6th Mass Extinction, Capitalism, Carbon Man, Climate Change, Collapse of Industrial Civilization, Consumerism, Cyanobacteria, Ecological Overshoot, Empire, Environmental Collapse, Evolutionary Dead End, Extinction of Man, Mass Die Off, Peak Oil
The detritus of distant planets hurdled through the darkness of space on a one-way collision course with a young, cloudless planet devoid of life. Unceremoniously crashing into this planet’s surface, these rocks from the heavens carried a gift –amino acids, the seeds of life. Anaerobic microorganisms soon emerged in the greenish-red, anoxic oceans of the planet. For the longest time these primitive life forms thrived in the ocean depths, the only place safe from the deadly ultraviolet radiation of that planet’s sun. But then by some misfortune of the cosmos, their reign abruptly ended as an oxygen-producing bacteria (later to be known as the cyanobacteria) created the planet’s first great extinction event by wiping out the anaerobic life forms. You see, free oxygen happened to be toxic to these anaerobic organisms and, subsequently, photosynthetic organisms took their place, pulling carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and filling it with oxygen which would eventually allow life to expand onto newly formed continents.
The planet fluctuated between pulses of glaciation and warming as the tug-of-war between fire and ice raged for aeons. Volcanos erupted, the atmosphere warmed, and oceans grew to swallow up land, only to slowly recede back again as water became locked up in glaciers. During this volatile time, the chemistry of the oceans changed from an anoxic environment rich in hydrogen sulfide to one in which oxygen penetrated its deepest waters. The stage had finally been set for multicellular animals to evolve from this rich aquatic oasis, and life slowly crept onto land from its watery cradle. Complex organisms of all shape and size sprang up over time to walk, swim, and fly, but the planet’s restive climatic system would, on occasion, still open its jaws to swallow up nearly all plant and beast across the globe. Continents collided with each other, pushing the planet’s crust upward into mountain ridges. Ocean and air currents reconfigured their paths, and ice age cycles came and went.
After nearly 4.5 billion years of planetary evolution there stood upright a creature whose cleverness and adaptability far surpassed any living thing that had ever existed. Its kind lived and hunted in groups using tools to catch and kill from a distance, and wherever it roamed, waves of extinct species were left in its wake. The success of the tribe expanded and so did its numbers, spreading from continent to continent wherever it could get a foothold. Its tools became more sophisticated and it learned to cultivate food in one area rather than nomadically searching for it. Societies with sophisticated social structures and cultures developed within these fixed settlements, and from them grew empires with armies which fought with one another for resources and slaves. These civilizations had their own growth and decay timeline, fading into ruins after becoming overly complex and corrupt while overshooting their ecological threshold. But from the ashes of one would always arise the next to build upon the collective knowledge of the species.
It would be the compressed dead matter of ancient life that would truly propel this species to heady heights of technological and material wealth. The steel-and-concrete of megacities rose up to the sky and millions flocked to them to work, live, and die in their cold geometry. A constant barrage of digital lights, pictures, and slogans kept the masses beguiled by illusionary riches. The city was a labyrinth of dead ends and a house of mirrors, but the minions were told that if only they stayed in the game and ran a bit harder, they could reach that ‘dangling carrot’. After millenia of evolution, the one species at the top of the food chain, a.k.a. carbon man, was now ensnared by its own intricate web of myths and outright lies that it had spun for itself. Unable to see, speak or hear the truth, this oddity of nature was quickly losing ground to reality and on the fast track to joining all those other living things it had pushed over the cliff of extinction. For all carbon man’s cunning and ingenuity, his actions and behavior were much worse than that of the primordial cyanobacteria mentioned earlier in this planet’s history. This time the deadly pollutant from a single organism’s activities that would cause the Final Great Extinction Event was not O2, but rather CO2.
Carbon man’s modern set of living arrangements known as capitalist industrial civilization was not, in all reality, taking its passengers down a road of enlightenment and progress, but down an ever-darkening path of barbarity and death. All its vainglorious achievements and techtopian visions of the future were but hot air from a species drowning in its own propaganda and toxic waste as it raced towards an evolutionary dead-end. For if the species were able to recognize and acknowledge that industrial civilization’s own waste was creating its very demise while at the same time being powerless to do anything about it, then the end result for this hubristic species would be no different from that of the unthinking and rudimentary bacteria of the planet’s first life forms.