We're in the shit

The general public is burdened, they say. People don’t want to hear about the big problems. But reality is merciless and now when we’re in the shit, well, it's hard to be positive. No one is talking about the really big problem – that so many species are disappearing from the world.

Having many species, that is biodiversity, is an insurance against future disasters. We live in an age of mass extinction and it is, unfortunately, the biggest crisis of them all. Let me explain why.

Many species are directly necessary for us humans. If someone is medicated for some time with strong antibiotics, that person could get rid of almost all bacteria in the gut. We carry an inner rain forest within us, around 1000 different species of bacteria that interact and keep each other in check. When our inner forest is cut down by antibiotics, it becomes vulnerable. Then bacteria like Clostridium difficile could start to grow uncontrollably in the intestine and give the patient severe diarrhea. In Sweden we have approximately 4500 cases per year. There is a treatment method that solves the problem, but it is considered, well, un-orthodox and therefore controversial. The treatment is simple. You can inject feces from a healthy person in the sick person's bowel. And voilà, the internal rain forest is restored after a few days.

'No syringe filled with feces is large enough for us to get Great Auk back. The last Great Auk clung to the island Eldey outside of Iceland when Jón Brandsson, Sigurdr Islefsson and Ketil Ketilsson stepped ashore July 3, 1844. For them it was a day like any other, for the Great Auk it was the end of the 3.5 billion years long journey through life. Ketil stamped on the eggs while Jon and Sigurdr strangled the last couple of Great Auks that existed in the world. But Ketil, Jon and Sigurdr can not be held responsible for the great Auks extinction. It had begun long before. Once upon a time there were also Great Auks at Stora Karlsö off Gotland in Sweden. I mean, who killed them?

Our political system protects banks, but is helpless when life itself is attacked. Species in a forest is not interchangeable with species from another. Its not possible to just give the forest a syringe filled with species. It’s too late even before the last individuals of a species is gone. Extinction is a gradual and unpredictable process. But all species have adopted through evolution in a context, they live in an ecosystem.

It may sound like new age but just as the bacterium Clostridium difficile can run amok in our intestines and give painful diarrhea, ecosystems can tip over. And when they do, it is we, the people, which are caught in the shit. In the sea, jellyfish are taking over when the fish disappear. It is happening all over the world, right now.

In Sweden we have become really good at double standards. We think its fine with virgin forest in the tropics and are happy to pay money for the rainforest to be protected. At the same time we only have a few percent of protected forests in Sweden, just a tiny fraction of what Brazil and Costa Rica have preserved. Even today, some of our montane forests are at risk of being logged.

At just about the time when the Great Auk disappeared, the mass extinction that humans have caused accelerated. We have now reached industrial proportions, we manage to wipe out some species and simultaneously send others to new places around the world in a way that lack comparison in history. The most dangerous thing is that we have hit the top predators hardest. When wolves and sharks disappear from ecosystems, there are large and unforeseeable consequences for other species. Sharks indirectly affect phytoplankton that gives us almost all the oxygen we breathe. Don’t mess with the top predators.

Along with global warming, we have now become a geological force so strong that our time has had its own name - Anthropocene. We are a force of nature, up there with earthquakes, volcanoes and the meteorite that topped the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. There is no spray that can fix everything we had done. We’re in the shit.

Earth | Time Lapse View from Space, Fly Over | NASA, ISS from Michael König on Vimeo.