Choosing Extinction


The climate strikes over the coming weeks will focus a great deal of attention on government and the urgent need for policy action. Rightly so. But it’s also a good time to reflect on the bigger context, as this is not anything like protests of the past.  There has in fact, never been a point like this in all of human history.

I called this column ‘choosing extinction’ because that is the path we are on today. There is considerable debate whether that extinction applies to us humans, or ‘just’ to millions of other species. But either way a mass extinction event is on the way, unless we choose to stop it.

What we now know, is that we are facing a time sensitive, existential risk. Failing to respond adequately, could commit humanity to widespread misery for hundreds and possibly thousands of years. It could literally change the course of evolution and human history.

We are well advised on the risks and they are clear and material. Not certain, but nor unlikely. The evidence is very clear and it tells us:

  • The scale and level of risk — it threatens civilisation; 
  • The scale of change required — the transformation of the global economy; and 
  • The speed with which this transformation must be delivered — largely within a decade. 

What this means is we have been warned of an imminent danger. Not just a danger to our prosperity or our level of progress but a danger to the very existence of organised civilisation. We know how to fix this and we know we can afford to do so

Now it’s time to decide. 

To decide whether humanity will continue on its long social, cultural and economic path of exploring and fulfilling our potential. Whether to find out what we are capable of. 

To decide how many of the world’s 8.7 million species we will allow to live and continue on their evolutionary path. And how many species we will choose to destroy, presumably never to come back.  Perhaps including our own.

We know all this. Yet we sit idly by, as the evidence mounts and the risks get greater, paralysed in various ways by ignorance, despair, delusion and fear. There should be no surprise in this, it is the path we have always taken in response to existential risk, even at smaller scale like WWII, which continues to be the closest analogy. 

The big difference in this case however, is that the existential risk applies to our whole planetary civilisation. With this, there is no historical parallel.  Not since the dinosaurs. But unlike the dinosaurs, we are consciously aware of the risks, we fully understand them, and we can choose to address them. 

We know exactly what we need to do. We cannot be certain of success if we act, but we can be pretty certain of catastrophe if we don’t.

Some argue it is hopeless, that there is no chance of success. In war this attitude would be considered treason – aiding and abetting the enemy. Such people have nothing to contribute on this topic, except to serve the interests of today’s ‘enemy’ – those who resist and delay change. They should cease all public comment and keep to themselves.

Some argue we may not succeed, that we may have left it too late. They are correct, we may have. But there is no evidence – nor can there be ahead of time – that we have done so. There is, therefore, no reason for this possibility to influence our decisions or actions today. There will be a future – our kids will live in it. We get to choose what it will be like.

What we have to do now is simple. We have to decide – do we choose extinction? Or do we choose to fight it? To rebel against it. To stand in its way.

To do all we can possibly do, to get humanity on a different path.

That is our choice. And each and every one of us now gets to decide. That’s why we’re in the streets. That’s why this matters… never before.


23 thoughts on “Choosing Extinction

  1. Steve Gill

    I’ll be in Forrest Place Perth for the #ClimateStrike and looking for the most productive ways to defeat climate change on a (almost) full time basis when I retire very soon. Thanks Paul, for sharing your understanding in such excellent words. I have faith that we will get there. Just wait for the numbers tomorrow :D

    • Aloha Steve,
      I am also retired and work semi-full-time as a volunteer with Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL) as Co-Leader of our Hawaii Island Chapter. CCL has put me in touch with optimistic action-oriented good people who are focused on national bipartisan legislation to “put a price on pollution”. There are active chapters in Australia and if you go to you will find them.
      Earlier this year I was honored to help form the first NZ Chapter Auckland-CCL.. A big issue in NZ is how to curb methane emission from cows. I believe a big issue for Australia is reducing coal use and coal export.
      I wish you the very best, Ron Reilly

      • Joan Halgren

        Citizens Climate Lobby is a conservatively controlled group with a false assertion on a laughable carbon fee and dividend that cannot be revenue neutral! The better solution is mobilization to divest from investments in emitters of carbon and other toxins too. This forces corporates to transition or die from lack of investors! Don’t get conned by CLL whose affiliates are long time promoters of gas and oil. Sorry to be the messenger of bad news. Please do your homework!

      • WOW..! Joan,
        I’m flabbergasted at your opinion. I can’t even guess at the sources for your information.
        Having been with CCL now for two years all I can say is, that my experience has led me to hold CCL and carbon-fee-and dividend in high regard, and to completely disagree with your characterization.
        However, I do agree that divestment is a powerful tool.
        In regards to research… the web site
        had information, lists the many notable HR763 supporters (now 63 cosponsors in the US House), and has FAQs and links to the full text of HR 763.

      • Joan Halgren

        While many economists support the concept, the administration of it cannot be equitable for all people. The dividends estimated will not happen due to the explicit need to expand governance to collect the dividend and disperse it while also facilitating a ‘border adjustment” visa vi a tariff that gets complicated by needing international trade agreements not to mention currency matters! No simple trick to make this an affordable, equitable proposition.

        Google those against it for more info, like the American Enterprise Institute for starters. Due diligence is required before you drink the cool aid. Better to have a carbon tax that goes directly to subsidize renewables since one avoids tariffs and a global recession too. Once you study this on your own, without the corporate professional corporate coaching of CCL you will see the truth. Let me know what you discover! Best wishes on fishing for the facts.


