Is It The Beginning of the End or the End of the Beginning?

I just read a story about the decrease in the number of amphibians.  Yes, I talking about those frogs, salamanders and lizards.  Although living here in Florida, it seems like there is an over abundance of those tiny lizards that live in your garden and your lawn and sun themselves on the sidewalks until you get close when they scamper away.  In fact, I’ve noticed a lot of little baby lizards, no more than an inch long (full size can be four inches or more).

But the news article specifically pointed to only a few species that appear to have decreased in populations by 50 percent or more within the last decade.  Although scientists are still not sure of the cause of this decline, they cite factors such as disease, new preditors, the increased use of pesticides, and yes, of reason behind all negative change in the world, climate change.

If this story was an isolated report and only about a few frog species, perhaps the majority of people would take little notice of the warning.  However, could it be a part of a larger pattern?  Digging around the internet, it does not take long to find reports on the loss of honeybee colonies, bats, and the decrease in marine animals and especially the shrinking of coral reefs.  You could also look at the loss of many species of plant life especially those that grow only in tropical rainforests which are being cut down at an alarming rate.  How long will it take until the loss of these species directly effect us, our food supplies, our environment?

Of course, the other side of the argument is that species come and go all of the time.  It is called evolution.  The troubling fact is the rate of extinction may be accelerating.  Such mass die-offs of species has happened several times in the past.  Mass extinctions have occurred several times in the past and each time, the extinction seems to be related in some way to climate change, either warming or cooling.  Sometimes the climate change may be initiated by an external factor such as the meteor that led to the extinction of the dinosaurs.  Note that I did not say that the meteor caused the extinction of the dinosaurs.  Most scientists today believe that other than dinosaurs living in the immediate area of the meteor strike somewhere off the Yucatan peninsula most dinosaurs died over hundreds if not thousands of years.  Scientists have modeled the effect of the dust and dirt kicked up into the atmosphere by the meteor and possibly volcanoes that erupted shortly afterward.  While the dust could have lead to cooler temperatures as the sun’s rays were blocked, gasses from the volcanoes could have led to a greenhouse effect much like the one around Venus trapping heat and raising temperatures on the surface.

In any case, most species did not survive.  While the die-out may appear instantaneous from a geological point of view, it could still have taken decades or even centuries for some of the species to die off completely and then slowly be replaced by other species who could cope with the climate changes and adapt.

So if most of the extinction events can be associated with some type of climate change, does it follow that today’s climate change and loss of dozens of species in the last century mean that we are at the start of the mass extinction?

Even if that is true, does that mean that mankind is doomed to become extinct as well?  Keep in mind that with every past mass extinction, some species did survive and even thrive in the new climate conditions.  The more adaptable, the more likely a species might survive.  Mankind, if nothing else, is adaptable.  With our increased use of technology, we may be able to survive any mass extinction even to the extent of manufacturing our own organic food in factories in petri dishes rather than farms.

However, the world could be very different in a few thousand years as more species die and perhaps new ones come to the forefront to fill in the gaps in the ecosystem.  If you could hibernate for the next thousand or perhaps five thousand years, what type of world would you wake up to?  Would you recognize anything?  Yet that new ecosystem could over time become just as vibrant as the one we have today.  In effect, the end of this era might be nothing more than the start of the new era.  The only question I would have is how mankind would fair during this transition.  While we may survive due to technologies we already have today, will mankind fall below a critical population level in which science and technology become unimportant compared to the daily needs of survival?  Will we slowly lose the ability to develop new technology?  Will we even be able to continue to maintain the old existing levels of technology?  Will mankind revert to living in caves?  Will all written record of our great society be lost as the records deteriorate?  Will the knowledge and technology lost over time become the substance of myths and legends?  Will future archeologists ponder over how their primitive ancestors were able to develop the skills to make the strange discoveries they unearth?

Could this have happened before?  Could our current society be just one of several that rose and fell in the past?  Such concerns give more validity to the arguments why we need to explore space and establish colonies elsewhere so that mankind may survive any disaster to this vulnerable planet.

But then just perhaps, this has happened before.  Perhaps the people of Atlantis really did have flying ships.  Perhaps they did explore space and leave colonies elsewhere.  And for the real conspiracy theory advocates, maybe some of the UFOs reported today are nothing more than our ancient ancestors who survived their mass extinction returning to see how the new life on planet Earth survives this one.  So could the beginning of the end of this cycle simply be part of the end of the beginning of the next cycle?

Ok, I would guess you did not expect this story to take that twist.  However, remember when a science fiction fan lives inside a writer, all bets are off.

C’ya next time.

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