Waving Goodbye: The Galleries of Extinction, Est. June 2035
2018, Middle School, Prose
It was dark, and they were in a small room – so small that it felt like the walls were closing in on them. A breeze was blowing from somewhere above them, and it ruffled the fine hairs on the backs of their necks. If they listened closely, straining their ears, they could hear a soft whirring noise, but it faded in and out, as if someone was turning it on and off.
The Redwood School field trip: 30 kids, two chaperones, and two teachers, lined up for a new exhibit with a two-month wait list. After all, people love to see what they cannot have.
Suddenly, the noise ceased, the breeze stopped, and lights flickered on. “Welcome to The Galleries of Extinction,” a monotone voice boomed from hidden speakers as a young woman with glossy hair entered, wearing the museum uniform of khakis, a red t-shirt, and clipboard. She strode to the front of the room, directly in the light’s path, and smiled thinly.
“Hi everyone! I’m Hannah, and I’d like to welcome you all to The Galleries of Extinction. We opened only a few weeks ago, but we’ve proved to be very popular already, and we have an amazing tour planned. You’ll see pictures and projections of species that went extinct due to climate change, specifically rising levels of greenhouse gases that cause global warming. At my gallery, we focus only on ocean species, but there are many other populations that have disappeared that do not inhabit the ocean, which you can see later. Let’s go!”
Hannah ushered the group out of the room and into the first gallery. A slideshow flitted across the walls, displaying pictures of polar bears hunting and playing in the snow, sea turtles swimming against the ocean’s currents, and bright coral displays.
Glancing down at her clipboard, Hannah called out, “As you can see behind me, the polar bear, sea turtle, and coral populations have all gone extinct in the past few years.” Hannah led her group to a display featuring projections of snow-white polar bears. “Polar bears faced extinction when greenhouse gases increased atmospheric warming, leading to the destruction of the polar ice caps. Diminished sea ice also impacted the availability of fish, a major food source and industry, and the loss of habitat for other species, such as whales, seals, and penguins.”
The next exhibit had already attracted the attention of the high school kids, some of whom were even pressing their noses against the glass like five-year-olds. Robotic sea turtles flipped towards each other, propelling themselves against imaginary waves. “Sea turtles, one of everyone’s favorite animals, went extinct after sea levels rose and the water grew warmer. Rising sea levels also impacted coastal habitats and beaches that sea turtles needed to bury their eggs.”
Hannah tried to gauge her audience’s reactions. Many of the kids looked puzzled by the facts she had just spouted at them, while the adults seemed slightly concerned and maybe even a little bored.
“Our last exhibit is the coral reef,” Hannah pointed to the reproduction of the reef made from recycled materials. “Warmer water temperatures led to coral bleaching, which occurred when coral expelled the algae, their major source of food that lived in their tissues. Although coral can survive bleaching, they became under more stress and were subject to mortality.”
One of the students raised her hand. “I understand why this is all so bad for the species involved, but how did it happen? Why are there more greenhouse gases in the atmosphere?”
Hannah smiled grimly. “Good question. As I mentioned earlier, more greenhouse gases allowed for the polar ice caps melting, rising sea levels, and higher ocean temperatures. There are many reasons why there are more greenhouse gases, but a few of the major ones are deforestation, high methane levels, and the production and burning of fossil fuels.
“For those of you who aren’t familiar with the term, deforestation can occur in many different ways, such as logging, ranching, and infrastructure advancement. About 18 million acres of forests are destroyed each year. Forests are very important to the environment as they essentially act as a ‘carbon sink,’ meaning they absorb carbon dioxide that would otherwise contribute to greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, about 15 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions are due to deforestation. Therefore, without forests, carbon dioxide goes into the atmosphere and raises global temperatures. Deforestation also wipes out many animal populations.”
A large chaperone named Kevin stepped into the hall, overwhelmed by Hannah’s words. Memories of a sweltering summer day poured down on him. The company he ran, Wintergreen Inc., was delayed three months in building its new headquarters, and he despised delays.
The project foreman spoke. “Mr. Granger, the land survey shows much more forestation than we thought. Clearing it would be lethal to the animals that live there. And besides—”
Kevin interrupted him with a glare. “Clear the land, or I’m not paying you.”
Now standing in the hall, Kevin emerged from his reverie, fumbled in his pockets for his phone, and spoke quickly. “Hey, Joe, I just had an idea for a new project… I was thinking of a nature center, something to encourage protection of the animals… make sure we preserve the forest as a, um, carbon sink… Yes, I’m aware of the costs… Okay, bye.” Kevin strolled back to the exhibit, where Hannah had moved on to a discussion of greenhouse gases. “Cows and sheep produce large amounts of methane gas during their digestion. Methane has a very high global warming effect. Therefore, large dairy farms, which own many of these animals, can be disastrous for the environment.”
