There is an Indian saying: “Blessed is the one who plants trees under whose shade they will never sit.”
If we stop long enough to listen to the earth we
will hear the sounds of hundreds upon hundreds of trees being felled every
minute. We will hear the sounds of birds
bemoaning their lack of habitat. We will
hear Mother Earth herself cry out in pain as she is cut into with rock-crushing
And if we take the time to read the research then we
will realise that we are in what has been termed the “Sixth Extinction.” The fifth extinction took place approximately
65 million years ago, famously wiping out the dinosaurs and killed around half
of all life on the planet. The
extinction period is considered to have lasted between 1 and 2 ½ million
years. Famously, it is also thought to
have been caused by an external event – the impact of a meteor up to 80km in
diameter and delivering an energy equivalent to 21 – 960 billion Hiroshima
The Sixth Extinction could take much less than this
amount of time, and without such a massive fireball of energy. It just requires us humans continuing to do
what we are doing.
Over the course of the past century or two our
impact upon the earth has been to increase the background extinction rate by
100 – 1,000 times the usual rate. Yet,
if we look at the list of those species that have already gone extinct, and if
we consider the extinction list of species that will become extinct, we often
miss noticing one particular species on that list. Homo sapiens.
Us, yes, we humans are on that list of species likely to become extinct.
It is a distinct possibility. Many of earths climatic and biodiversity
tipping points have been reached, and some possibly already triggered. Once these tipping points are triggered then
a cascade of tipping points will be triggered.
That means one thing.
No matter what we do there will be nothing we can do
to control the runaway.
We have no solutions.
We have no hope.
Hopeless? Despairing? Apocalyptic? Doomsday?
Maybe, maybe not.
What do we do?
First, continuing our destructive, affluent, mindless, exploitative lifestyles
cannot continue. We must stop.
Then, when we stop, we will perhaps discover that
there is a grief in our knowledge. This
is to be expected, for “grief is a way of
loving what has slipped from view. Love
is a way of grieving that which has not yet done so.”1 Stephen Jenkinson eloquently reminds us that
grief and love are intimately entwined.
Stephen Jenkinson is a Canadian and one of his
compatriots, Leonard Cohen, made a prescient observation in his song Boogie Street, when he sang:
“It was in love that we are made,
In love we disappear.”2
We could turn our disappearing - our extinction –
into a time to rediscover and re-connect with the noble aspects of our humanity:
love, compassion, kindness, empathy.
Am I suggesting giving up hope? Yes, for hope is a hopeless cause (if you’ll
excuse the quip.)
I am however, suggesting we act as if our grief and
our love (for ourselves, for others, for the planet) are real and
So, when the last human is about to die, will they
plant a tree?
1. 1. Stephen
Jenkinson, Die Wise: A Manifesto for
Sanity and Soul, North Atlantic Books, Berkeley, California, 2015.
2. 2. Leonard
Cohen, Boogie Street, on the album Ten New Songs, Columbia, 2001.