In his book The Sixth Extinction, Richard Leakey describes five major catastrophes in Earth’s history that led to significant extinctions—the last of which was the meteor impact that eliminated the dinosaurs. He theorizes that the sixth big extinction has already begun, and that it is human-authored. Be it through over-hunting, global warming, or habitat destruction, humans have the power to destroy species at alarming rates.
Evolutionary theorists like Stephen Jay Gould have studied and written about the speciation that followed these previous die-offs, like the mammalian bloom that followed the extinction of the dinosaurs. I myself wonder which species might survive and flourish in a new environment if humans are successful in instigating a profound die-off. I wonder what anatomical adaptations they might acquire in their proliferation.
All of the creatures in this book are based on organisms that have high survival ratings, including: ubiquity (or nearly so), omnivory (linked to high intelligence), adaptability (especially to human-made habitats), and escape mobility. Since I am interested in representing a single system, they also had to have the potential to entertain plausible interdependencies.
Though the content of this book is bleak, the tone is cautiously optimistic. Some ecological theorists believe that humans—being the most adaptable species in the history of the planet—will be the very last species to be exterminated, but there is still hope that a sustainable balance can be found between human resource use and the resource use of everything else.
Perhaps this hope can be pinned on the emergence of species like those featured in this book; animals and plants who are able to treat human industrial waste as organic nutrient, or at least be able to separate out industrial waste from biological waste. As biologist David Wolfe states in Tales of the Underground, “There are very few waste products, pollutants, or toxins that cannot serve as food to one…species or another.” Creatures like these might provide the ultimate in urban renewal.
Beyond the 6th Extinction: A Fifth Millennium Bestiary is
constructed of handmade, hand-dyed cotton/abaca paper, book board and linen thread. The type was set digitally in Joanna and letterpress printed from polymer plates. Limited edition of 15. Sold
photo credit: Ricardo Martinez