This Is Not The Sixth Extinction. It’s The First Extermination Event.

| Strategize!

Above Photo: What we are witnessing is not a passive geological event but extermination by capitalism.NASA’S SCIENTIFIC VISUALIZATION STUDIO

From the “insect apocalypse” to the “biological annihilation” of 60 percent of all wild animals in the past 50 years, life is careening across every planetary boundary that might stop it from experiencing a “Great Dying” once more.

But the atrocity unfolding in the Amazon, and across the Earth, has no geological analogue — to call it the “sixth extinction event” is to make what is an active, organized eradication sound like some kind of passive accident. This is no asteroid or volcanic eruption or slow accumulation of oxygen in the atmosphere due to cyanobacteria photosynthesis.

We are in the midst of the First Extermination Event, the process by which capital has pushed the Earth to the brink of the Necrocene, the age of the new necrotic death.

For some 500 years, capitalism’s logic of eco-genocidal accumulation has presided over both the physical eradication of human and non-human life and the cultural eradication of the languages, traditions and collective knowledge that constitute life’s diversity. It necrotizes the planetary biosphere, leaving behind only decay. It burns the practically unrecoverable library of life and eradicates its future masterpieces simultaneously. It inflicts not just physical destruction, but psychological grief and trauma as people witness their lands go under the sea, get immolated by fire, and drown in mud. The First Extermination Event has now produced such a nightmarish world that even temperature maps scream in agony.

The specter of the First Extermination might haunt us all but it does so with stark disparities, mapping the geography of capital’s historical inequities.

Small island states formulate plans to relocate their populations already existentially threatened by rising sea levels. Extreme weather events like Hurricanes Katrina and Maria disproportionately affect low-income and communities of color, producing far higher causality rates comparative to other disasters of their magnitude and whose effects are often doubly disastrous, as nearly half of these communities live in proximity to toxic “sacrifice zones.” Droughts and famines, such as in Syria and Yemen, exacerbate conflicts and force mass migrations of people — the vast majority women and children — while eco-fascists mobilize the affective politics of grievance to turn capitalism’s “climate emergency” to their own advantage, sloganeering about “trees before refugees” while calling for mass murder.

Yet, most popular discussion of the sixth extinction still indulges in sweeping catastrophist pronouncements about “humanity” writ large, often failing even to mention the word “capitalism,” much less account for its centrality to the historical production of mass extinction.

Environmental historian Jason W. Moore’s work has shown that capitalism is not merely an economic system, but a world-ecology searching to exploit “cheap natures,” a process that must perpetually reassemble life to penetrate more and more frontiers of potential profit. Capital must reproduce its means of production through its perpetual destruction.

The fundamental importance of the search for cheap nature and unpaid labor to historical capitalist development has been well explored by scholars. It was not the industrial revolution and its production of the “doubly free” wage laborer, but racialized enslavement, mass witch-hunts, and destruction of Indigenous peoples and ecologies that produced the conditions for capital to thrive.

Through to the present, accumulation of capital has proceeded by the violent dispossession or outright murder of peoples, followed by the necrotic extraction of resources that destroys its local ecology for the sake of accumulation. The cumulative results of this process, replicated across the globe, have come to affect deep-time transformations to life at the planetary scale through its very erasure.

This is how capital capitalizes on its own catastrophes, sustaining the production of “life” under its aegis every day and accelerating the death of life across the Earth. This is no “creative destruction”; it is simply self-annihilation.

It is for this reason that global attention has turned to the Amazon this year. Perhaps the fires will consume the last vestiges of the fantasy of an ossified international liberal order capable of stopping this planetary crisis.

A ghoulish faction of petty autocrats takes stage for the final act, exemplars of kakistocratic decadence and the apotheosis of a toxic sludge of decaying neoliberalism, climate catastrophe, white supremacy and conspiratorial gibberish. President Trump and Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro are caricatures of the First Extermination Event. History’s tragedy now runs concurrent with its farce — the smirk of the tabloid huckster, the new face of the banality of evil. But truly, they are two sides of the same coin.

