“When did we last remind ourselves of the permanent, tragic concept of extinction?”

I am reading “The God Species” by Mark Lynas. It is proving to be a cracker.

In one of the early chapters, Lynas discusses the biodiversity planetary boundary. To illustrate how immune we may have become to the biodiversity crisis, he draws upon Stalin to note that “the death of an individual is a tradgedy. The death of a million people is a statistic”.

It’s a good point. We are in the midst of a full throe mass extinction; events that have left significant markers in the past history of the planet. How can we come to grips with this?

To Lynas’ credit, he does the subject great justice in his chapter. But sometimes when words and numbers fail, art and music can help to bridge the gap and remind us of what is at stake.

The Mountain Goats are probably my favourite musical act in the whole world. Regulars to Australia, I’ve seen them perform three times in Melbourne and twice in Adelaide. John Darnielle has been called “America’s best lyricist” and “one of the 100 best living songwriters”. I make no argument.

The Mountain Goats

This tune moved me greatly when first I heard it, and The God Species brought it straight to mind. With Darnielle’s lyrics, rarely is the most obvious interpretation all there is to it, and no doubt there is more to this track than I am using it for here. But it’s effective. When did we last remind ourselves of the permanent, tragic concept of extinction? You may like to spend 3m 21s doing just that with a little help from Darnielle and Co.

Deuteronomy 2:10 (The Emim lived there formerly, a people as great, numerous, and tall as the Anakim)



  1. Unfortunately, WWF are distinctly opposed to nuclear power. I don’t see that there is a real need for them as a group to take any position on the subject at all, but they do, and it’s anti.

    1. Isn’t that just ridiculous and incredibly frustrating? As Lynas makes clear, from a land use perspective nuclear power is the lay down winner in energy sources, and this keeps more space for biodiversity. The environmental movement at large has nuclear so, so wrong.

      Perhaps I will change that link to something that is more directly related to the tiger effort, and not taking an arbitrary stand against probably the most environmentally beneficial technology in existence.

      1. So come to think of it, they should not even be ambivalent… they should be fully in favour of a technology that means dramatically less and eventually no mining, and plentiful energy to reduce other pressures on wild spaces.


  2. Interesting you linked to a track from “The life of the World to Come” which I really haven’t given a fair go to. I listened to it a few times, wasn’t terrribly impressed. I should give it another go. And acknowledge my debt to you in introducing me o them.

    O, I have another bible interpretation: (O ya btw there used 2 b Emites dere. Emites wuz liek Anakites, dey wuz Rephaites, but Moabites called em Emites, so \/\/. O an Horites wuz in Seir, but sonz o Esau be takin their bukkit, liek when Ceiling Cat gaev bukkit 2 Israelites.)

    Tigers of course are the epitomy of the charismatic megafauna approach to conservation. Yet we can’t even save this magnificent creature?

    WWF has proved to be one of the more responsible environmental groups operating in Australia. They accept the logic that a well-managed sustainable domestic timber industry reduces logging impacts in third world countries (which protects tiger habitat).

    here is one of their main arguments discussing nuclear power: http://www.worldwildlife.org/climate/Publications/WWFBinaryitem4911.pdf

    Check figure 1 – their analysis says that natural gas baselaod and (presumably new) large hydro have lower environmetnal risks than nuclear power. I’m not quite sure how large hydro gets high social acceptability, they’ve not really thought that one through. Page nine refers us on to a topic paper “nuclear power” which in my limited time I haven’t been able to find. But page 19 of this report goes on about nuclear power a bit. Same old same old stuff. Waste, proliferation, cost.

  3. “The Life of the World to Come” is not a favourite overall for me but there is certainly some beautiful stuff on there. The opening track is a great look at paganism (he felt sorry for the witches apparently). I think Genesis 3:23 is a great track, really evocative of those experiences of returning to places; it happened to me recently when I walked through the house we rented when I was 3 and 4 years old; nothing had been changed, it was incredible. Matthew 25:21 is a moving one talking about the death of his mother in law… actually, what am I talking about. I love this album Ezekiel and the Permanent Efficacy of Grace is just stunning.

    The figure in that report is insane. But what stunt of creative accounting is solar thermal and geothermal a massive cost winner and nuclear power is terribly cost ineffective?

    I agree that WWF has shown a more considered position in the timber issue. But they are clearly in the thrall of ideology on nuclear power. The report calls for the phase out of nuclear power. Nuclear power is saving 2 billion tco2e per year.

    They are flat wrong on this issue.

    The striped creature in the song is in fact the Thylacine. He has written based on that footage of the last one we have all seen.

    What was the name of that Melbourne venue we went to for TMG?

  4. I’d guess the very last thylacine lay down to die unnoticed somewhere in the Tasmanian bush in the 1970s, not knowing it was the last of its kind. That same day millions of us watched TV beamed through the airwaves with coal fired electricity, Millions read newspapers printed on paper from old growth forests. The message we got was that we were entitled to keep buying more stuff because the future could only get better.

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