      • Thanks Joan. I was able to view the City of Red Wind Council meeting in progress just now- fun to watch.
        Also Wikipedia has interesting info and background on the American Enterprise Institute and their backing of a “carbon tax”. BTW Wikipedia has good concise info on Citizens’ Climate Lobby as well.
        Also I appreciate your recent vote, as part of the unanimous vote in support for the Sustainability Commission in co-sponsoring and helping with funding for a “Livable Planet” event proposed by the League of Women Voters and Citizens’ Climate Lobby….
        Consider Motion to Approve Livable Planet MN: Climate Conversations Event A motion was made by Commissioner Johnson that the Sustainability Commission co- sponsor an event — Livable Planet MN: Climate Conversations — on Saturday, September 21 with the Red Wing League of Women Voters and the Citizens Climate Lobby. The motion was seconded by Commissioner Huelskamp. Chair McLaughlin noted that a planning meeting has been scheduled on August 28. Commissioners Johnson and Huelskamp indicated that they plan to attend the planning meeting.

      • Joan Halgren

        Yes, we have CCL here but the Sierra,Club does much, much more with over 150 plus years of experience. CCL got promoted on a one-trick pony. But all are welcome to try whatever since we’re going over the cliff! Keep studying:).

  2. Margaret Bennett

    I appreciate your info. Am sharing your book, The Great Disruption as I can. Please keep up the fine work. Margaret R Bennett Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA

  3. Joan Halgren

    Paul. you correctly confirm tbe best and worst of humanity.

    I am convinced about the immediate individual and institutional divestment from fossil fuel emitters, including chemical companies too! Of course, I am getting push-back from a few folks who I serve with as Vice Chair of the City of Red Wing’s Sustainability Commission. My patience is waning and I may bolt soon to join with the Sierra Club to fight the biggest battle in Earth’s history. We must all be upstanders now! There’s no time to quibble😁.

    Paul, wishing you the best!

  4. Leif Knutsen

    Good Day, Paul: This is a quote I first heard from Mike McGinn, past Seattle mayor.

    “We’re the first generation to feel the impact of climate change and the last generation that can do something about it.’”
    And a short poem I wrote a ~2 years ago. It is cogent.
    Belief is Optional, Participation is Mandatory
    By Leif Knutsen

    On the planet we all reside
    Heaven, Hell, side by side

    Privileged, yet a chance to choose
    Or forced by sword, or coin, or booze

    Hell remains for all the rest,
    Few allowed to pass the test.

    The day of reckoning arrives
    With one chance left to just survive

    Perhaps we’ll choose the Pearly Gate
    End injustice, pillage, hate

    By doing nothing we decide
    For Planetary ecocide.

  5. John F Hinck

    Thanks Paul The difficulty in current generation- is that they don’t think beyond their nose- instant gratification- it will break their nose

    • Joan Halgren

      John, that doesn’t jive with my experience. The z generation is terrified and willing to break routines to set things right; plus, millenials are taking gap years around their college days to focus on the best ways to help our world. They are the hope we have to stay resilient!

      Perhaps, where one lives makes a difference with the young but their onboard, including the climate strike here in Minnesota’s smaller towns too, like Rochester, with the Mayo Clinic for support too.

      Best wishes,

  6. Bruno Walther

    I have written several editorial opinion pieces about this topic, which you might want to read:

    One crisis that can’t be ignored any longer (29 November 2009)
    Global economy must be rebuilt (21 December 2009)
    Environmental logic (22 September 2010)
    Lomborg wrong again (15 December 2010)
    The radical rebuilding of societies (17 January 2019)
    Climate awareness is not alarmism (9 May 2019)

    And then there is our video website about the biodiversity crisis

  7. I have written several editorial opinion pieces about this topic, which you might want to read:
    One crisis that can’t be ignored any longer (29 November 2009)
    Global economy must be rebuilt (21 December 2009)
    Environmental logic (22 September 2010)
    Lomborg wrong again (15 December 2010)
    The radical rebuilding of societies (17 January 2019)
    Climate awareness is not alarmism (9 May 2019)

    And then there is our video website about the biodiversity crisis

  8. Colin Megson

    The capital cost of energy supply technologies has a horrible dark side which needs to be drilled into the thought processes of all of those young people – Greta Thunberg; Extinction Rebellion; et al. – because it reveals how destructive their support of renewable technologies will be on their future lives and the planet they want so much to save.

    Onshore wind is the most cost-effective and least destructive of all renewable technologies; offshore wind and solar-pv are less cost-effective and therefore more destructive.

    A lobbying letter from powerful renewable companies and NGOs was sent to the UK Government calling for support in building 35 GW of new onshore windfarms. This prompted me to do a new blog post, which links back to a blog post comparing the capital cost of the UK’s new Hinkley Point C nuclear power plant to the equivalent number of the largest of the UK’s onshore windfarms – Whitelee.

    The essence of this second blog post was to ask the signatories to that letter to discuss with young members of their extended families. or any young people of their acquaintance, this ‘parting shot’: “…Search your conscience if your support of renewables imposes upon them:……….2X the capital cost; 18X the unwarranted waste of precious materials and resources……….The attendant GHG emissions and fossil-fuelled energy use every step of the way, from mining/quarrying, through processing, manufacture and installation……….Envision for them, their experience of 1600X the scenic desecration, ecosystem destruction, species wipe-out and waste mountains…”

    Capital cost holds dark, dark secrets the renewable industries, powerful NGOs and lobbyists don’t want politicians and our scared and anxious young people – and gullible commentators – to know about:

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