Environment Lee Camp Original

Camp: It’s Now or Never — We Stare Into the Abyss

Despite millions of years of finding ways to survive, these species failed to outlast that most destructive force — unfettered capitalism.
In this photo taken Wednesday, May 3, 2017, a ranger takes care of Sudan, the world’s last male northern white rhino, at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Laikipia county in Kenya. Sudan died on March 19, 2018. (AP Photo)

By Lee Camp / Original to ScheerPost

This column is hopeful. I promise.

The northern white rhinoceros is now functionally extinct. Sudan — the last male of his kind — passed away recently. There are two females remaining but obviously they can produce no more of their species without a male — and mating with nearby giraffes is not something in which they seem interested.

This is not the end but the beginning.

This is still the beginning of a great extinction, the sixth great extinction in earth’s history and the first one caused by humans. The others were caused by things like massive asteroid impacts creating damage equivalent to a million nuclear bombs, and judging by the humans I’ve met, I could picture us wreaking an equivalent amount of havoc. (I mean, some are nice but most seem dangerous.)

So we can now say with certainty that the northern white rhino is done. After millions of years on this planet, most of them without a human in sight, the rhino has tapped out. Reading about it is depressing — I readily admit that. And yet, here I am writing about it. What the fuck am I thinking? Don’t I want readers? Don’t I want people to run and tell their friends about this wonderful and hilarious column they read? Choosing a topic like the death of the northern white rhino is not gonna achieve that. Couldn’t I just follow the middling path of most writers, covering how Ted Cruz said something idiotic or atrocious or idiotrocious? Or perhaps how Wonder Woman’s new outfit firmly locates the underwear on the inside rather than the outside and this means women around the world are winning the fight for equality? That type of story could probably score me some of the coveted #WokeHive clicks. (I just made up the #WokeHive but now that I did, I have a bad feeling it might really exist. That makes me sad.) And by writing about the underwear revolution, I could grab readership, operate within the bounds of allowable corporate thought, and tell myself that I’m creating change (while actually achieving nothing). The American Dream.

This is a tucuxi. It is a river dolphin with a lovely pink belly which lives in the Amazon river system. It is probably smarter than you. It has just been moved to a global endangered species list and faces extinction in the near future unless humans change their behavior. Conservationists say it can still be saved if concerted action is taken immediately.

Point being, there are a lot of other topics that would surely grab more attention and more shares. Yet, here I am writing about the extinction of the white rhino and by extension our own extinction. Unfortunately this topic is too important to avoid. We’ve hid our heads in the sand and up our asses long enough. (I guess there’s a lot of sand up our asses?) No matter how scary or depressing mass extinction due to climate change and habitat destruction is, we should all be discussing it, reading/writing about it, portraying it on the big screen and the little screen and the mid-size screen, and demanding celebrity chefs shape their free-range duck confit like the last remaining pangolins to remind the diners of our tenuous situation on this planet. (Let’s hope no one is serving pangolin confit.)

Species go extinct every day on this planet — butterflies, and ants, and moths, and fish, and mammals, and lizards — they disappear forever on a daily basis. Rarely do they get a tiny tombstone or even a slight mention in a science magazine that no one reads (because the writers rarely ever mention Wonder Woman’s new outfit). Despite millions of years of finding ways to survive and continue on, these newly extinct species failed to outlast the most destructive force this planet has ever seen — humans wielding unfettered capitalism like a battle axe.

As the Yangtze giant soft-shell turtle went extinct, we were busy talking about who won UFC 257.

As the Indian cheetah said goodbye forever, we all raved about how wonderful [Insert Netflix series here] is because the costumes are fire.

As the spix macaw bid Planet Earth farewell, we couldn’t get enough of Kanye West’s hilarious attempt at running for president.

As the Chiriqui harlequin frog was extinguished, we were in a frenzied state trying to hoard toilet paper because our collective ass is too precious and fragile for paper towels.

As the Indochinese tiger went extinct, we all focused on whether our Tinder profile was hotter if we had a hat on in our picture. (No.)

As the last Tapanuli orangutans faced the long goodnight, we bought three extra spatulas at Ikea because they were three for a dollar and we talked about what a great price that was for the next two weeks. (We have yet to use three spatulas simultaneously, but we did once use two at the same time to kill a tenacious millipede.)

As the Catarina pupfish was snuffed out, we argued about whether a man kneeling during a song before a football game is the most horrific thing to ever happen to humanity including the Bubonic plague.