“Green” capital is simply the fetishized, phantom-like objectivity of capital’s absolute necrosis. It is not a contradictory attempt to “sustainably” square the circle of endless accumulation, or “save capitalism from itself”; rather, it is another form of accumulation that sees the destruction capital wreaks as an opportunity for further profit. Branding itself as a solution to this destruction, it further incentivizes its continuation by existing only as another option for accumulation when other avenues are closed off. It would cease to exist without the necrotic entropy to which it owes its reason for being.

As its monstrous appetite begins to consume the people who previously benefited from its machinations, capital must seek to confuse, turn incoherent, become conspiratorial, point toward ethno-cultural “regeneration” through violence, and catabolically eat its body piece by piece in order to survive.

Like a hostage-taker with a bomb strapped to its chest, capital demands our acquiescence or it will hit the self-destruct button on Spaceship Earth. But its threats are hollow — capital is not greater than life; it will never subsume it entirely under its will. It might dream of Mars and Nanobots for new frontiers of commodification, but all it has left to hawk are bunkers.

The dire threat of the First Extermination opens a horizon of possibility to finally destroy what has precipitated it — the rule of capital. The First Extermination Event is not the history of some unstoppable “common ruin of the contending classes,” nor is there any inevitability to its final outcome.

The indulgence of a fashionable posture of “apocalyptic chic,” the lamentation of learning “how to die in the Anthropocene,” or other such maudlin navel-gazing elegies for “civilization” (which means “Western civilization” because, of course, its collapse is all that matters) — all this kind of literature on our ecological crisis is the greatest victory for the ideology of necrotic capital today.

Focusing on a dystopic future allows the privileged to ignore the dystopic horror that already exists today for a great many people on this planet. As philosopher and environmental activist Kyle Powys Whyte writes, many Indigenous peoples have long lived in a dystopian “Anthropocene” — it is here, now, yesterday. They have also long fought an existential war against it.

The great historical struggle against capital’s First Extermination has been, and remains, the struggle for land and the rights of the commons. Indigenous nations account for less than 5 percent of the global population while protecting 80 percent of its biodiversity. Indigenous Water and Land Protectors, whose campaigns are often led by women, face a far higher rate of assassinations and state violence compared to non-Indigenous activists in the Global North. From the Lenca people’s victory in halting the Agua Zarca hydrodam on the Rio Gualcarque, to the Lumad’s fight in the Philippines against the expulsion from their ancestral homes for mining, Indigenous peoples are on the front lines of the war against necrotic capital.

It is their struggles that created the theory and praxis of fighting the First Extermination Event. Any “Extinction Rebellion” must follow their lead.

  • I find it obvious that all life will soon be extinct on Earth due to greed of humans. It’ll be accelerated with such discrete abominations as the explosion of Arctic klathrates, among other quantum leaps into frying everything to death.

  • Greeley Miklashek

    “We are in the midst of the First Extermination Event…” due to too many humans using too many natural resources and producing too much pollution. Population Density Stress Is Killing Us All Now! We are committing overpopulation suicide due to population density stress, which is responsible for all of our myriad and rapidly increasing “diseases of civilization”. 55% of American adults have at least one chronic disease and 80% of us over 50 do likewise. We are being crushed and disposed of by our own stupidity and excess, as Mother Nature has long planned for overpopulated species. We have a gene-based population reduction mechanism and it is triggered by high density. Stress R Us

  • Thank you, Ms. Flowers and Mr. Zeese, for publishing this essay. It is the best (i.e., most thought-provokingly true) such work I have seen anywhere.

    Nevertheless I must quibble with one of Mr. McBrien’s points. He wrote:

    “Perhaps the fires will consume the last vestiges of the fantasy of an
    ossified international liberal order capable of stopping this planetary
    crisis.”

    Thus Mr. McBrien repeats the most common “progressive” error of under-estimating the absolute Evil that defines our (all-powerful) overlords: that no power that has the capability of thermonuclear planetary destruction can be defined as “ossified.”

    In truth our masters’ feigned powerlessness is yet another of the Big Lies by which we are now tyrannized.

    What is actually happening — and it is obvious to anyone who knows enough about history and the overwhelming human penchant for reducing all politics to despotism — is our masters are merely applying their Shock Doctrine to the weaponization of what Mr. McBrien so correctly labels “the First Extermination Event.”

