PDF/EPUB Elizabeth Kolbert Ê The Sixth Extinction An Unnatural History Kindle ✓ Ê

Over the last half billion years there have been five mass extinctions when the diversity of life on earth suddenly and dramatically contracted Scientists around the world are currently monitoring the sixth extinction predicted to be the most devastating extinction event since the asteroid impact that wiped out the dinosaurs This time around the cataclysm is us In prose that is at once frank entertaining and deeply informed The New Yorker writer Elizabeth Kolbert tells us why and how human beings have altered life on the planet in a way no species has before Interweaving research in half a dozen disciplines descriptions of the fascinating species that have already been lost and the history of extinction as a concept Kolbert provides a moving and comprehensive account of the disappearances occurring before our very eyes She shows that the sixth extinction is likely to be mankind's most lasting legacy compelling us to rethink the fundamental uestion of what it means to be human


10 thoughts on “The Sixth Extinction An Unnatural History

  1. says:

    Seemed a good time to float this bad mama jama spoiler alert we're screwedLooking for a good horror novel that will keep you up late at night? One that features the most remorseless inventive and successful serial killer to ever stumble into the written word? One whose body count grows exponentially as his appetite becomes ravenous never sated? One who is so adept at killing that he does so without even seeming to try? Well I have just the ticket The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert This is as frightening as it gets people and the villain here is us me you and everyone else inhabiting this little blue marble called Earth Throughout history there have been five mass extinction events the Cretaceous Paleogene the Triassic Jurassic the Permian Triassic the Late Devonian and the Ordovician Silurian All of these involve a cataclysmic shift in environmental conditions some the result of an external impact And now Kolbert reports that there may be a sixth extinction the Anthropocene caused by the impact of humanity on the environment Many may believe that this is a byproduct of the Industrial Age but Kolbert shows us how humans have always had a knack for wreaking wide scale environmental havoc Always needing and wanting from our natural resources we like kudzu multiply rapidly take over every inch of land available to us and choke out the life that surrounds usKolbert makes the case for recognizing the Anthropocene as a mass extinction event by exploring its casualties and its future victims As she relates the extinction of the American mastodon the great auk and the Neanderthal as well as the near extinction of the Panamanian golden frog Hawaiian crow Sumatran rhino and several types of bats one truth becomes increasingly clear most of these extinctions began to take place when humans entered the environment Despite the disheartening nature of the topic Kolbert writes with dry wit and gallows humor which for me always made an appearance at just the right time before things became too depressing While there is a lot of science here Kolbert keeps it accessible for those of us who don't while away our days reading scientific journals you know while our basic needs and consumer choices destroy everything around us and her first person narrative keeps it from veering into textbook territoryThere's a lot here that I enjoyed but three highlights stand out1 Kolbert's early chapters about men like Cuvier Lyell and Darwin who were among the first to speculate on extinction and evolution From our modern perspective it's easy to forget that extinction in particular is a relatively new idea There was a time when many scientists believed that nothing could become extinct over the natural progression of time; the discovery of fossils began to shift human understanding of the world and of creation Reading as these men stumble in their understanding of the world shifting and revising hypotheses and ultimately discovering that there was a world that existed before mankind is fascinating2 The chapters on the sea and corals which may eventually become extinct taking with them several organisms that live symbiotically with corals is particularly interesting for someone like myself who is happily landlocked For those who don't live near or have a relationship with our seas and oceans it's easy to see it as a vast nothingness and forget about the world teeming below our waters The rate of ocean acidification is frightening3 The concept of a new Pangaea is an intriguing one The ease with which we travel to other states countries and continents has in a sense reconstituted Pangaea in that we knowingly and unknowingly introduce new and often invasive plant and animal species into new environments In doing so these new host environments haven't developed nature's evolutionary safeguards to keep the balance between predator and prey often with disastrous resultsWhile Kolbert makes all of this lucid and entertaining as well as terrifying I must admit to some fatigue when I got to the final chapters Reading about mass extinction can really take a toll on someone whose worldview can basically be summed up as people suck Reading such incontrovertible evidence and knowing that I myself cannot escape the guilt of this accusation is in the words of Kolbert on The Daily Show kind of a downer However we need downers We need to be educated about what we're doing to our environment Early man deserves a pass you come into a place and think Damn Look at all these mastodons We can feast like kings So you settle in live a life filled with mastodon hunts and mastodon meat have several children dress them in mastodon onesies kill mastodons always assuming there will be After all you've found the great all you can eat mastodon buffet You have no concept of the impact your consumption is having on the environment You haven't seen Disney's The Lion King and therefore don't know of the majestic power of the circle of life nor of the comedic gold of pairing a warthog with a meerkat Such days of ignorance should be behind us We know better so we should do betterAlthough many of us are 4% Neanderthal because apparently early homo sapiens just couldn't resist the seductive power of a ridged brow So maybe we're not so smart after all Cross posted at This Insignificant Cinder


