In the latest Nature, Chris Thomas says:
This year the baiji river dolphin (Lipotes vexillifer), a victim of the pollution and boat traffic of China’s Yangtze river, was added to the list of creatures on the verge of extinction. Is this part of the sixth mass extinction in 450 million years, or does the recent spate of losses caused by humans represent a blip in the history of life on Earth? Michael Novacek’s Terra takes stock of the situation and provides an opportunity to learn from the past. …
Of course, we shall solve some of these issues with technological fixes. Yet if we maintain 9 billion avaricious people on Earth for the next millennium, a sixth extinction event seems inevitable. The geological perspective of Terra is bizarrely reassuring. Humans will presumably be gone within a few million years, perhaps sooner. If the past that Novacek describes is a guide to the future, global ecosystem processes will be restored some tens of thousands to a million years after our demise, and new forms of life over the ensuing millions of years will exploit the denuded planet we leave behind. Thirty million years on, things will be back to normal, albeit a very different `normal’ from before. It is good to be optimistic. The problem is living here in the meantime.
Thomas is "optimistic" that humans and any descendants with a remotely similar population or resource-intensive technology will be extinct in a million years. Yet if a plague, for example, were to produce this outcome within the next ten years, I’m pretty sure most everyone would see this as a catastrophe of the highest possible order. So how does this become a good thing if it happens in the next million years?
Added 21Nov: I emailed Chris Thomas the day of this post, and today he commented that I was "over-interpreting a few tongue-in-cheek comments." I responded.