EXTINCTION: It's all around us

How long will it take a plastic bottle or bag to biodegrade?  How long will it take for greenhouse gas emissions to raise atmospheric temperature 2-4 degrees? How long can we ensure the safe storage of nuclear waste? All of these questions are central to current environmental debates, and, of course, all involve consequences that none of us will live to see. The “seventh generation” approach to judging our actions gives us a sense of the long view, but may not ultimately provide a ton of motivation: we don’t know those people, after all.

Of course, not all environmental issues revolve around long-term impacts: it’s taken a relatively short amount of time to create ocean dead zones because of increasing nitrogen pollution, or the Great Pacific Garbage Patch from larger amount of plastic in our waste streams. We’ll see other species go extinct in our own lifetimes while we watch our own population balloon. Sure, we should consider the needs of future generations, but we can look around ourselves right now and see the consequences of refusing to consider ourselves a part of the greater natural order.

That’s the message underlying Clayton Haskell and Summer Rayne Oakes‘ short film EXTINCTION: we’re at a historical juncture at which we can equate important moments of our own lives with significant events of ecological degradation. Half of the Earth’s forest cover gone? Yep, that happened when I was eighteen. Extinction of lions in the wild? That’s on track to happen when I’m in my late sixties. Haskell combines Oakes’ narrative (which pins such events to points in her own life) with imagery that reflects human interaction with nature. The effect is both meditative and hard-hitting: our current trajectory won’t just create an unlivable world at some point in the future, but is regularly killing off elements of nature that, up until now, we’ve taken for granted.

The films made several appearances at festivals this year, and will continue to roll out at other venues (including online events). If you get a chance to check it out (or already have), let us know what you think.