As the Jalpa false brook salamander entered the dark abyss of the extinction list, we found out our favorite ham and roast beef footlong is even better with bacon and turkey on it, amounting to a veritable Noah’s ark of death and deliciousness. (I guess it’s the anti-Noah’s ark: Causing the death of one of each type of animal.)

We are all Nero, and the world Rome.

A recent UN report said this is an unprecedented time of species extinction. “The health of ecosystems on which we and all other species depend is deteriorating more rapidly than ever. We are eroding the very foundations of our economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life worldwide.”

Yet, despite it all, the truth is we have the ability to stop this. The report said, “Through ‘transformative change’, nature can still be conserved, restored and used sustainably… By transformative change, we mean a fundamental, system-wide reorganization across technological, economic and social factors, including paradigms, goals and values.”

Humans have the skills, talent, and technology to create a sustainable future. (I told you this column is hopeful.) The only question is whether we have the will. Does the human race have the will and desire to break our capitalist social engineering that has screamed at us every day of our lives — “Buying more is the answer. Eating more is the answer. Collecting more things is the answer. Don’t worry about the cost. Don’t worry about the waste. Don’t worry about the result, the ramifications, the externalities. Live for this moment and to hell with the rest! Anything inhibiting your rapacious consumptive binge is anti-freedom, anti-choice, and anti-you.”

Can we get off this death spiral? Or is the human race a sprint to extinction?

Once we cut away all the buzzwords and extract the technical terminology, capitalism is a manner of organizing human behavior based on infinite growth on a planet with finite resources. Even children know such a thing is impossible in the long term. We can have capitalism or we can have a future, but we can’t have both.

Lee Camp
Lee Camp

Lee Camp is the host of the hit comedy news show “Redacted Tonight.” His new book “Bullet Points and Punch Lines” is available at LeeCampBook.com and his stand-up comedy special can be streamed for free at LeeCampAmerican.com.


  1. This response reflects hopelessness. I promise.

    Just in my garden. Melbourne, Australia – where it is generally cooler.
    My list of things I don’t see any more, or hear or hear much of.
    I’ve been here for over 35 years.

    1. Stick Insects. Gone.
    2. Lady Bugs. Gone.
    3. Poison Caterpillars. Gone. Brushed my face on one, decades ago on a leaf. You remember.
    4. Purple Wasps. Had them about two years ago. None now.
    5. Invasive Yellow Wasps. These were everywhere. I don’t recall seeing any for over a year.
    6. Less bees (empirical).
    7. Butterflies – Saw a white one a few weeks ago. We had so many coloured ones.
    8. Cicadas – Was deafening in summer and you saw the exoskeletons on walls all about. Nothing.
    9. Moths – The dozens that cruise around outdoor lights at night. Gone or very rare. The silk and twigs they fashioned into something to attach to a wall – haven’t seen any for years.
    10. Insects – The tiny zillions that cruise around outdoor lights at night. Hardly.
    11. Spiders – Now these are very resilient. Uncommon. Indoor we still have Filament Spiders and the odd other types which I save from the bath tub. There are less. You just did not walk out at night without the lights on and a torch. Now you can. Working in the garden, one was always looking out for Redbacks – very prominent. Haven’t seen any for a long time.
    12. Flies – There seem to be less of them (empirical).
    13. Mosquitoes – As above.
    14. Ants – I am not seeing ants like I used to.
    15. Birds – Used to have dozens of magpies in the backyard, on the ground looking for food. Now nothing to a few.
    16. Lizards – Used to see tiny ones all about in the garden. I don’t see any.
    17. Beetles – Flying around lights at night. Nothing.
    18. Hornets – Having seen any for decades.

    At the fish market, they tell me some fish are no longer coming in.

    First them, then us.

    1. I’m in Kentucky (U.S.A.) and put in a butterfly garden in 2001 after learning monarchs had frozen to death in their Mexican forest. I had an abundance of many kinds of butterflies the first ten years. Then there was a sudden huge drop off around 2013. They’ve never bounced back.

      I no longer see wooly bear caterpillars, tent caterpillars, preying mantises, lady bugs, dragon flies, yellow and black garden spiders, or hornets. Wasps, bees, grasshoppers, Japanese beetles, any other beetles, moths, spiders, ants, crickets, and butterflies are rare. Flies, mosquitoes, and stink bugs are still doing well.

      I garden organically and have over 200 different kinds of perennials on the property. I live in an older subdivision and have witnessed all the nearby fields and woods get bulldozed for new houses. The only wild spaces left are on small strips of unbuildable land.

      I used to garden for fun. I now garden with a sense of great urgency. I’m racing against the clock to save what logic tells me is too late to save.

