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Apocolypse Now (Or At Least Pretty Soon Anyway) Part IV

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Rob West
Rob West

In the final chapter of Bill Bryson’s book, A short History of Nearly Everything, he relates some of the most ground breaking scientific thought ever to be pondered and then written down by Mr Newton to one of the most careless and unnerving acts that can be attributed to man, the extinction of the Dodo. He relates them as they happened at pretty much the same time and our sad lack of knowledge about the Dodo due to our eagerness to kill and eat it and lack of care over it’s environment only serves to sadden the tale further.

The reason he makes this clear is that despite our phenomenal capacity for scientific understanding we are reckless and destructive when it comes to the world we are trying to understand. His point, and mine, is that despite the various apocalyptic events described in this series, the most severe and heart wrenching is the one we are inflicting upon the world, it’s creatures and ourselves.

This gross and aggressive behaviour is by no means a modern, and despite what some people may tell you, or Westernised isolation. In the American continents he asserts that there were thirty genera of large animals that pretty much vanished after the arrival of humans. Even when we were far more primitive we showed a particular talent and penchant for killing and destruction. Even here in New Zealand where we can claim to have a very distinctive environmental culture we have done untold damage to it. The various species of Moa were suspected of being hunted to extinction within a couple of hundred years of Maori arrival here, though estimates and theories vary. However there is more to this than flightless birds.

Some scientists believe we are involved in a mass extinction event that’s caused life currently on earth to be far more diminutive than it ever has been. A sad fact is that a lot of early collectors of ornithological specimens and otherwise, in some cases contributed to and in others banged the nail into the coffin of a species due to their frivolous killing of the creatures for scientific study and sampling.

We are abundantly procreative, exhaustively ambitious and aggressively inventive. In our eagerness for expansion and exploitation we have directly altered almost half of the Earth’s land, we have increased the carbon dioxide content of the atmosphere by 30%, we use more than half of all accessible fresh water, we have driven a quarter of the earth’s bird species into extinction, we have emptied the oceans of their fish, we have poisoned the land and waters with our waste and ravaged the earth’s lungs and much more. Our incredible advancements in science have enabled the global population to rocket into the billions and people actually think think will not have an effect on the world?!

The scary thing is none of this was done intentionally or with malice, it was all done with woeful ignorance. Imagine what we could do if we tried! These nay sayers that claim we are not having an effect on our planet are sadly mistaken, though we all wish it were not so.

This irony goes far further as Bryson expresses that if you were to design a species that were to look after the cosmos and its infinitesimal contents you probably wouldn’t give it to the one species that got the job; us. We have literally no idea of how many species we have wiped out and how many environments we have destroyed. We have even less of an idea of how our actions effect the world and it’s future.

We do however know that we have one world and no second chance. We are the only ones that can truly understand the universe yet we are exceedingly far away from really getting to grips with it. We are the only really massive factor of change in the modern word despite there being lots of other lesser and potentially scarier ones out there. We are most definitely the only ones that can do anything about it.

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