Thinking about Extinction

Thinking about Extinction – Rosh Hashana 5777

The famous science fiction novel Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card begins by recounting an alien invasion that came dangerously close to destroying Earth fifty years earlier. The military then determined that the only way to survive another alien attack was to actively seek out and train the best and the brightest children to be the military strategists and commanders of the future. A boy named Ender Wiggin is identified as Earth’s best hope.

The stakes in training Ender and his classmates at Battle School on an orbiting training station could not be higher. They are being trained to destroy the enemy before the enemy can come again and destroy Earth.

Since the book was written in 1985 and the movie came out in 2010, I’m not sure if I have to give out a spoiler alert, but I need to tell you that Ender destroys the planet of the enemy and wipes out the whole alien species. Ender thought he was playing a video game but learns, to his shock, and almost every reader’s shock, that he was operating a very real fleet and weapons that made the whole alien species disappear in a few moments.

So here is Ender, and in a certain way, he is like G-d, in that he has been given the power to destroy a world. But he thought he was just playing a game. He didn’t know that he was going to destroy a world. And in the books that follow, he grapples with all sorts of questions about what he did.

To the reader of the Bible, this all sounds familiar; it sounds like one of the most famous Bible stories of all. G-d regrets creating humankind but does not want to destroy all people and the other species on earth. So He commands Noah to bring every species onto the ark to save them so that He can start anew. But then, after He destroys almost all of humankind and the other species, He regrets what he has done.

Just in case you think I’m stretching to make a connection between Ender’s Game and the story of Noah, the author of the novel, Orson Scott Card, wrote the screenplay for a tv show called “The Secrets of Noah’s Ark.” So he would agree with the connection I’m making.

Ender Wiggin spends the rest of his life traumatized and guilty because he has caused the extinction of a species. G-d is more careful, and in the midst of the destruction of the world, is careful to save every species on earth.

Let’s bring this from the Bible and science fiction to today, right now. A couple of weeks ago, the World Wildlife Foundation came out with a significant report saying that more than two thirds of the world’s wildlife could be gone by the end of the decade, 2020, if action isn’t taken soon. Since 1970, there already has been a 58% overall decline in the numbers of fish, mammals, birds and reptiles worldwide. This means wildlife across the globe is vanishing at a rate of 2% a year.

The report states that this is definitely the result of human impact.

They say that we’re in a time of mass extinction. They say it’s because we’re using so much of the planet and we’re destroying so much of these animals’ habitats.

What is causing all this rapid extinction? Climate change, habitat loss, over-exploitation of resources and pollution.

Wetlands, lakes and rivers have been the worst hit since 1970, seeing an 81% decrease in their species population — about 4% a year.

Among the species mentioned in the report are elephants, whose numbers have fallen by a fifth in ten years, as well as sharks and rays, a third of whom face extinction from overfishing.

The deaths of animals and fish across the globe aren’t just a threat to biodiversity; humanity could be threatened as well.

Governments need to take action to halt the slow death of the planet because it isn’t just affecting wild species, it’s affecting us, too. What we’re doing to the planet is a threat to our future as a species.

We only have one planet; if we mess it up, then we’re gone.

To prevent mass extinction, governments must take immediate action to cut down on emissions and habitat destruction.

There’s a lot people can do, such as using renewable energy and looking for certified sustainable products. We have to talk to our legislators and we have to vote for those who understand that we need strong environmental laws. Be careful not to trust anyone who denies climate change; their denial demonstrates ignorance and narrowness and perhaps indicates they’ve been bought. We have to be able to admit when we’ve been wrong. We have to be able to admit when we human beings have hurt our planet.

There has been destruction. We must regret this. We must do better.

Destruction. Regret. Starting over.

Ender destroyed, regretted it, started over.

G-d destroyed, regretted it, started over with Noah.

Judaism is all about starting over. What is the whole point of the major Jewish holidays, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, and of Shabbat for that matter? Thinking about what you’ve done, figuring how you can do better.

Sometimes you have to start again.

Sometimes you have to be an artist with your own life.

In a sense, G-d is a great artist. G-d created, G-d destroyed, G-d started over.

The Book of Bereysheet, the Book of Genesis, shows how understanding God’s creativity can give us the flexibility and honesty to admit when we’ve done wrong, and when we’ve really been wrong, G-d has shown us how to start again.