      Lee is wrong. There isn’t still time or hope. 99% of my neighbors are doing nothing. That is why we and our fellow creatures are doomed.

      1. Where I live in Alaska we have always had a period of two or three weeks where the mosquitos wete unbearable. Five years ago we suddenly had a mosquito free summer, which is now the norm.

        Most of the salmon runs in recent years have dismal with the stste closing many rivers and streams to fishing.

        The boreal forests are being decimated by spruce bark beetles whose numbers grow exponentialy with warmer winters. Freezing rain in the winters which was almost nonexistent, happens on a weekly basis.

        In southcentral alaska we had unprecedented large fires two summers ago like the west coast had last year. The fires lasted two months raging through the tinder dry spruce trees killed by beetles. The normaly clean air was more like los angeles on a bad day. Schools cancelled football practice snd other outdoor activities.

        Meanwhile our state government which depends solely on oil revenue (no income or sales tax), continues to push for more drilling. The ice roads they build for exploratory drilling in the winter are melting sooner in the spring and I suspect that soon they will not be able to build and maintain them. Ak Natives that depend on firm ice for whaling and winter travel are no longer able to trust the ice as it forms later, melts earlier, and is more unstable.

        My neighbors all drive huge pickups, fire their guns at night (including automatic weapons). Some of my neighbors still fly their trump 20/20 tea party and confederate flags. Go the local stores in the Matsu valley, and you will less than 50 percent of the people wearing masks and going outbof their way to not social distance. They keep reopening the schools then closing them due to covid cases.

        We have a great systems of pathwaus designated for non motorized vehicles use only. I have never once used them without having to make way for a motorcycle or 4 wheeler, or snowmobile. These are often driven by teens or pre teens going 50mph or over. I was once forced off the path by a group of 6 pre teens going well over 50 miles per hour on mini bikes. There are signs everywhere stating no motor vehicles allowed. This is serious mad max stuff.

        I know its much worse here than most places, but the level of insanity and disconnect is staggering. I try not to think about because when I do I just begin to cry.

    2. apparently no evidence but I think the “organic” bacteria insecticide BT has to be part of the problem, as well as all the other insecticides

  2. Yes, we began this discussion by the early 1970s, and we hear every day that we are doomed. It’s not clear what the writers expect any of us to do about it.

    1. There is a lot you could do about it . You could figure some things out for yourself if you were genuinely interested in doing anything.

    2. Here’s what you can do: Encourage young adults to stop having children!!!
      And why doom them to a very dysfunctional, climate-crazed, broken world?
      Anyone notice an over-population problem? All environmental issues stem from too many people on this planet. Real simple. OR Party to Extinction.

      1. Our ‘cleverness’ lead over-population. Unfortunately, it will most likely be reduced by our own hubrus…

  3. This needs to be said. Over and over and over. Innocent animals should not be the victims of humans. Thank you.

  4. It’s lately become more apparent to me what a double accident we really are. Third rock from a not-too-hot sun, so accidentally, bacteria originate. Then it’s on through biosphere evolution and the second accident, perhaps more of an evolutionary blunder. Several different hominins arise, but the most clever — probably Neanderthals — are wiped out by their more violent cousins — us. Why should it now surprise us that we have set up the conditions of our own demise? Unfortunate, yes; surprising, no.

  5. One of your very best columns, Lee. Just great. Thank you.
    There’s nothing more important than saving what’s left of lives (other than humans).

  6. Sorry to be a bit of a wet blanket: But

    You say: “Humans have the skills, talent, and technology to create a sustainable future.”

    Whether as you say we have the technology is an open question. It is technology that got us in the mess we are in.

    What we don’t have is a dominant culture that drives our behaviour to the common good. There are islands of sustainable cultures among the world population, but the dominant Anglo-Saxon and savage European cultures, cultures that raped and pillaged the world for over a 1000 years if if you include the Romans or 500 years if you don’t is still the main game in town.

    In fact it is only a few tens of thousands of rich narcissists who have created the problem and we the bewildered herd have let them get away with it. These narcissists created neo-liberal economics which was always designed to make then richer and us poorer. As Hedge’s says they now have no constraints on them and they will exploit people and the Eco-system until exhaustion or collapse, and we have no way of stopping them

    The idea that these narcissists will turn their money to do good is fantasy. Some of them are already going into survivalist mode and buying properties where they think they will escape the worst. As hedges quite rightly points out the only work they know is “more”

    Thirty years ago we had a chance of stopping catastrophic climate change, it is now too late.

    The extinction of the species you talk about lags the effects of climate change and Eco-exploitation. Now the extinctions are under way is no stopping them. It is “baked in.”

