Grieving in Advance: The Sixth Extinction

Elizabeth Boleman-Herring

Elizabeth Boleman-Herring

“I have asked, I have begged, all of you to read Elizabeth Kolbert’s book so that at least we will be on the same page. We are on the same planet and if you, as I, are able to read critically and take on board even the most ‘inconvenient truths,’ you should, you must now investigate, along with me, what is coming for your grandchildren’s generation. Otherwise, truly, we no longer have anything to say to one another.”—By Elizabeth Boleman-Herring

By Way of Being

By Elizabeth Boleman-Herring

On the stern deck, grieving in advance.

On the stern deck, grieving in advance.

“We are the first generation to feel the impact of climate change and the last generation that can do something about it.”―Governor Jay Inslee

“Right now, in the amazing moment that to us counts as the present, we are deciding, without quite meaning to, which evolutionary pathways will remain open and which will forever be closed. No other creature has ever managed this and it will, unfortunately, be our most enduring legacy.”―Elizabeth Kolbert

“We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there is such a thing as being too late.” ―Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Elizabeth Boleman-HerringPETIT TRIANON Florida—(Weekly Hubris)—12/7/2015—Usually, grief follows loss, and I know of no fellow adult who, by late middle life, has escaped grief and mourning.

Over the course of a human lifetime, we all lose friends, we lose parents (my own died so early), siblings, children, even pregnancies (and that last loss, which I have suffered, myself, is one of the most private, the least shareable, of griefs).

But, in 2014, after reading Pultizer-Prize-winning science writer Elizabeth Kolbert’s The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History, I was compelled—once I had taken on board the science and then read widely in the field of climate change—to grieve in advance for my entire species.

To grieve in advance . . .

Yes, over the course of the year my mother’s Stage Four cancer took her life, it is true I grieved her death in advance. After my father’s stroke, I grieved in advance for three long days, until he was removed from life support. That “grieving in advance” is a torment vouchsafed to most of us now and, even if we stand by as those we love most suffer and die in medically predictable ways, heretofore our losses have been of individuals. We have had the consolation of believing that our species, which some of us persist in hoping is worthy of redemption, would continue, though individuals might, must, die.

We would all die, one by one, beloved and mourned, but homo sapiens would prevail. The species that produced Gandhi and Rumi and Mozart and Shakespeare and President Jimmy Carter would prevail.

I now know that this is not going to be the case.

And knowing that this is no longer the case has cast me into an outer darkness from which I cannot find a way back to anything resembling hope as I once knew it; the hope that some of you, my readers, still cleave to.

If a consensus of the world’s scientists, speaking from all the disciplines, is correct, The Sixth Extinction, occurring during the Anthropocene Epoch, is already well upon us.

I have asked, I have begged, all of you to read Elizabeth Kolbert’s book so that at least we will be on the same page. We are on the same planet and if you, as I, are able to read critically and take on board even the most “inconvenient truths,” you should, you must now investigate, along with me, what is coming for your grandchildren’s generation.

Otherwise, truly, we no longer have anything to say to one another.

If, at Auschwitz, those condemned to die had not borne witness for one another, to one another’s shared suffering, keeping faith with one another until those last moments in “the showers,” the Mozarts and Gandhis and Carters amongst us have truly lived in vain.

We stand together on “the commons,” and the end, for us, though not the planet, is quite near.

I would hazard that, once the bow of The Titanic sank and the great ship stood on its head, so to speak, with its stern in the air, no one on board imagined passengers on the stern end of the ship would suffer a different fate than those already in the water. The passengers, though scrambling for rafts, knew their destiny was a common one.

How is it, I ask myself, that my first cousin, Darwin Professor of Evolution (UFL, Jacksonville), and I can walk the sands of New Smyrna Beach discussing the eminent demise of our species, but no one else in my extended family, and precious few among my closest friends, is willing to face this incontrovertible music?

Many of my cousins are, in fact, looking forward to the so-called “end times,” the utterly impossible “second coming” of a long-dead Jewish rabbi from Nazareth, and the so-called “Rapture.”

I, on the other hand, am looking down the double barrels of climate change, and at the extinction of homo sapiens by some time about two-thirds of the way through the 21st century. Before that time—think Aleppo, Syria, but on a massive scale—life for mankind will have waxed ever more brutish and short, but I will not be around to grieve . . . in real time.

No, I grieve in advance.

For my cousins’ children and grandchildren; the children and grandchildren of dear friends, and for this species—with its fatal, dyed-in-our-shared-wool flaws.

I grieve in advance and seek more and more information. If I am forced to stand on the stern of The Titanic because homo sapiens’ shared genetic material made of our species a destroyer of planets, I will at least keep my eyes open for the duration, and make every attempt to make life better, in the short run, for anyone I can.

And I will bear conscious witness, even as we sink. Which is what I also ask of you.

Further Reading:

“‘The Sixth Extinction’ Looks at Human Impact on the Environment,” by Claudia Dreifus, The New York Times, February 10, 2014.

Rats as big as sheep? The Anthropocene is no laughing matter,” by Henry Nicholls,, February 16, 2014.

Without a Trace: ‘The Sixth Extinction,’ by Elizabeth Kolbert,” by Al Gore, The New York Times Book Review, February 10, 2014.

