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Extinction Chronicles

Arleen Alleman

The following descriptions were compiled from diary entries written beginning in the year 2160 by a thirty-five-year-old woman named Thea Bristol. Each entry is dated and together they cover a five-year period. Thea lived in an enclave of humans in northern New York State. At the time, the group had existed as a community for about twenty-five years. 


 “At first,” Thea writes, “we had sixty people and assumed or hoped there were similar communities around the globe. Last we knew before communications ceased, there were thought to be 500,000 remaining humans down from nearly seven billion 150 years ago. These effects of climate change exceeded dire warnings by scientists going back to the early twenty-first century. Because of the unprecedented nature of the rapid warming with accompanying melting of polar ice and rising seas, most people grossly underestimated the effects.”


Subsequent diary entries describe how scientists initially feared that up to 50 percent of species could be lost to extinction, but that the actual number was thought to be 80 percent by 2100. Scientists like-wise underestimated the effect on human populations. Humans accelerated their own species demise by behaving as humans always have. The global community simply was not advanced or coordinated, or perhaps civilized enough to meet the rapidly increasing threat. The members of the enclave were torn between gratitude that they were among the survivors and loneliness and terror about their possibly inevitable future extinction. 


Thea explains how their current group initially came together as people wandered onto the site adding to their numbers. This was exciting but inevitable problems arose over control and leadership. Because of the dire situation, most of these were quickly resolved with the establishment of a tenuous democratic process. Group members wanted to believe the earth was dotted with similar small bands of migrants—refugees from coastal and heat-impacted areas—who were fortunate to have survived. 

 

The community members lived in hundred-year-old homes in a large development, with four or five people living together. They chose houses that suffered the least storm damage and had some furnishings left behind by their former occupants. One couple in their eighties, Ned and Sophie, were the only remaining original homeowners in the community. So many houses across the country—or the world—were abandoned when their owners died or escaped with whatever few belongings they could carry.


They had no heat other than from wood stoves and fireplaces. Most of the year generating heat was the least of their worries. With no air conditioning, even this far north they roasted in the summer with daytime temperatures averaging 120 degrees. Over time, the community lost many people to the heat, storms, fires, and battles with cultists.


Thea writes, “I am not old enough to remember the old world first-hand or the events that caused many deaths in our community early on. We haven’t seen any new humans in more than five years. So, here we sit waiting for age, heat, storms, or other catastrophes or humans to claim our community. We live in constant misery compared to what life used to be like judging by descriptions in books and as told to us by our older members. Perhaps mercifully, the apparently glorious past is receding from memory as our older generation dies off.


“I remember traveling as a small child with people who apparently were not my family. I’ve no memory of parents, only fleeting images of long treks across wide grasslands in the sweltering heat. I also remember the fear of sheltering in large communal tents while huge storms raged over us.


“At some point, we arrived here in Lark Haven, New York, and found the small commune. I was left behind when the others moved on. Since then, the people here have become the only family I know. I’ve come to understand how fortunate I am. Apparently, tens of thousands of migrants did not make it across the desert and plains to reach cooler temperatures. At first, I was angry at my travel companions who left me here, but I now see how that was the best thing for me. I will never know if any of them survived.


“Aden spent last night with me. I understand love and desire. It is what I feel for him and he feels the same. The most painful dilemma for the two of us, and the community as a whole, is the question of procreation. Aden and I do not have sexual intercourse because we are afraid of pregnancy. It is accepted that abortion is a natural path for some who cannot envision bringing children into the world, but we do not want to face such a decision. 


“Physical romantic encounters happen among our younger members, but not to the extent they did a decade ago. Pregnancies resulted back then so that we now have children in our midst and we’re not sure what will happen to them. There is so much tension for us and our fellow-citizens. We live with confusion and fear. We are all acutely aware of what will happen eventually if we don’t leave enough descendants but know very well that humans might already be functionally extinct. There is great conflict around whether it is possible to avoid total extinction. The logical question then is whether it is simply cruel to bring more children into our midst?


“While we struggle with this procreation question, from time to time we are plagued by cults of five to ten members each who believe God has deliberately purged the earth. Many of them are violent and there is always a chance they will attack us. They will take anything in their path for their own use because they believe they are chosen to survive. They will take women too because they believe they must propagate the human population. We post sentries at night, but hope we will not be attacked because we have few weapons and less ammunition.”


In other entries, Thea provides historical context. “The dreadful heat seems to be getting even worse. Parts of the country and the world that were naturally warmer like the Southwest desert, are now empty wastelands. Phoenix, Las Vegas, Southern California, and the like became enormous ghost towns fifty years ago as the power grids could not produce enough air conditioning, and people simply could not survive outdoors with temperatures in the mid-130s. The wind, solar, and hydro-electric power sources ceased about the time I was born. There simply were not the people or resources to keep them going.