  2. says:

    Ecocides could only be justified with the primate madness gene in Prehistoric times but nowadays it´s inexcusable Archaeologists of the future in millions of years would wonder what has happened how such devastation could be done in such a short time They compare volcanic eruptions climate change meteorites changes in the earth's magnetic field solar storms gamma ray bursts etc with the uniue event or people find the ruins of a vanished high culture in the course of the colonization of space And wonder what might have led to their downfallIn the retrospective they are most astounded by how they could notice and know everything about such fatal developments and continue whistling cheerfully saw on the branch they are sitting poison themselves comprehensively by contaminating the environment bite the hand that feeds them and play Russian Roulette with an automatic weapon To murder the mother who has lovingly raised them secretly and viciously for profit or neglect and let her languish in front of them until she dies as a result of negligenceThe extrapolated development illustrates the explosiveness In 100 or 250 years humanity will have eradicated almost all species and only a few adaptable wild species and parasites will represent the remaining fauna and floraEveryone else will vegetate in zoos if they are lucky or be stuffed out to be gazed at in extensive areas of natural history museums for extinct species Since the addition out of the education and culture budget for millions of extinct species will be too expensive one will probably give away the excess exhibits or throw the stuffed last specimens of the species in the trash burn them or give them to the stores of the companies who helped to exterminate for decoration purposes in shop windows or for kids to play with while the parents are shopping It would be a consistent continuation of the treatment of nature by humans to spit on the grave too after the total annihilationThe homogenization and massive reduction of biodiversity is in two ways subtle than direct extinction through habitat destruction By breeding fewer productive species non lucrative farm animals and the economical completely worthless wild species are driven to the brink of extinction The spread of invasive species destroys helpless natural ecosystems and few very aggressive expanding species and the spread breed genetically enhanced varieties remain Globally habitats are becoming and similar the physical euivalent of the in the cultural and sociological area much criticized AmericanizationThe lack of empathy is limited to animals and plants Genocide is for just about a century the most outrageous and disturbing thing that people can be confronted with Before that humankind was acting consistently and with eual rights for every group of victims so far as that heshe eradicated herhis euals too Now destruction in unprecedented dimensions is accepted as the inevitable collateral damage of human development and the stupid endless exponential economic growth of a self destructive system of madness It's just ecocide that's not so bad They have no soul or something like that so calm down tree hugging hippie leftistThe conviction that everything can be restored with technology is naive and shortsighted Human made machines and infrastructures can be built maintained and modified removing a mountain is already a complicated task but to bring back to life a sea that only consists of death zones or a desert that once was a forest borders to an impossibility on the momentary state of the artIn the very long term the damage to the natural infrastructure needed for biodiversity can be compensated with the corresponding financial technological and material resources using robots gene and nanotechnology to remove toxicity and build new habitats etc But this is like making a lovely house for a dead person with extreme expenses and an interior decorator in the morbid hope that would bring the person back to life And extinct is even definitive than dead it´s not as if there was indirect immortality with grandkids or something we are talking about truly forever gone Further ecosystems have evolved over millions of years in circumstances that we do not understand and aren´t interested in investing money to learn about Even now there are open than answered uestions and factors and often an element was changed with good intention and had fatal effects instead At the moment it´s impossible to rebuild a complex ecosystem from an empty human made pseudo natural space just the microbiological part with the right soil conditions is far too tricky A habitat is needed that not only preserves itself but also stands in a complex and balanced interplay with climate weather landforms and adjacent other ecosystems and adapts to evolutionary and climate changesFresh by humans decontaminated and reforested habitats will be empty because one will not have genetic samples like the ones from mammoths and dinosaurs because nobody takes them because the animals die out without it even being noticed and because it´s seen as too expensive to freeze probes from the last survivors in zoos before they die in many places especially if it´s no cuddly panda but a nasty snake critter or ugly fish yuk Surely one will be able to create chimeras cheap wannabe replicas or classic fantasy creatures Just the biodiversity the breadth of variation and the ingenuity of nature in millions of expressions which has developed in billions of years will be lost foreverHomo Sapiens will not be severely affected or interested in the results anyway People will not die out no matter how poisoned and hostile the planet will become because the same technology that allows the destruction of nature will save the destroyers and bring them longer and healthier lives It will merely make economic sense to turn the planet back into a habitable and not immediately deadly state when leaving the secure zones or underground bunkersIt will be a pretty empty planet The limited creative power of humankind will conjure bad copies of the former biodiversity but nothing will come close to the original range of variation and diversity of natural evolution some of us are still privileged to see when going outsideA wiki walk can be as refreshing to the mind as a walk through nature in this completely overrated real life outside books