    Humans have through their oversized cerebral cortex with its language capability have moved themselves from small communities hunter gathers into civilizations that removed them from the systems they evolved to thrive in. There have been many such civilizations and in the end they all held within them the seeds of their own destruction: Hubris, vanity and stupidity. The problem as Hedges quite rightly states is that when out civilization falls the rest of the planet goes with us. There won’t be another chance for ten thousand years.

    1. I agree, the rich are already in full on survival mode, which will buy them a little extra time, but that’s it. Ultimately they will go down also.

      Since we’re screwed we might as well go down swinging. I’d rather spend the remainder of our limited time with like minded people who have the compassion and sensibility to realize we are part of the whole, not something distinct and separate.

      Every human being is “indigenous”, most of us just don’t understand that. What you describe as Anglo Saxon, is in reality a particular disease of the mind. This disease today manifests itself as capitalism and neo liberalism which are both symptoms of the disease as is racism and sexism.

      While human life as we know it is in it’s death throes, I still believe that all is not lost. I do intend to go gently into the night.

  7. Lee, I have read a number of your articles here, and there has been no one better at cutting through the bs and getting to the heart of the matter. It has amazed me that in your role as a comedian, you have both the heart and the insight to explain the big picture so well. I have been disheartened by many comedians, that seem to poke fun in a nihilistic way at our behaviors, while ignoring the roots of the world’s problems: you are a glaring, blinding even, but much needed exception. I hope you can continue and that people will listen.

    Either we change our ways, and take care of Nature and each other, or Nature will remove the choice from us and put us in our place. I suspect the Covid crisis is just the first of many reminders of how out of balance we are. Capitalism and Consumerism, sooner or later, will be crushed by forces much stronger, Climate Change and Consequence. Within a few generations, the rich won’t be rich anymore.

  8. Thanks Lee at least I can laugh for a moment on the last lap around that toilet bowl flush called life in the free world.

    On s more serious note it should be obvious by now that the rich uns and their arse kissers (politicians/lamestream media) are clueless. They still dont understand the end of all life includes them.

    I take heart in things like the extinction rebellion and the reddit uprising against wallstreet. Our only chance is to put a stake through the heart of Robama Care and the system that brought it to us. Trust no politician ever not for any reason, force them to do what we the people demand.

    Dont listen to Uncle Joe Uncle fool me once shame on you fool me twice shame on me Bernie or the fraud squad shut er down now,!

  9. Thank you for the searing contrast of the passing extraordinarily rich reality to the asinine mindset assiduously cultivated by the capitalistic infested brutality of dangerous people absorbed in the corporate fixation on materialistic consumption.

  10. And don’t forget the mass extinction of the various species of bug put in our ears by some of the more sapient of our earlier versions of H. sapiens who alerted the later ones to such survival-imperiling no-nos as allowing the least sapient but most greedy and self-important and powerful members of our species to keep rising to rarefied echelons where the better angels of their nature can’t survive.

    And also don’t forget the long-gone species of bee in our bonnet designed by mother nature to make us fixate angrily on how ashamed of ourselves we should be for allowing the least sapient of our species to not only let the better angels of their nature go extinct but also do everything in all their power to kill off all the better angels of everybody else’s nature.

    And then there’s the wholesale demise of whatever manner of probably rodent-like species that was designed to keep gnawing at H. sapiens for letting our survival instinct die on the vine by letting the greediest and most self-important and most powerful of our kind decide for us that the angel of our nature in charge of getalongability would be left to perish outside the confines of our society.

    And finally we should try to be brave enough to face the inexistence of the rabbit we think we’re going to pull out of the hat with respect to saving ourselves from the human extinction event that’s coming thanks to the extinction events mentioned above and more than a few others.

  11. There is still some viable Northern White Rhino sperm.
    There are two females left.
    Scientists are going to try….

  12. It is easy to blame capitalism. I rant about it myself quite a bit. However it appeals to many more humans than the one percenters, who benefit, at the top of the pyramid. Few vote against it. The real problem is human greed, which is in all of us.
    Another big problem is that there are eight billion of us. We are now, pretty much, the largest land mammal. If we want lions and tigers and bears, not to mention rhinos and elephants, we have to leave them some space. Even if we got rid of the excesses such as planes, trains, and automobiles, just to house, cloth and feed eight billion, we are taking more than our fair share.

  13. If there is any good news buried inside all the gloom and doom, it is that should we manage to engineer our own extinction, the world will most probably recover and repopulate the world with new species of animals less inclined to devastate their own environment, at least until the next cosmological calamity like asteroid collisions or our sun going supernova. All is vanity!

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