The next mass extinction

April 20, 2018

Growing up, I never really thought about how much I wasted. If I did not want something my parents had put on my dinner plate, I would just throw it away, along with the paper plates on which we ate. I drank out of plastic water bottles without thinking twice; bottles would clutter my desk every week, forcing me to constantly fill up our small recycling bin.

High school was the first time I realized the damage we as a species were making on the planet. In one of my English classes, I read the book “The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History” by Elizabeth Kolbert, which highlights different areas of nature and focuses on the history of species, both extinct or near extinction. The climax of the book occurs in the last chapter, where Kolbert concludes that we, Homo sapiens, will not only be the catalyst of the next mass extinction but also be the species most affected.

Often, climate activists and scientists, when communicating the threat of climate change to the earth, publish books that attempt to use guilt in inciting change within their audience, which has proved ineffective countless times. We as a society are always pushing for change, but no one seems to be changing anything about their lives. World Overshoot Day is a campaign that was started in 2006 to show the general population how much we overwork our planet. This day, which gets earlier each year, demonstrates the day in which we as a species use more resources than Earth can regenerate within a year. During its maiden year, this day was in mid-October. In 2017, the day was Aug. 2.

The former presidency of Barack Obama saw a light at the end of a very dark tunnel with the creation of the Clean Power Plan, which would reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 32 percent by 2030. The basis of the plan promotes the reduction of coal-burning power plants while increasing the use of renewable energy plants and energy conservation.

In the United States, especially since the beginning of the Trump administration, the debate over climate change has strongly favored the opposition. The current administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Scott Pruitt, is a climate science skeptic and intentionally conspired alongside the fossil fuel industry to attack prior EPA regulations. With his appointment, he and the rest of the Trump administration are looking to repeal the Clean Power Plan.

From conversations with my classmates and those of my generation, climate change is not viewed as a top priority issue that needs to be addressed. Students are often exposed to the environmental issues and even possibilities to live more sustainably, and yet there was no increase in interest in regards to pro-environmental actions.

Information that is forced upon always seems extremely forceful and coerced. But I believe that there is a necessity for this harshness because previous publications that could potentially increase knowledge or alter behaviors have had little to no impact in triggering any form of change.

A majority of the population has come to realize the negative effects of smoking such as risks of increased lung cancer and general decline in health. Physicians have claimed the impact smoking has on health since the 18th century, but it was not until the mid-20th century when people started to believe the detrimental effects of smoking. Campaigns against smoking have increased in prevalence over the years, pushing legislation to tax cigarettes and begin anti-smoking campaigns. Even with all of this action, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimated in 2015 that 15.1% of the adult population in the United States smoked cigarettes. This does not even include minors. Though this is a 5% decrease in smoking population from 2005, if people are aware of the negative effects, why do they still smoke? Because people who smoke are essentially already killing themselves from the inside out.

There are socioeconomic and moral reasons for why some people smoke, but this can be translated to climate activism and sustainable living as well. People do not like change, which is the largest issue that surrounds any project looking to make a substantial impact.

People do not like change, but change is what is necessary to avoid another mass extinction. The most recent mass extinction took out the dinosaurs, and if we as a species continue down the path of ignorance and continuous greenhouse gas emissions that kill the ozone layer, the sixth extinction may be a lot closer than we think.

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