The End of Wildlife

A new report from a UN committee says that one million species worldwide are threatened with extinction by humans. What does that mean for the wilderness experience?
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Well, that’s great. A new report dropped from the UN yesterday describing 1,000,000 species in direct risk of extinction, many of which could blink out within the next few decades. The primary culprit: climate change.

I’m not going to relitigate the human hand behind the warming of our planet—pretty much everyone already agrees and my liberal arts degree doesn’t really qualify me to lay that out, anyway. But I am a hiker, backpacker, wilderness lover. I lie awake listening to the frogs sing in summertime, marvel at the drunken corkscrews insects cut around my headlamp beam, gasp at the uncountable shades of green in any given square foot of forest. These aren’t just whimsy for me; they’re they fabric of life. And that fabric is fraying.

Sometimes I take the big picture, the cosmic one. I lean back on my elbows after darkness settles and gaze at that all that old starlight that has traveled millions of years to reach my eyes. And in that infinite space, as far as common knowledge and all of theology goes, our little speck of a planet is the only place that holds life. And we, in our orgiastic abundance, lay it low. We are reapers, not stewards. And we are coming for it and we cannot be stopped and we cannot stop ourselves.

I’ve read that at a species level, homo Sapiens are lousy at responding to long term challenges. Our ancient wiring makes us more equipped to fight off bears than floods, though almost none of us do the former. When it comes down to it, we survive as individuals, if we survive. Of course in some ways that idea is appealing: We are in charge, can self-determine, can overcome. And I believe we can probably can, but not like this.

How many species will go into humanity’s engine? No one knows for sure, but everyone knows its more. Will that suck the life out of the swamps, forests, and shorelines? Will the places we love be the same next summer, next decade, next century?

I’ve never thought of frog song as a requiem. I’ve never thought of stars as a warning beacon. I’ve never thought of silence as sadness. But now I do. I hope that this planet can preserve its fortune of life forever, even as I’m forced to accept that the imminent destruction of 1,000,000 species is probably just a mile marker on the road to oblivion. May we find an exit together.

*This post reflects my personal opinion and not the editorial stance of BACKPACKER nor its parent, Active Interest Media.