  3. says:

    This is officially the most boring book I've read this yearThere were some interesting moments but they were too few to compensate You'll learn about random rainforest frogs than you ever wantedAlso I find that while reading some non fiction you have to like the author to a certain extent and I just couldn't here One moment during the book she writes about how she tried to visit a certain location and asked the lady working at the gift shop to give her a tour The employee obviously told her she was busy and I couldn't help but resent the author for being salty about it as she wrote that as far as she could tell they were the only ones there Like come onDon't recommend


  4. says:

    Better Dead Than Read In the Book of Genesis God creates mankind last as if anticipating the theory of Darwinian evolution But the text is somewhat ambivalent about his accomplishment Whereas all his other creations time space light plants sentient creatures are explicitly deemed ‘good’ human beings are merely lumped in with everything else as God surveys the world The biblical author seems to be hedging the blessing mitzvah both a command and a favour of human ‘rule’ over everything If so his caution has turned out to be justified Putting the inmates in charge of the asylum has turned out to be a profound design flawBut perhaps not for much longer The species Homo sapiens seems to have run its course It has overwhelmed the creative matrix which produced it And it has done so in an evolutionary blink of an eye Its facility for communication through complex language as Emil Cioran has said has filled creation with a glut of consciousness an intellectual burden which it cannot sustain The threat is not mankind’s greed or hostility or sexual urges but thought itself Thought which is language in action produces cooperative effort which produces technology which removes all impediments to the spread of the speciesExcept of course one impediment the success of the species itself It is a species which consumes everything it encounters This it calls ‘finding a use for’ or sometimes ‘making life better’ This is an expected conseuence of language use As Yuval Harari observes it is gossip which propelled the species into poll position in the evolutionary race Members of the species gin each other up to want of everything children food air water minerals well just of everything Isn’t this what ruling is all about? Making things better? Enhancing existence? Realising one’s full potential as well as that of the species? Isn’t that the practical definition of salvation? Striving for perfection?One of Stanislaw Lem’s stories turns the tables on the evolutionary story we tell ourselves about being the most developed species the top of the food chain the acme of known existence For Lem all this striving this wanting to be better bigger stronger secure to be something other than what we already are is an obvious evolutionary defect a dead end genetic branch that will wither as creation moves on And what it will move on to is the inertia of what the species now sees dismissively as ‘dead matter’ This is of course obviously the case Look in any grave yard for confirmation; or in the fossil record; or for that matter into the maw of the nearest astronomical black hole Entropy that is to say that silent peaceful euality is the heaven that awaits us the omega point of Teilhard de ChardinMeanwhile we are effectively trapped in this bubble of language We can’t resist it or dispose of it or in any way mitigate its profoundly destructive conseuences for us as well as for the other species with which we live We are doomed to destroy them as in a Ted Chiang story simply by perceiving them Even by naming them we endanger their existence because it means we have become aware of them as a potential resource We are prisoners of ourselves Stories about future threats to human existence through developments in Artificial Intelligence are actually distractions from current reality Language already controls usIn this light it helps to look at the record The Ordovician extinction occurred over a period of a million years as global temperatures dropped and was caused by silicate rocks sucking carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere 86% of all species perished The Devonian extinction triggered by the development of plant life on land releasing nutrients into the oceans thus wiping out 75% of marine animals The Permian extinction was the big one the proximate cause being methane producing bacteria 96% of life on each disappeared The Triassic extinction has no agreed upon cause; but it wiped out 80% of contemporary species The Cretaceous extinction the one with the asteroid impact in the Gulf of Mexico as its final coup was relatively mild; only three uarters of known species were eliminated It too seems like the revenge of dead matterIsn’t it interesting that each of these events was precipitated by material both living and dead rather far down the purported evolutionary ladder than the most ‘advanced’ organisms then in existence Evolutionary development carries with it inherent vulnerability to changes in the environment The less developed that is the closer to dead matter the likely the chances of survival And dead matter probably only goes extinct in some sort of cosmic singularity like a black hole Language simultaneously makes us aware and insulates us from this reality Inside the bubble of language we can rationalise our inevitable fate science will save us; God has another world waiting for us; the mathematical probabilities for another similar event is low etc We know deep down that language is deceiving us but we act like it’s just part of realityThe implications are obvious Neither God nor human beings created language thus contradicting our fundamental language based conceit Language evolved from us but is independent of us And we are addicted to it We resent the power of language even as we pretend to use it to further our own We are at its mercy and we intend unconsciously but deliberately to stop its hegemony Like every other extinction event this one too is being executed by an ‘inferior’ species upon one which has emanated from it We are determined to wipe out language or at least to scramble it so profoundly that its meanings are irrecoverable The elimination of so many other species along the way is merely collateral damage unfortunate but necessary This perhaps is the true significance of the story in Genesis chapter 11 of the Tower of Babel And it certainly explains Donald Trump’s appeal to the mass of DeplorablesKolbert has the trajectory correct but the mechanism wrong Nothing about the Sixth Extinction is accidental or unwanted It was inevitable from the moment an idea and a sound or gesture popped into some primitive head and were linked That was the start of the rot And there are plenty of folk out there who are willing to go to the wall in order to stop it Better Dead Than Read is their motto Heed them; they are serious and dedicated And they are winning


  5. says:

    Dial M for Murder This is a dark and deeply depressing book trying hard to be hopeful — on the lines of Douglas Adams' Last Chance to SeeKolbert's book reminds us that we could be the last couple of generations to witness true diversity maybe the last to see such magnificent and delicate creatures as the amphibiansThe story of the Sixth Extinction at least as Kolbert has chosen to tell it comes in thirteen chapters Each tracks a species that’s in some way emblematic — the American mastodon the great auk an ammonite that disappeared at the end of the Cretaceous alongside the dinosaursThe creatures in the early chapters are already gone and this part of the book is mostly concerned with the great extinctions of the past and the twisting history of their discovery starting with the work of the French naturalist Georges CuvierThe second part of the book takes place very much in the present—in the increasingly fragmented rainforest on a fast warming slope in the Andes on the outer reaches of the Great Barrier ReefMartyrs to Awareness?Kolbert’s book also spends much ink tracking the history of humanity’s well western at least awareness of extinction and then the science of studying it It starts from the biblical conception of all creatures as eternal and changeless to the gradual awareness that some animals might be rare or extinct and eventually to the awareness of Natural selection and the importance of change for life on EarthThomas Kuhn the twentieth century’s most influential historian of science has much to say about such paradigmatic revelations about how people process disruptive information — Their first impulse is to force it into a familiar framework hearts spades clubs Signs of mismatch are disregarded for as long as possible—the red spade looks “brown” or “rusty” At the point the anomaly becomes simply too glaring a crisis ensues—what the psychologists dubbed the “’My God’ reaction”This pattern was Kuhn argued in his seminal work  The Structure of Scientific Revolutions so basic that it shaped not only individual perceptions but entire fields of inuiry Data that did not fit the commonly accepted assumptions of a discipline would either be discounted or explained away for as long as possible The contradictions accumulated the convoluted the rationalizations became “In science as in the playing card experiment novelty emerges only with difficulty” Kuhn wroteBut then finally someone came along who was willing to call a red spade a red spade Crisis led to insight and the old framework gave way to a new one This is how great scientific discoveries or to use the term Kuhn made so popular “paradigm shifts” took place The history of the science of extinction can be told as a series of paradigm shifts Until the end of the eighteenth century the very category of extinction didn’t exist The strange bones were unearthed—mammoths Megatherium mosasaurs—the harder naturalists had to suint to fit them into a familiar framework And suint they did The giant bones belonged to elephants that had been washed north or hippos that had wandered west or whales with malevolent grins When Cuvier arrived in Paris he saw that the mastodon’s molars could not be fit into the established framework a “My God” moment that led to him to propose a whole new way of seeing them Life Cuvier recognized had a history This history was marked by loss and punctuated by events too terrible for human