Extinction In Our Times

Posted: September 23, 2020 in Uncategorized

“More than two thirds of the world’s wild animals have disappeared over the past 50 years. You may not know that because it was barely reported on.”

For whatever reason, I decided this semester to leap from Wordsworth directly to Eliot, bypassing two important late-19th century authors I assigned to students last semester, Oscar Wilde and Friedrich Nietzsche. Each of them took great interest in the thought, still quite new in Victorian times, that all species, including the human species were destined to go extinct. Much of the discussion on this topic derived not only from Darwin’s The Origin of Species (1859) and The Descent of Man (1871), but also Lord Kelvin’s and Hermann von Helmholtz’s (1852) writing on the eventual heat death of the universe.

Wilde’s and Nietzsche writing are set agains this background of futility. Each asks what, in a world which is destined to extinction, makes life worth living? The thought of the ultimate extinction of all life was a shocking and depressing notion to most persons in the 19th century, even though they believed that the great cessation lay in the very distant future. It was at this point in history that the scholarly and artist communities were beginning to take very seriously the notion of deep space and deep time.

While deep time has again become a topic of intense scientific and artistic interest in the 21st century, eventual extinction no longer seems to us as a very distant event, but instead one looming dead ahead, potentially one we will live to witness first hand. Below you can examine a new documentary film by beloved British naturalist Sir David Attenborough on this very timely topic.

Friedrich Nietzche
“On Truth and Lies In A Non-Moral Sense”

Oscar Wilde
Preface To Dorian Gray

As a wildlife filmmaker, and a committed environmentalist, I’m delighted that this film has finally been made. And I’m impressed by the way this complex story has been put together.

After being shown that the current extinction rate is 100 times faster than natural evolution, we were introduced to the last two northern white rhinos, condemned to extinction, and to the Kenyan ranger whose job it is to look after them until they eventually perish.

From there, heavyweight international scientists from a range of disciplines described all the ways in which human activity is fuelling biodiversity loss across our planet.

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