Anger erupts at UN climate summit as major economies resist bold action

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

What we are witnessing is not a passive geological event but extermination by capitalism.
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 enslavementmass 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. MORE