“So many people over the age of sixty succumbed to heatstroke and heat-related conditions that the entire population was skewed to youth. The survivors simply packed up and left in droves. I think that might be where I came from.


“Without the Internet or cell phone communications, we are truly isolated. We have books though. Lots of books. When the seas were rising, officials in New York City and Washington D.C. took on a massive endeavor to move all important and historical documents and publications west to higher ground. We have been able to access some of these plus our homes contained many books left behind.”


Thea’s diary provides more information about mass extinctions of animals and humans, which began in Africa and Asia due to floods, fires, storms, and rising sea levels, then spread around the world like an unrestrained virus. These phenomena had a disastrous effect on agriculture, which led to catastrophic worldwide shortages of food. With most of the world’s population living near coastal areas, many millions of refugees escaping rising water by moving inland led to two decades of wars in the mid-2000s over land and resources. Many millions succumbed to famine and disease. The poorer people on the globe naturally expired first. 


The U.S. was one of the last to succumb. Natural disasters and a civil war fueled by gun violence, inequality with respect to resources and services, and frustration added to the already devastating effects, as scientists’ predictions about the effects of climate change came painfully to pass. Politicians who failed to make difficult decisions to invest in climate change strategies in the previous century were ultimately prosecuted and some were executed for crimes against humanity.  


Also, microbes trapped in ice for hundreds of thousands of years were released from Greenland beginning around 2030. These viruses and bacteria previously locked away from plants and animals, proved devastating to life on the planet, which had no resistance, treatment, or vaccine to prevent devastating and previously unknown diseases. This contributed to animal and human extinction along with heat, floods, famine, fires, and rising and increasingly acidic seas. Over the past 100 years, the human birthrate has fallen to almost zero, adding to depopulation.


It is clear that younger members of the community had no first-hand knowledge of life before the great extinctions. The decline happened so quickly that governments were unequipped to handle the human catastrophe and essentially collapsed. Virtually all the resources like clothing and shoes, paper and pencils, and non-perishable foodstuffs, left behind in homes and stores gradually disappeared. In some ways, people were living as they had a thousand years ago. 


Thea writes, “We are increasingly worried about shortages of clean water and wood for fires. A stockpile of bleach we use to purify drinking water is almost gone. Although the surrounding wooded areas have supplied plenty of wood for fires, we have to walk increasingly longer distances to find suitable material. There is no other fuel.


 “Most animal species have disappeared and we have only chickens and eggs for protein, and our gardens supported by precious vegetable seed stocks. Aden said he believes that chickens descended from dinosaurs and might inherit the planet along with rats and cockroaches. We debate whether to stay where we are or migrate further east or north to search for better resources and other survivors.


 “Our most precious resource is our small herd of horses used for transportation and work. We’ve successfully bred these and so far the population is stable. We will not eat our horses. We eat the rats though. They are everywhere. Even though we protect our food supplies, somehow they thrive in the environment. I think they will inherit the niche left by humans. We trap and eat the larger ones. They do not taste bad and are virtually our only source of meat. Well, there are the chickens, but that gets tiresome and we can’t exhaust our supply. We balance eating the eggs with allowing them to hatch chicks. If only we could agree to apply some similar bit of animal husbandry to ourselves.


"Because we harvest rats, we resist allowing them into our homes as pets, but it is difficult because they are highly intelligent and can make themselves appealing as did domesticated white rats kept as pets in the past. Apparently, we have a built-in desire or need for companionship of other species. As far as we can tell, the dogs and housecats have been gone for forty years.”


Of note, more than once Thea writes that she wonders what to do with her diary. She ponders why she is even writing it, since human survival is most likely temporary at best, especially if they do not procreate. The final entry written after five years describes how the group is aging. Disease and accidents have claimed many lives and there are 40 members left. Five are children under the age of 16. She writes, “We don’t know what will become of them.”


 “I have literally run out of writing implements. The enormous stockpile of graphite pencils has been used up. I’ve considered trying to use charcoal to continue, but it hardly seems worth the effort at this point.”


July 2510


 A group of archeologists finds a diary hidden in a metal box under the foundation of a house. Betsy, a member of the discovery team has been reading many of the diary entries with great interest. She sets it down next to other precious artifacts they’ve discovered dating from the terrible near-extinction period. Pulling off her gloves, she turns to her partner and watches him gently brush away the soil from a yellow plastic plate. He looks up and she smiles at him as she caresses the diary’s fragile tattered cover.


“You know, Nate, the woman who wrote this had no idea that people would repopulate the earth, much less reform governments, and relationships worldwide. I can’t imagine what it was like to live with that feeling of hopelessness. I don’t know what happened to her, but I think she would be very pleased with the efforts people made to learn from history and ancestors' mistakes. I’m sure she would approve of how the entire world now has a renewed and deep respect for nature and the planet.”


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