One of the teachers, Ms. O’Riley, gave a short gasp. She was picturing her family’s 500-acre farm, where she had grown up with long, lush fields of vegetables spanning the farm. She remembered when her father had approached her one day while she was picking tomatoes from a garden. “Hey, Emma, I have something to tell you. Our family has made the decision to switch gears, so we’ll be buying some cattle and other animals. Raising cattle will bring in more money. After all, everyone wants an extra burger!”
Ms. O’Riley was brought back to the present when the tour guide clapped her hands together to grab the attention of the group. “Unless anyone has any questions, I think we can—”
“Wait! I’m sorry, but what can people do about methane? Especially on a farm?”
“Good question! Organic farmers tend to keep their livestock longer, so reducing the number of cows also reduces methane production. Additionally, farms can employ anaerobic digesters that use microorganisms to decompose cattle manure within a container, and the resulting biogas can be used for free electricity production. As for people not associated with farms, eating less red meat and raising awareness about methane effects are really impactful.”
Ms. O’Riley typed Hannah’s words into her phone before turning back to the tour guide. “The last large reason for oceanic climate change is the burning of fossil fuels, especially cars. Transportation accounts for nearly 30 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. Most of this comes from carbon dioxide resulting from the combustion of petroleum-based products in engines.
“One solution is alternative fuels, such as biofuels or renewable energy, like wind and solar. You can also change your driving habits, like reducing your engine-idling, observing the speed limit, and refraining from accelerating or braking quickly. Of course, walking or biking when you can also helps reduce emission levels. Even just carpooling has a large impact.”
One of the Redwood boys, Zach, was listening intently to Hannah. Walking, biking, carpooling… At the start of the school year, Zach’s mother had suggested a neighborhood carpool. Zach, too excited to drive his new convertible, had vehemently rejected the idea.
But now Zach blinked, his mind whirling. He was thinking about the number of people who drove to school alone every day, all the cars that pulled into the parking lot, all the gas they produced. His eyes landed on Ella Danes, who he approached quietly. “Ella, is there any way I can join that neighborhood carpool?”
Ella smiled. “Of course. It’s my turn to drive, so meet the rest of us at my house then?”
As Zach thanked Ella, Hannah cried out, “Everyone, that’s the end of the ocean gallery. I hope you learned a lot today and that you’ll start fighting climate change any way you can!”
As the group left, a boy asked about a sign above one of the doors: “Coming Soon.”
“We’re still working on that gallery. It’s focused on another species facing extinction due to the impact of climate change on the ocean. But from what I’ve heard today, I think this new extinction gallery might not be open as quickly as we think.”
Earth’s oceans are a complex ecosystem that keeps our planet hospitable to all species that live on it. But oceans are more fragile than they might appear, and extinctions lead to dire and unpredictable consequences. And so beyond the museum door, shrouded in darkness and dust, dozens of mannequins stood silent, waiting to chronicle the last days of humans on Earth.
 Five Effects of Climate Change on the Ocean
Bradford, Alina. “Deforestation: Facts, Causes & Effects.” LiveScience, Purch, 3 Apr. 2018, www.livescience.com.
“Climate Change Evidence: How Do We Know?” NASA, NASA, 4 Apr. 2018, climate.nasa.gov.
“Deforestation.” WWF, World Wildlife Fund, www.worldwildlife.org.
“Five Effects of Climate Change on the Ocean.” Conservation International, Conservation International, www.conservation.org.
“How Human Activities Produce Greenhouse Gases.” UNFCCC, United Nations Environment Program, unfccc.int.
Jones, Adrian. “How Does Climate Change Affect Coral Reefs?” Teach Ocean Science, University of Maryland Center For Environmental Science, www.teachoceanscience.net.
“Main Sources of Methane Emissions.” What’s Your Impact?, What’s Your Impact?, 8 July 2017, whatsyourimpact.org.
“Sources of Greenhouse Gas Emissions.” EPA, Environmental Protection Agency, 11 Apr. 2018, www.epa.gov.
“The Climate Impacts of Methane Emissions.” Environmental Defense Fund, Environmental Defense Fund, www.edf.org.
“What Is Coral Bleaching?” NOAA’s National Ocean Service, National Ocean Service, 15 Mar. 2010, oceanservice.noaa.gov.
I have always been aware of the effects climate change have on my life. The first time I realized how climate change directly affects my life, I was in the third grade, and our class play focused on reducing our country’s reliance on fossil fuels in favor of renewable energy. Since that time, I have been horrified to witness numerous examples of how climate change is negatively changing the world, ranging from watching the land next door to my house erode from land development to seeing manatees harmed by loss of habitat whenever I visit my grandparent in Florida. These issues are very important, and although they are gaining attention in present times, it is not enough. When I decided to write my story, I wanted to emphasize the impacts of increased greenhouse gas emissions on the environment while also explaining how people around the world can lessen the effects of climate change. Whether it is starting a carpool with some friends, or deciding to go vegetarian for a month, I want to inspire people to feel as passionately as I do about this issue looming over our heads. My goal is to show through my writing that there are so many ways to get involved and make a difference because, as I illustrated in my story, if action is not taken soon, humans might be the next to disappear due to climate change.