To order Elizabeth Boleman-Herring’s memoir and/or her erotic novel, click on the book covers below:

Elizabeth Boleman, Greek Unorthdox: Bande a Part & a Farewell to Ikaros

Elizabeth Boleman Herring, The Visitors’ Book (or Silva Rerum): An Erotic Fable

Elizabeth Boleman-Herring

About Elizabeth Boleman-Herring

Elizabeth Boleman-Herring, Publishing-Editor of “Weekly Hubris,” considers herself an Outsider Artist (of Ink). The most recent of her 15-odd books is The Visitors’ Book (or Silva Rerum): An Erotic Fable, now available in a third edition on Kindle. Thirty years an academic, she has also worked steadily as a founding-editor of journals, magazines, and newspapers in her two homelands, Greece, and America. Three other hats Boleman-Herring has at times worn are those of a Traditional Usui Reiki Master, an Iyengar-Style Yoga teacher, a HuffPost columnist and, as “Bebe Herring,” a jazz lyricist for the likes of Thelonious Monk, Kenny Dorham, and Bill Evans. (Her online Greek travel guide is still accessible at, and her memoir, Greek Unorthodox: Bande a Part & A Farewell To Ikaros, is available through Boleman-Herring makes her home with the Rev. Robin White; jazz trumpeter Dean Pratt (leader of the eponymous Dean Pratt Big Band); Calliope; and Scout . . . in her beloved Up-Country South Carolina, the state James Louis Petigru opined was “too small for a republic and too large for an insane asylum.” (Author Photos by Robin White.)
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9 Responses to Grieving in Advance: The Sixth Extinction

  1. Avatar Alex Billinis says:

    Requiem for a species . . . perhaps it is, for the vast masses, that those whom the gods would destroy, they make blind first.

  2. Avatar Anita Sullivan says:

    Yes, I wake up every morning thinking “this is what it feels like to be going extinct.”
    It’s hard to think of things to look forward to. You’re right, Elizabeth, we must bear witness, keep our voices loud so that at least we go down fully conscious of our fatal flaws. Makes me feel like a Greek egg!

  3. Elizabeth Boleman-Herring Elizabeth Boleman-Herring says:

    The phrase “Whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad” is spoken by Prometheus in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem “The Masque of Pandora” (1875). And many of my “correspondents” do think me mad for having embraced, so totally, the reality of The Sixth Extinction. I simply think I’m ever, ever so slightly ahead of my species’ learning curve, a very uncomfortable perch—mad with grief, and about to be destroyed, along with everyone else. Conscious of what’s coming. (True madness, like Lear’s at the end, would be a benison.)

  4. Avatar Michael House says:

    Who is going to come out ahead when we have destroyed ourselves? My money is on cockroaches…

  5. Elizabeth Boleman-Herring Elizabeth Boleman-Herring says:

    Elizabeth Kolbert believes it will be our constant companions: rats.

  6. Avatar Danny M Reed says:

    Elizabeth Kubler Ross (whose first last name I cannot put the proper vowel points to without sending my computer into the base programming language of this Website) stated the five stages of grief we are all familiar with: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance, which we go through interchangeably in the face of any loss. In this article I have never heard your tone being so vulnerable. It is understood there were three groups on the Titanic: Those who still believed that even ‘God could not sink this ship,’ those who believed they were all going to die regardless, and those who KNEW what was going on and took steps to survive. The last group were not thinking only of their personal survival, of course, but the survival of as many as could be put into the lifeboats. It was women and children first, then probably by class according to whom seemed the most important. There were men KNOWING there was no more room in the lifeboats. In Auschwitz my brothers and sisters offered their last piece of bread to others KNOWING there would be more later for them. Father and son would hold hands grasping the electric perimeter fence. In the camps there were no pragmatic ways to survive physically. Occasionally they find Nazi death camp guards in their 90’s to prosecute. They are ALL dead and dying together. No one here gets out alive, not even “a long-dead Jewish rabbi from Nazareth.” Every human that has lived, without exception. Doctor Viktor Frankl in “Man’s Search For Meaning” said this:
    “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
    ― Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning
    A species blinks out of existence every few minutes without anyone taking notice either individually or collectively. Only people notice these things; only we are “anyone.” Animals do not contemplate these things with any conscientiousness. What we are as humans is ‘a witness.’ We have freedom of choice to believe or not.

  7. Elizabeth Boleman-Herring Elizabeth Boleman-Herring says:

    Danny, we ARE witnesses, and we’re together, and I see you (seeing me). It must suffice; it’s all we have. xoxoxoxo

  8. Avatar Julianne Jaz says:

    I agree with everything you’ve written, except the timeline for when it will occur. We’re already standing on the very threshold of extreme and abrupt climate change, and it is very unlikely that we’ll be around even by the late 2020’s. I, too, am grieving in advance. It’s a difficult burden to see all around me most of the people I encounter every day have NO idea what is so soon to befall us all. I’m also angry – all of this is so utterly senseless, and it was entirely within our power to have averted it, had we begun in earnest in the 1970’s. But greed and amorality have instead carried the day, and for this we must all take responsibility. We are all guilty of, by far, the worst crime against humanity – engineering not only the extinction of all the other living things on the planet, but our own extinction as well.

  9. Avatar Don Graham says:

    When updated in 2012, the “Overshoot and Collapse,” of the global population dying from starvation caused by the accumulation of the 90,000 man-made chemical pollutants in our biosphere, lungs, livers, lymph nodes, the microorganisms at the base of all our food chains, and our children’s future, was expected to begin NLT 2024.

    Unfortunately, that update did not include the continuing contributions from Fukushima into the Pacific, the weather systems spawned there and leaking round the globe; ergo, 2024 might be a bit optimistic.

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