Wow. Dixie and I just finished watching the Netflix Life on Our Planet. If you haven’t seen it, I encourage you to check out this eight-part series that took six years to make and spans the globe with some amazing footage. It also takes viewers through the five mass extinctions on earth. I’m not sure if I was sleeping in my high-school science class, or whether new science about our planet’s origins have more recently come to light, but I had no idea how many times our earth has essentially done a redo. Maybe you know all this, but volcanoes, changes in Earth’s orbit, ice ages, carbon, and plankton (of all things) have been seriously altering our planet for 440 million years, if our trusty narrator Morgan Freeman is to be believed. And who doesn’t believe Morgan Freeman? I mean, that voice! It’s like God himself is talking.
Sure, there’s plenty of speculation in the movie. And animation. Spielberg and his Jurassic gang did what they do and concocted for us hypothesized creatures from the past: their roars, their social habits. “How do they know this?” Dixie and I kept asking each other, especially when watching the many imagined courtship rituals. And of course they don’t. How could they? But they consulted hundreds of scientists, so I was inclined to believe most of it. And the footage of current life on our planet is stunning!
It was no surprise, the series ended with the dire prediction that we are now in the early stages of the sixth mass extinction, this one caused by us. Some people question whether we humans are to be blamed. We are so tiny in this vast universe. How could we possibly have that kind of impact? But 252 million years ago, plankton killed off 80% of life by starving our oceans of oxygen, and plankton is pretty small too.
But regardless of what you believe, or what life-choices you’re making to reduce your carbon footprint, I don’t think any of us can deny that a die-off is already in progress. The current estimate is we’ve been losing anywhere between 100 and 10,000 species per year. Depending on who you listen too, it’s either too late to change the course of this extinction, or we still have a slight chance to.
In the meantime, our scientists are finding new ways for us to continue to do the things we do in more sustainable ways, and some of us are doing what we can as individuals to shift our priorities, all while our politicians are squabbling over policies, and the military industrial complex is ramping up at a terrifying speed. (Talk about willful extinction, but don’t get me started). Throughout all this, I find myself reflecting on the notion of bearing witness.
I mean, for some reason we humans have been gifted with consciousness. I’m not sure, evolutionarily speaking, how this serves the planet, or if it even does. Nor am I certain we are the only species that is consciously conscious. Celtics believed trees were the Earth’s thoughts and, standing in a redwood grove, I’m inclined to believe them. Regardless, it is indisputable that we humans have the power of reflection, and here’s my current one: if we are at the end of Holocene epoch, if we are staring down another mass extinction, maybe the most important thing I can do is relish in the wonder of this beautiful planet while I can, and be grateful I got to be alive now, give thanks to the trees, the birds, the creatures in the sea, the water itself, the rocks, the air, the fire. Take time to watch a seed blowing in the wind, to the great horned owls hooting in the night, to feel the awe of this miracle of regeneration. To bear witness. To pay attention. To care. And maybe, through this simple act of paying attention, I will find ways to act, to come up with things I can do, that are feasible to do, that I am willing to do (because there’s the rub, right?), to help prolong this fragile chapter in Earth’s history. It’s not a new thought, I know. Take time to smell the roses is about as cliché as it gets. But in the event that the roses might not be here in the near future, it takes on a new urgency. Pay attention. Notice. Listen. And yes, smell.
That’s today’s reflection. Thanks for listening. I would love to hear your thoughts about how best to proceed during these unsettling times.
Also, I want to mention that my new mystery, Bait and Witch, comes out November 14th. (FYI: It has nothing to do with extinction or climate change.) For those of you in Santa Cruz, it should be at Bookshop SC by then, and I’ll be reading at Bookshop on January 25—a full moon! I would love to have you join me as I celebrate my sixth novel.
Besides that, remember to live the love. It’s all we’ve got.