Posted by: Green Knight | May 18, 2012

Endangered Species Day

Pretty soon my calendar will be full, with every day of the year marking something. Today we recognize endangered plants and animals. There have been five major mass-extinction events on the planet over the past 4.6 billion years, and my fellow paleontologists suggest that we are currently in the midst of a sixth, this one caused by us, rather than by atmospheric and geological and solar and astronomical processes. “Wow, mom, look what I did!”

Enrico Fermi was famous for saying, “where are they?” or possibly “where is everybody?” in a 1950 conversation with Edward Teller and some others at Los Alamos. However, he thought the likelihood of other life forms “out there” was about one in ten, whereas Teller thought it was more like one in a million. My hero Carl Sagan, along with his colleague Shklovskii, opined that the reason we weren’t hearing from alien civilizations was that they all blew themselves to smithereens once they got developed enough to invent nuclear weapons. Whew (wiping brow), we seem to have gotten over that hurdle with most of our parts intact. Now the challenge is to not overwhelm ourselves with our own waste gases, like the methanogens having to go hide once free oxygen appeared on the planet. We are smarter than bacteria, but they are more clever.

We still have pockets of terrorism to tidy up. As Einstein said, “nationalism is the infantile disease of mankind.” We all need to work on getting along with each other and with the rest of the biosphere, and not let artificially-drawn boundaries, or mega-corporations, or radio personalities do our thinking for us. It’s a participatory process, folks. If you don’t like it, quit yer bitchin’ and fix it, from the ground upwards. I do it every day.

Contact your local conservation agency to find out what species are endangered or threatened right where you live, and see what you can do to help. For some reason, the classic Ray Bradbury story “A Sound of Thunder” is resonating in my head just now. Don’t step on a butterfly.


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