imagining “Though the world does not change with a change of paradigm the scientist afterward works in a different world” is how Kuhn put itAre the early participants of Humanity’s ‘Mega Kill’ the ‘Sixth Extinction’ if you will martyrs to humanity’s self awareness as immoral killers reuired to make us finally think through to the conseuences of our actions?Anthropocene MoralityHumanity might finally be capable of perceiving the change that has been wrought and moving into the most crucial understanding of all — that our survival depends on preserving Earth as close to how we inherited it as possibleThe emblematic extinctions are valuable because they serve as blazing sign posts The eco system might be too slow in its actions to warn us in time but our aesthetic sensibility might be capable of warning us in advance when we are too far off the tracks That might in turn finally engage our moral responsibility for creating an Anthropocene in which most of our co inheritors of the planet cannot survive ‘Love thy neighbor’? Can we? Or will we continue to shy away from any moral colorings to the argument? Even as we commit to and associate ourselves with blatant Ecocide?Our biggest threat is ecological human induced change and to be specific rate of changeWhen the world changes faster than species can adapt many fall out This is the case whether the agent drops from the sky in a fiery streak or drives to work in a Honda


  6. says:

    This book is a very engaging examination of extinctions of animal species through the ages Elizabeth Kolbert adds a wonderfully personal touch to many of the chapters as she describes her visits to the habitats where various species are dying out She accompanies scientists and ecologists as they delve into extinctions past and present Some biologists are gathering up endangered species putting them into special reserves and zoo like habitats where they might be able to surviveThere is no single cause for the various massive extinctions Some were due to sudden changes in climate some due to catastrophes like meteors some due to disease and some are due to humans For example the mastodon's extinction coincides with the spread of humans The original penguin the auk became extinct due to a combination of factors including volcanoes and human hunters in the nineteenth century Coral reefs are dying off because of increasing acidification; much of the excessive carbon dioxide produced by humans is absorbed by the ocean where the ph level is become less baseHomo sapiens lived at the same time as other hominid species such as Neanderthals and Denisovans Visually Neanderthals were not so different from us If you gave one a shave and a suit a Neanderthal might look like this So the uestion comes up why did these other nearly human species go extinct while humans survived? The uestion is especially appropriate as there is DNA evidence that humans interbred with some of these other species The answer is very possibly that humans killed them offWhat makes this book so special is Kolbert's writing style She makes me feel like I'm right there with the biologists and ecologists She personally visits the habitats and goes into some depth talking with the specialists Each chapter becomes an adventure Sometimes the subject matter becomes depressing as it is about the dying or killing off of species But the writing is so engaging that I highly recommend this book


