts and the possibilities. It’s the feeling I got from Barbara Kingsolver’s Flight Behavior, and the possible loss of the monarch butterflies, depicting a scientist who carries on in spite of that knowledge, and the optimism of Preston, a little boy who is full of hope for the future.
I hope our children feel Preston’s hope and determination, even though there may be no rhinos, elephants, polar bears, icebergs or coral when they are my age. It seems utterly irresponsible to claim not to “believe in” climate change when it is happening. If I, a non-scientist, can read what experts are doing and discovering, and can follow the consensus of their conclusions, it seems irresponsible to say I can’t “believe it” because I’m not a scientist. I am not a computer expert either- couldn’t tell you what’s inside this little white rectangle, but I “believe” it either works or doesn’t, and if it doesn’t I need tech. support.
Our world is changing. Much that we hold precious is passing away. Much is endangered- we may not be too sure ourselves that our species will not become extinct sooner rather than later.
Teilhard De Chardin saw evolution moving in the divine plan towards an omega point which at the least involved consciousness as a high point of evolution, and as a Christian, he tied this to his theology of Christ’s kingdom. I wish he were alive now. He saw that free will in humans involves the alternative: that we will not achieve any of this, that the possibility of further evolution (for us) may be destroyed by our own decisions.