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King: When the lights come on, what will our earth look like?
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When the lights went out, I was in the bathroom sorting through the various medications I take each day — little round pills that can roll under the claw-footed bathtub if they spill, small ovals that bounce goodness-knows-where if they’re dropped. One false move and I would knock the whole kit-and-boodle all over the floor and spend the next hour trying to finding them ... when the power came back on.

If the power came back on. Well, it would of course, but I’d taken government emergency warnings seriously and was prepared for these things. I knew exactly where the flashlights were. Gingerly, I back out of the bathroom and found the Evereadys exactly where they were supposed to be. In the dining area, candles graced the table ready for a match — I knew where they were, too — and in the kitchen, the radio switched automatically to its D batteries.

Stored water was in the pantry, and I started my morning coffee feeling very much in charge of the situation. On the radio, NPR was discussing mass extinction, the sort of thing intellectuals think about in the wee hours of the morning, I suppose. (It was before 6 and still very dark outside.)

The day before NPR had described the demise of the dinosaurs, and this morning they were talking about an even earlier extinction: the Great Oxidation, when the earliest forms of life on the planet, a form of anaerobic bacteria, were wiped out by the release of free oxygen into the atmosphere.

While NPR didn’t make the connection, I began thinking about the threat of another mass extinction, one many scientists say is taking place right now. Biologists tell us we are now well into a sixth mass extinction. Species are disappearing at an alarming rate, and our atmosphere, our oceans and the land itself is under assault in ways humans never imagined when the industrial revolution began.

Social systems are being disrupted, populations displaced and acts of violence are on the rise. No one corporation, no one country, no one political system is to blame. No single person is responsible, nor can any of the above change the course we’re on. Only a radical change in human behavior, in the human psyche, will have any impact on what is happening.

How utterly depressing.

I decided I had the perfect excuse to drive into town for breakfast. Surely the Huddle House would have light, heat and a working bathroom. Just to be sure, I called ahead. The whole town was without electricity. The young woman who picked up the phone sounded distinctly panicky. She was alone in the dark and hung up on me when she saw someone drive up outside.

I tried to call the power company but couldn’t get through. If there was some sort of crisis, there was nothing I could do about it, so I made a toasted cheese sandwich on the top of the gas stove, poured coffee and settled down to write. Gradually, it began to get light outside.

Forty-five minutes later, I got up, returned to the bathroom and realized the lights were back on. I hadn’t even noticed.

There must be a lesson here someplace. There was nothing I could do about the power outage so I ignored it and it went away. Is the planet really in jeopardy and is humanity really in danger of extinction? If we ignore it, will everything turn out OK?

I wish it were true. Unfortunately I doubt it. All too many serious people, scientists and non-scientists alike, are warning us life on planet Earth is in trouble. Too many species are becoming extinct. If enough of them disappear, humanity is likely to be next.

Perhaps it is time to figure out what this sea change in human behavior, this transformation in the human psyche, will look like. What do we do and how do we do it?

Joan King lives in Sautee. Her column appears biweekly on Tuesdays and at

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