    Its purpose is of course reduction of the human population by at least 90 percent, and the reduction of society to but two classes, masters and slaves — i.e., them and us.

  • Delete me again if you want, but no Ruling Class that possesses the instant push-button thermonuclear omnipotence to destroy the planet – and (ever-more-terrifyingly) has the moral imbecility to use it – can properly be labeled “ossified.”

    Nor does it matter if you censor all the (now-utterly conclusive) evidence the Ruling Class refusal to protect our earthly ecosystem expresses in horrid truth our overlords’ intent to weaponize climate change as the final-solution creator of the (in)human society our Neoliberal overlords have schemed for years: a society of masters (still One Percent) and slaves (still 99 Percent), but with the actual human population reduced by 90 or 95 percent.

    This story has been oozing out for decades.

    Do the research if you dare, perhaps starting with “The Population Bomb” (Paul and Anne Ehrlich, Sierra Club/Ballentine Books: 1968) — and most significantly its (ongoing) impact on Ruling Class thinking.

    Meanwhile we the people of the U.S. 99 Percent are victims of the most deliberately, sadistically malicious dumbing-down in human history.

    And because we are permanently stripped by that dumbing-down of all the historically proven prerequisites for revolution – leadership; ideological solidarity; defensive mastery of Ruling Class technology; overt and clandestine assistance by one or more foreign powers; and even the intellectual ability to reconstruct any of these necessities – what chance for achieving any freedom at all do we of the U.S. 99 Percent ultimately have?

    Let’s stop kidding ourselves. Unless we somehow miraculously find genuine antidotes to our abysmal ignorance, paralytic anti-intellectualism and cell-phoned self-obsession — the very ills I watched kill Occupy — we the people of the U.S. 99 Percent will never again rise above serfdom and slavery.

  • Greeley Miklashek

    “…dystopic future…” hell, population density stress is killing us NOW through all of our “diseases of civilization”. We are in the midst of a rapidly growing health crisis: 55% of American adults have at least one chronic medical condition, as do 80% of us over 50yo. What a future for young folks to envision! And we just go merrily along turning out another 230,000 new copies of ourselves daily worldwide (net).

    27,000,000 homeless migrants are wondering the earth thanks to the accumulation of assets by a small cadre of Capitalists and to their selfish parents hoping for some cash to be sent home from their diaspora into wealthy countries.

    We are massively overpopulated, with many cities of 30M, including massive barely livable slums, and rife with civil unrest. And yet, none of these fairly obvious truths are allowed into the light of day in the MSM . We are in a leaky barrel approaching a great fall and most have no idea what’s coming. Sad.

  • NOTE: Popular Resistance censors first deleted, then (days later) restored the post below.

  • And why was the comment in question again suppressed?

    Merely because I attempted to correct a missing apostrophe.

    With this degree of undeniable malice now thrice repeated during the past five days, it is obvious I have a genuine enemy at Popular Resistance.

    Who might the enemy be? I’ve no idea. But I’d say its most likely one of the vast majority of terminally mind-warped USian youths who have been deliberately reared to regard their elders as useless, parasitic creatures allowed to live entirely too long.

    Indeed, the identity politics of age and gender are our masters’ most successfully proven mechanisms for ensuring our essential solidarity remains eternally beyond our reach.

    Hence I cannot but wonder if his/her next ploy is to go back through the PopRez archives and delete all my writing.

    No matter. Arsonists — either government employees or their fascist vigilante vassals — destroyed all my life’s significant work (and thereby deliberately condemned me to inescapable obscurity) back in 1983.

  • kevinzeese

    Loren — we do not censor you. Disqus, which we do not control, stops comments for review. Very few are stopped. They usually have a link to another source as sometimes those are advertisers or spammers trying to use comments to sell something.

    This requires us to manually review the comment. The last week or so we have been focused on the People’s Mobilizationation, a series of events in NYC and have not kept up with these flagged comments.

    When I saw you writing that you were being censored I went and checked the Disqus file and approved eight or so comments that had been flagged.

    In addition to spam and advertising we sometimes block racist or abusive comments.

    I’ve always found your comments to be well thought out and interesting. I appreciate your writing. You have never been censored.

    Thanks for your participation. I look forward to what you have to say. KZ