Our Burning Planet

THE GATHERING: EARTH EDITION 

The Anthropocene revisited: The Sixth Extinction and climate change are real folks 

The Anthropocene revisited: The Sixth Extinction and climate change are real folks 
Daily Maverick editor-at-large Richard Poplak is flanked by, from left, Wits University Professor Roger Smith, environmental behaviour change practitioner at WWF-SAEO Pavitray Pillay, executive director of the Biodiversity Law Centre Kate Handley and senior technical adviser at Searcher Robin Sutherland, during the panel on the Sixth Extinction at Daily Maverick's The Gathering: Earth Edition on Friday 26 May 2023 in Cape Town, South Africa. (Photo: Shelley Christians)

The final panel at the Daily Maverick’s The Gathering: The Earth Edition, explored the unfolding Sixth Extinction, which is being fuelled by climate change. This extinction has been unfolding for tens of thousands of years, since homo sapiens left Africa and eliminated much of the planet’s megafauna. But the keynote address ahead of the panel brought home the depressing fact that we have known for decades what to do to arrest the emissions that are burning our planet.

Addressing The Gathering virtually, US writer and activist Bill McKibben, who wrote the first book about climate change in 1989, said that since the publication of The End of Nature, the global economy had emitted more greenhouse gases than it did in all of human history before then. 

What was depressing about this state of affairs was that we knew then what to do, but economies remained addicted to fossil fuels.  

“We knew what we should do, get off gas and oil,” McKibben said. 

McKibben also made the point that disinvestment campaigns targeting the fossil fuel industry were modelled on similar campaigns that targeted apartheid. 

But the fight against apartheid, he noted, had “an inevitability about it”. 

In the climate fight, “if we don’t win fast, we will never win”, he said.

The final panel discussion tackling the Sixth Extinction, Daily Maverick’s editor-at-large Richard Poplak was joined by:

• Roger Smith, Evolutionary Studies Institute, Wits University;
• Pavitray Pillay, environmental behaviour change practitioner at the WWF-SAEO;
• Kate Handley, co-founder and executive director of the Biodiversity Law Centre; and
• Robin Sutherland, senior technical adviser to geoscience data company Searcher

Climate change, of course, is seen as a major threat to humanity – intense drought, food insecurity, extreme weather events, conflict – the apocalyptic horsemen it is unleashing are many. 

But it is also a threat to wider biodiversity and is one of the many factors behind what scientists see as the Sixth Extinction in natural history– one that is unfolding now. The last one was triggered by an asteroid that took out the dinosaurs. 

Wits University Professor Roger Smith during the panel on The Sixth Extinction at Daily Maverick’s The Gathering: Earth Edition on Friday 26 May 2023 in Cape Town, South Africa. (Photo: Shelley Christians)

That opened up space for the rise of mammals; and palaeontologist Roger Smith noted that the “nice thing about mass extinctions is that they open up opportunities”. That’s evolution, but this one is not natural – it is human-made, which is why our current geological epoch is known as the Anthropocene. 

Environmental behaviour change practitioner at WWF-SAEO Pavitray Pillay during the panel onThe Sixth Extinction at Daily Maverick’s The Gathering: Earth Edition on Friday 26 May 2023 in Cape Town, South Africa. (Photo: Shelley Christians)

The WWF’s Pavitray Pillay noted that while the Sixth Extinction was not like an asteroid strike – in that it is long term– the end result was the same: extinction, which is final. DM

 

Gallery
Absa OBP

Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • fishingboy says:

    The Baal of Climate has returned – as you worship him, the door opens more for the dark trinity to return. Yes, we are facing extinction but not as these climate scientists think its going to happen.

Please peer review 3 community comments before your comment can be posted

A South African Hero: You

There’s a 99.7% chance that this isn’t for you. Only 0.3% of our readers have responded to this call for action.

Those 0.3% of our readers are our hidden heroes, who are fuelling our work and impacting the lives of every South African in doing so. They’re the people who contribute to keep Daily Maverick free for all, including you.

The equation is quite simple: the more members we have, the more reporting and investigations we can do, and the greater the impact on the country.

Be part of that 0.3%. Be a Maverick. Be a Maverick Insider.

Support Daily Maverick→
Payment options

MavericKids vol 3

How can a child learn to read if they don't have a book?

81% of South African children aged 10 can't read for meaning. You can help by pre-ordering a copy of MavericKids.

For every copy sold we will donate a copy to Gift of The Givers for children in need of reading support.