  7. says:

    hides in apocalypse safe bunker and criesA goosebump inducing nonfiction read The Sixth Extinction is told in a part textbook part narrative style; the author gives readers hard facts mixed into detailed personal accounts of her research trips In 13 chapters she tells the stories of several species some long extinct some still teetering on the brink of extinction all with one common enemy us The best part of the book is that Kolbert isn't trying to blame the human race or make her readers feel guilty She only explains the effect we have on our earth and where this could lead possibly to world domination by giant tool making rats The message is simply Here is the information; you decide what to do with itWould recommend highly


  8. says:

    “When I hear of the destruction of a species I feel just as if all the works of some great writer had perished” Theodore RooseveltI don't recall ever reading a book that SO made me want to curl up in a ball on the floor and just SOBThe book ends with a chapter entitled The Thing With Feathers which is hope according to Emily Dickinson Or Woody Allen's nephew if you know that joke Yet this chapter contains some of the dire information not to mention the most tear inducing uotesWe're seeing right now that a mass extinction can be caused by human beings Walter AlvarezRight now we are in the midst of the Sixth Extinction this time caused solely by humanity's transformation of the ecological landscape plaue displayed at the American Museum of History's Hall of BiodiversityThroughout history there have been five other mass extinctions that led to a profound loss of biodiversity But the cause for this one lies suarely on our shoulders It is estimated that one third of all reef building corals a third of all fresh water mollusks a third of sharks and rays a uarter of all mammals a fifth of all reptiles and a sixth of all birds are headed toward oblivionLet's take a look at some of the things we stand to loseThe Panamanian Golden FrogI sought a career in herpetology because I enjoy working with animals I did not anticipate that it would come to resemble paleontology Joseph Mendelson a herpetologist at Zoo AtlantaThe Asian ElephantCoral Reefs if current emissions trends continue within the next fifty years or so all coral reefs will cease to grow and start to dissolveThe Sumatran RhinoThe Marianas Flying Fox This bat has become a victim of the accidental introduction of the brown tree snakeDisastrously introduced species are discussed in a chapter entitled The New PangaeaThough Kolbert is no Mary Roach she does try to inject some humor whenever possible I got a laugh out of her account of Australia's problem with the cane toad a critter purposely introduced to control sugarcane beetles Preschoolers are enlisted to help in reducing the toad's numbersTo dispose of the toads humanely the council instructs children to cool them in a fridge for 12 hours and then place them in a freezer for another 12 hoursBe careful when you reach for a popsicle in that houseSo besides losing lots of wonderful wildlife why should we care?In pushing other species to extinction humanity is busy sawing off the limb on which it perches Stanford ecologist Paul EhrlichYep we could be next Rudy Park by Darrin Bell and Theron Heir July 6 2015There are things we can do but you know how we are when it comes to cutting back and making sacrificesAre we willing to do them?If you want me I'll be on the floor sobbing


  9. says:

