It’s Now or Never — We Stare Into the Abyss

This column is hopeful. I promise.

The northern white rhinoceros is now functionally extinct. Sudan — the last male of his kind — passed away recently. There are two females remaining but obviously they can produce no more of their species without a male — and mating with nearby giraffes is not something in which they seem interested.

This is not the end but the beginning.

This is still the beginning of a great extinction, the sixth great extinction in earth’s history and the first one caused by humans. The others were caused by things like massive asteroid impacts creating damage equivalent to a million nuclear bombs, and judging by the humans I’ve met, I could picture us wreaking an equivalent amount of havoc. (I mean, some are nice but most seem dangerous.)

So we can now say with certainty that the northern white rhino is done. After millions of years on this planet, most of them without a human in sight, the rhino has tapped out. Reading about it is depressing — I readily admit that. And yet, here I am writing about it. What the fuck am I thinking? Don’t I want readers? Don’t I want people to run and tell their friends about this wonderful and hilarious column they read? Choosing a topic like the death of the northern white rhino is not gonna achieve that. Couldn’t I just follow the middling path of most writers, covering how Ted Cruz said something idiotic or atrocious or idiotrocious? Or perhaps how Wonder Woman’s new outfit firmly locates the underwear on the inside rather than the outside and this means women around the world are winning the fight for equality? That type of story could probably score me some of the coveted #WokeHive clicks. (I just made up the #WokeHive but now that I did, I have a bad feeling it might really exist. That makes me sad.) And by writing about the underwear revolution, I could grab readership, operate within the bounds of allowable corporate thought, and tell myself that I’m creating change (while actually achieving nothing). The American Dream.

Point being, there are a lot of other topics that would surely grab more attention and more shares. Yet, here I am writing about the extinction of the white rhino and by extension our own extinction. Unfortunately this topic is too important to avoid. We’ve hid our heads in the sand and up our asses long enough. (I guess there’s a lot of sand up our asses?) No matter how scary or depressing mass extinction due to climate change and habitat destruction is, we should all be discussing it, reading/writing about it, portraying it on the big screen and the little screen and the mid-size screen, and demanding celebrity chefs shape their free-range duck confit like the last remaining pangolins to remind the diners of our tenuous situation on this planet. (Let’s hope no one is serving pangolin confit.)

Species go extinct every day on this planet — butterflies, and ants, and moths, and fish, and mammals, and lizards — they disappear forever on a daily basis. Rarely do they get a tiny tombstone or even a slight mention in a science magazine that no one reads (because the writers rarely ever mention Wonder Woman’s new outfit). Despite millions of years of finding ways to survive and continue on, these newly extinct species failed to outlast the most destructive force this planet has ever seen — humans wielding unfettered capitalism like a battle axe.

(Here are some which are either already extinct or facing extremely long odds.)

As the Yangtze giant soft-shell turtle went extinct, we were busy talking about who won UFC 257.

As the Indian cheetah said goodbye forever, we all raved about how wonderful [Insert Netflix series here] is because the costumes are fire.

As the spix macaw bid Planet Earth farewell, we couldn’t get enough of Kanye West’s hilarious attempt at running for president.

As the Chiriqui harlequin frog was extinguished, we were in a frenzied state trying to hoard toilet paper because our collective ass is too precious and fragile for paper towels.

As the Indochinese tiger went extinct, we all focused on whether our Tinder profile was hotter if we had a hat on in our picture. (No.)

As the last Tapanuli orangutans faced the long goodnight, we bought three extra spatulas at Ikea because they were three for a dollar and we talked about what a great price that was for the next two weeks. (We have yet to use three spatulas simultaneously, but we did once use two at the same time to kill a tenacious millipede.)

As the Catarina pupfish was snuffed out, we argued about whether a man kneeling during a song before a football game is the most horrific thing to ever happen to humanity including the Bubonic plague.

As the Jalpa false brook salamander entered the dark abyss of the extinction list, we found out our favorite ham and roast beef footlong is even better with bacon and turkey on it, amounting to a veritable Noah’s ark of death and deliciousness. (I guess it’s the anti-Noah’s ark: Causing the death of one of each type of animal.)

We are all Nero, and the world Rome.

recent UN report said this is an unprecedented time of species extinction. “The health of ecosystems on which we and all other species depend is deteriorating more rapidly than ever. We are eroding the very foundations of our economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life worldwide.”

Yet, despite it all, the truth is we have the ability to stop this. The report said, “Through ‘transformative change’, nature can still be conserved, restored and used sustainably… By transformative change, we mean a fundamental, system-wide reorganization across technological, economic and social factors, including paradigms, goals and values.”

Humans have the skills, talent, and technology to create a sustainable future. (I told you this column is hopeful.) The only question is whether we have the will. Does the human race have the will and desire to break our capitalist social engineering that has screamed at us every day of our lives — “Buying more is the answer. Eating more is the answer. Collecting more things is the answer. Don’t worry about the cost. Don’t worry about the waste. Don’t worry about the result, the ramifications, the externalities. Live for this moment and to hell with the rest! Anything inhibiting your rapacious consumptive binge is anti-freedom, anti-choice, and anti-you.”

Can we get off this death spiral? Or is the human race a sprint to extinction?

Once we cut away all the buzzwords and extract the technical terminology, capitalism is a manner of organizing human behavior based on infinite growth on a planet with finite resources. Even children know such a thing is impossible in the long term. We can have capitalism or we can have a future, but we can’t have both.

Lee Camp is the host and head writer of the comedy news TV show “Redacted Tonight with Lee Camp.” This is a chapter from Camp’s new book “Bullet Points & Punch Lines,” which features an intro by Jimmy Dore and a foreword by Chris Hedges. Grab a copy at