Biomass is Neutral: Caveat on Humanity’s Mass Extinction

The living side of humanity’s mass extinction…

Climate change is a hot button topic with a global consensus that humans must transform how we carry ourselves in the world environmentally. The notion that human influence is having a material impact on Earth’s environment, such that it could compromise the survival of our civilization, is popularly understood and abundantly supported.

Additionally, humanity is given ownership of another modern calamity, the Anthropocene mass extinction. Named for our current geologic epoch, the Anthropocene mass extinction is occurring now and it’s our fault.

Usually what characterizes mass extinction is the abundance of death. These are periods of great cataclysm. A meteor strikes Earth unleashing a wave of destruction. A super volcano erupts obscuring the Sun for years. Something occurs in which life itself is threatened.

Today scientists observe that extinction rates are elevated. Many organisms have already gone extinct and many more are under threat, expected to go extinct in the near future. The Anthropocene extinction is real. Yet, there’s a living side to this phenomenon that is not only differentiating but also ignored.

Painting by George Wilkinson III
Painting by George Wilkinson III

Human Bias
Scientific evidence of climate change and mass extinction are compelling and not subject to debate here. Humanity is having an observable impact on the planet. What I challenge is how these data are interpreted.

Contemporary biologists often approach modern humanity with bias. We are different. We are special. We should know better. There is nature and then there is us, two separate concepts. What is suggested is that humanity was hocus-pocused into existence separate from and in conflict with nature. This is creationism, not science.

By definition, natural history requires that every thing is part of natural order. Yet, many biologists concurrently subscribe to evolutionary theory while maintaining that our modern form has departed from nature’s plan. These are mutually exclusive concepts.

Evolutionary theory demands that our urbanized form fit as naturally with Earth as does the butterfly with the caterpillar. The widespread absence of such logic constitutes a contemporary blind spot in science and has placed limitations on observable phenomena such as the Anthropocene mass extinction.

Bias in human observation is natural, however this doesn’t mean we cannot overcome it. Bias departs from the scientific method and introduces judgment; humanity becomes “bad,” our influence on the world is interpreted negatively, observation is obscured by guilt.

Question: When our telescopes find a planet with life exactly like ours, how will we interpret it?  Would we wag our finger at the beings we discover?

Earth City Lights 2012
Image courtesy of NASA

Biomass is Neutral
The Anthropocene mass extinction is unlike those before it in one profound way: Biomass is neutral.

Biomass is the theoretical mass of all living organisms on Earth. Given their usually cataclysmic nature, mass extinctions are marked by severe reductions in biomass. Again, during mass extinctions usually life itself is under threat. Today, biomass is arguably neutral. Organisms are going extinct due to the exploding populations of others. This observation is thus far unacknowledged (or unknown) in contemporary science.

Instead of life itself being reduced altogether, organisms are going extinct because populations of others are booming (e.g. humans, mice, rats, cats, dogs, cows, sheep, pigs, chickens, pigeons, seagulls, deer, foxes, kangaroos, all invasive plants and animals, etc., the list is long). This observation is rarely paired with discussions of elevated extinction rates. The off-the-charts populations of humans and our accompanying invasive species are discounted, falling into the “bad” category as things that should not be.

That diversity, not life itself, is under threat differentiates the Anthropocene mass extinction. Furthermore, a reduction in diversity is not by definition “bad.” To suggest there is such a thing as stasis in nature, or a way environments and/or diversity should be, is fiction.

The purpose here is not to suggest we observe this difference, accept our impact on the planet and do nothing. Sustainability is as important to our civilization as is an individual taking an interest in their personal health and well-being; I take exception with the condemnation of humanity.

It is incorrect to assume acknowledgement of our role in mass extinction has to be coupled with judgement. Unfortunately, this is the popularly espoused take-home message; humanity is the villain in nature’s drama. Such an approach is counterproductive because the people with the power to make a difference are the ones being condemned. Any novice of emotional intelligence knows that people have a fairly predictable and understandable reaction to blame: Stubborn resistance.

The Urban Organism
Science requires that our mass extinction is part of natural order, yet our urbanized form has yet to be woven into evolutionary theory. That is, o
bservation of humanity’s mass extinction isn’t paired with other fascinating phenomena.  For example, Earth is glowing and emitting matter. Perhaps instead of Life being threatened, it is reorganizing.

The belief that humanity is a destructive imposition on Utopia is so prevalent that genuine inquiry about an Urban Organism is obscured.  Without doubt, something phenomenal is occurring on Earth and it has naturally sprung from life itself.

I am aligned with messages of sustainability. We will make far larger strides towards it, thereby extending the survival of our civilization, if we embrace our nature and work to better understand it within the context of evolutionary biology.

This begs the question, what is the purpose of the urban organism?


The Voyager 1 Spacecraft. The first manmade object to leave the solar system. Image courtesy of NASA
The Voyager 1 Spacecraft. The first manmade object to leave the solar system. Image courtesy of NASA