We are living, I keep reading, on the edge of the Anthropocene, the sixth massive extinction in the earth's long history, and the first since the age of the dinosaurs. As the name implies, the cause is us. So naturally we have taken it upon ourselves to fix the problem, and in “Building an Ark for the Anthropocene,” Jim Robbins discusses several projects to save endangered species and protect habitat – an effort, however exciting and encouraging, that inevitably involves choices about which species get saved. Even Noah didn’t try to play god at that level. He loaded the ark with his family and two of every other species, figuring, I guess, that he could repeople the earth but needed all the others to survive.
That’s worth remembering. So many of our efforts to save the polar bear or the rainforest or the earth itself pretend that we are doing so for their sake, instead of for our own. But the earth doesn’t care whether we survive or not. As Alan Weisman noted in “Earth Without People,” it would do just fine without us – and if you are open to the Gaia principle that the earth is a single organism, it’s pretty obvious who the cancer cells are.
My daughter, Gayley, got married on Saturday, and it is their future and their children’s that I truly care about, and that’s why it is critical to protect the wondrous diversity on which their lives will depend.