I dream that I have failed. The tiny, struggling cat rescue I’ve spent years trying to help keep afloat has finally gone under. Where will all the cats go? I think. Where will they go, who will feed them, who will bind their wounds and shelter them against the cruelty of the world? As I walk numbly through a grassy field toward rows of kennels, perhaps to say goodbye to the cats inside for the last time, I whisper the names of those already lost so that I won’t forget them. Yet when I reach the kennels I find their doors all open and the cats streaming through the grass past me. They run eagerly, all in the same direction, as if toward some destination I cannot see. Even the littlest day-old kittens with their ears still buttoned down and their eyes still squeezed shut try to stumble through the tall grass after mothers and older siblings. I have to stop walking or I’ll step on someone by accident, so I kneel down in the grass and begin gathering babies up in my arms to keep them safe. Some older kittens climb into my lap as well, or up onto my shoulders, and soon I’m weighed down in a blanket of warm, squirming bodies. Their purring vibrates through me so loudly it drowns out my thoughts, my frantic heartbeat, a glorious pean washing over me in a crescendo of wordless voices. Within its embrace I finally break; I bury my face into sweet silken fur and add my own wordless, animal howling to the hymn-turned-lament. I let grief wrack my body in violent sobs as if I am a bean sí crying out the world’s doom. By the time my exhausted body has no tears left to shed nor sound to utter and I lift my head once more, everything around me has burned to ash and I am alone.
I’ve carried the burden of extinction on my shoulders since I was a child, haunted by the sacred spirits of panthera uncia, tigris, and leo, by puma concolor and acinonyx jubatus, by the wailing specters of the burning Amazon and the melting Arctic. Even then I saw the irreversible trajectory of our folly and in the years since no amount of hope in mankind nor faith in divinity could shake that nihilistic certainty. I do not need cursed Cassandra’s terrible gift to know we crossed the point of no return long ago; we will never invent a technology capable of undoing the evils mankind has wrought, and certainly not in time to reverse the mass death we’ve set in motion. Even my childself, full of the dreams and promises of youth, understood the planetary genocide to which she’d bear witness in her lifetime.
Yet as I drown in grief I must remember my own words: turn to geology on your deathbed, it is the only science that can save you. When the ocean is clotted with orcinus orca’s ghosts and plastic shopping bags, it will still wear away continents and heave forth cataclysmic waves. When the mountains are littered with canis lupus corpses and abandoned solar panels, they will still cleave the sky and bury empty cities in eruptions of ash and mud. When every living thing is dead and we have finally committed the last of our species’ incomprehensible crimes, the earth will still remain. The planet will continue its endless cycles of upheaval and erosion, rupture and subduction, its titanic geologic metamorphosis, as if we had never been. Earth, at least, we cannot truly kill, no matter how hard we try.
My words are a species on the verge of extinction. At this point I should probably just give up on sustaining a viable breeding population; there are no wild ones left and those in captivity are so interbred they’re hardly recognizable. There’s no use beating around the bush, I know how this is going to end and so there’s nothing else to do. It’s not like people are clamoring to save them, anyway, or will even notice when the last one exhales its final breath. Guess it’s just time to move on, time to relegate the poor things to the annals of forgotten history along with all the other literary failures that exist now only in attic trunks and basement boxes. It’s fine; I’ll always have my memories, won’t I? I’m sure those keep the dodo warm at night and bring much comfort to the thylacine.
Look, it really depends on what you mean by “doomed”. It’s true, after all, what lan Malcolm said: We haven’t got the power to destroy the planet – or to save it. In the planetary sense everything’s fine. Man is just the briefest blip on the geologic timescale, just a pack of fleas the earth will wipe out with a twitch. Earth will remain so long after we are gone that the mind is incapable of grasping such immensity. However, if you define “doomed” as the inevitable extinction of most major species on earth, well, that’s different. Earth may not be doomed but every beautiful, complex, unique form of life upon it is, and isn’t that what we’re really talking about? No one’s worried that we’re going to annihilate single-celled organisms – just, you know, the millions of other precious lifeforms that can’t survive a nuclear holocaust. We are the product of billions of years of evolution, yet in a few thousand we will have managed to ruin everything. So are we doomed? Are we witness to life’s final death throes? I guess it just comes down to semantics. If we are gone tomorrow, the earth will not miss us, he said. But it certainly won’t ever be the same, either.
I think I’d rather be Atlantis
or maybe Pompeii;
at least they went out in a blaze of glory
ninety-foot waves and boiling ash clouds;
at least they went out fast
Mother Nature reclaiming Her body
with a thunderous upheaval;
I think that would be better than
a slow death by pollution
climate change and vanishing bees;
I think anything would be better than
eking out existence in a desert
that used to be an ocean
and pretending this mass extinction
is just a coincidence.