LOL. Who Did This? We Did.
He has struggled in the cold for hours. The last meal he consumed was three days ago when he found the vestiges of an obscure animal. But a wave of heat is giving him some much needed respite. He now considers interrupting his journey, to find the source of this heat and rest near it. He slowly moves towards the source but stops in his tracks when he sees a bright light. There’s the dancing predator which likes devouring flesh and melting the ice, surrounded by his friends — the upright apes. He wishes to retreat as fast as he can but one of the apes has spotted him. He could be attacked at any moment but something unexpected happens. A piece of meat is chugged towards him by the ape who proceeds to return by the side of the bright predator. He inspects the meat and bites into it. The insatiable hunger is quenched with the best meal he has ever had, thanks to a being who will call him his best friend for generations to come.
The dog was never meant to exist, a fact I was made aware of thanks to Neil De Grasse Tyson’s Cosmos. While it’s unclear when and how this encounter came about, experts agree that dogs were the first animals to be domesticated by humans.
An evolution spread over thousands of years has seen a now extinct specie or species of wolves transform into the subservient and less ferocious beings humanity proclaims to love and even worship. Social connections and even romantic relationships hinge on your feelings towards this animal. They attract the most admiration online and form the fondest childhood memories for a few kids. Who doesn’t love dogs? Ironically, it’s those who profess their love the most.
Centuries of inbreeding have rendered some dog breeds with weak immune systems for the sole purposes of following our whims and fancies. Am I the only one who fathoms the gravity of this? The arrogance of man in believing our right to manipulate and shape nature is only balanced by our denial and atonement of this guilt in calling it ‘love’. How do you know that your dog loves you? If your entire life is spent depending on a human being- their kindness, mood swings, cruelty and whim, loyalty is hard to feign. The day, which seems not so distant, when we can understand what dogs are saying, will we be surprised to learn that they don’t share the same enthusiasm for our species?
If I haven’t lost you already, then please take a moment to understand the severity of this statement- human beings created a species to serve them. Now repeat it to yourself. Again and again.
The story of the dog should have served us as a cautionary tale in our relationship with nature. But as I am sure you’re aware, human arrogance knows no bounds. But nothing prepares you for the sheer scale of this arrogance, as portrayed in Elizabeth Kolbert’s ‘The Sixth Extinction- An Unnatural History’.
The Sixth Mass Extinction is in effect right now and we have caused it. A significant majority of the scientific community believes it. But the men who matter, members of the most powerful government setup in human history, don’t think so. The world’s wealthiest nation too, it has recently elected in its leader, a person who believes that climate change is a hoax created by China.
2016 has been aflutter about this election and the effect it will have in the efforts to preserve the environment. But for those who have been studying the phenomenon or reporting on it, this legitimisation of climate change denial bears little bad news. The wheels of extinction and unpredictable change have been running for quite some time and all we had to do, as illustrated by Kolbert, was pay attention.
The great auk, a bird identical to the penguin, was last seen in 1844. Three Icelanders reached a small island in June of that year, where a single pair of auks survived alongwith an egg. The men strangled the bird and in course of the pursuit, supposedly cracked the egg which they left behind. There was one sign.
How about a crisis surrounding the world’s amphibian population, in particular the disappearance of frogs in the wild? A Chytrid fungi called Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis has been identified as the cause behind the extinction of several species of frogs from Panama to New Zealand to Europe. It’s been deemed an unstoppable killer, just one of the reasons why amphibians are presently considered the world’s ‘most endangered class of animals. That’s another sign.
I could go on and tell you about Sumatran rhinos, coral reefs, moas, mammoths, American mastodons, or the numerous plants and animal species which are threatened or have gone extinct due to human activity. Every environmentalist and biologist might also end up sharing a similar (and more comprehensive) list with you, which our myopia always fails to complete leaving out one name in particular. Neanderthals, our ancestors, whom we drove into extinction; not before having sex with them. Today, every non-African race of human beings carries some amount of Neanderthal DNA, a permanent reminder of our parricide legacy.
While Kolbert attempts to end the book on a hopeful note, it’s hard to muster any feeling other than disgust. The year that has passed since the publication of this book has seen the carbon dioxide levels achieve 400 parts per million permanently, parts of the Arctic have reached temperatures 11 degrees Celsius warmer than the late 20th Century and sea ice fell to levels lower than they were since satellite records began in 1979. How do you spin this?
You can’t. And even if you can, you shouldn’t. Each new day brings with it new theories and plans for the survival of mankind and yet, we never pause to question whether we deserve this second chance. How quickly can we absolve ourselves of the tyranny we have unleashed to rid a planet of the beauty which made it our unique home in the first place?
I instead, offer the following declaration, paraphrasing the words of the man who understood 2016 better than anyone-
“Devang Pathak, the president of fuck all, is calling for a total and complete shutdown of human beings interacting with living organisms who don’t look like them until they realise that they aren’t entitled to Earth’s riches and that their quest for ‘leaving a legacy’ is astronomically foolish. They need to be reminded that the entire Homo-Sapiens existence, for all its achievements will fail to be more than a speck in Earth’s geological history.”
What’s that? Impractical and also humans are douches opposed to unselfish change? Fine.
I present a wildly milder approach then. I propose a total overhaul of children’s biology books in the lowest grades to ensure that when they learn about animals and plants, a disclaimer in bold font states- “And we’re killing them!”. If we cannot effect an existential pause on our selfish impulse, the least we can do is beset an existential guilt in our future generations which cocoons into self-loathing. We deserve to feel horrible all the time.
PS: Also, for the sake of Mars, can we please stop trying to reach it. Let’s restrict our destructive shenanigans to one planet.