    In this well researched book science writer Elizabeth Kolbert casts a strong light on the damage humans are doing to planet Earth In one example Kolbert describes declining populations of the golden frog which is rapidly disappearing from all its native habitats Turns out humans have inadvertently spread a type of fungus that infects the skin of amphibians and kills themGolden FrogIn another example almost six million North American bats have so far died from a skin infection caused by a different fungus also accidentally spread by peopleNorth American BatsPerhaps less ecologically minded people might think who cares about frogs and bats? But all species on Earth are part of an interactive ecosystem and the disappearance of any one organism might set off a domino effect that has unseen conseuences down the lineEcosystemMoreover these sad occurrences are just the teeny tip of a humongous iceberg when it comes to changes wrought by human activitySpecies extinction is not a recent phenomenon on Earth In fact there have been five documented instances of mass extinctions the disappearance of a large number of species in a short time in the course of the planet's history These are• The Ordovician Silurian extinction about 440 million years ago thought to be caused by cycles of glaciation and meltingLife at the Ordovician Silurian Extinction• The Late Devonian extinction about 360 375 million years ago The cause is unknown but some experts suggest periods of global cooling and glaciationLife at the Late Devonian Extinction• The Permian Triassic extinction about 250 million years ago which may have resulted from an asteroid impact or massive volcanic eruptions or both This was the largest extinction event in Earth's history wiping out 95 percent of species living at the timeLife at the Permian Triassic Extinction• The Triassic Jurassic extinction about 200 215 million years ago apparently caused by colossal lava floods and perhaps global warming related to the breakup of Pangaea a supercontinent made of all Earth's landmassesLife at the Triassic Jurassic Extinction• The Cretaceous Paleogene extinction about 66 million years ago thought to be due to an asteroid impact Evidence for this is the Chicxulub crater in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico This extinction is well known in popular culture because it wiped out the dinosaursLife at the Cretaceous Paleogene ExtinctionEach extinction event left vacant ecological niches and over time these were filled by the expansion of remaining species and the evolution of new organisms Taking into account all the cycles of extinction and speciation in the planet's history scientists speculate that 999 percent of species that lived on Earth are gone Unfortunately humans by causing profound changes in Earth's ecosystems may now be causing the sixth mass extinction Examples of what humans are doing to Earth include• Burning fossil fuels which adds CO2 to the atmosphere This has a dual effect It causes global warming which affects the distribution and survival of plants and animals; and it acidifies the oceans causing calcite to dissolve Thus coral reefs are being destroyed and molluscs are getting holes in their shells • Destroying habitats to accommodate expanding human populations This includes cutting down forests constructing roads and buildings and cultivating monoculture farms all of which demolishes the homes of native organisms• Transferring organisms to new habitats When people started moving from place to place they purposely or not took other organisms with them For instance brown rats which seem to be indestructible rode ships to almost every corner of the world ravaging native species; rabbits brought to Australia as food animals became one of the biggest pests on the continent; brown snakes introduced to Guam wiped out nearly all the native birds; and kudzu vines introduced to the US from Asia cover and smother all vegetation in their pathKudzu smothers native vegetationIt's estimated that people are moving 10000 species around the world every day mostly in supertanker ship ballast The conseuences of this are potentially disastrous for indigenous plants and animals everywhere• Overharvesting and hunting animals to extinction In the North Sea Grand Banks of Newfoundland and East China Sea overfishing has severely depleted fish stocksIn addition many animals have been completely wiped out by humans including the dodo Tasmanian tiger passenger pigeon Steller's sea cow and great auk a flightless bird In a sad anecdote Kolbert describes how on July 3 1844 a hunter named Sigurður Ísleifsson strangled the world's last two great auks on Eldey Island near Iceland Great AuksIn The Sixth Extinction Kolbert sounds the alarm about humans wreaking changes on Earth in the current era dubbed the AnthropoceneWith luck Kolbert's book might help persuade concerned people to stop damaging the environment curtail global warming and save threatened species Some measures are already in place the US has an Endangered Species Act designed to protect imperiled organisms; international agreements have been made to alleviate global warming; and frozen zoos store DNA from thousands of plants and animals in hopes of resurrecting them if they disappear Still it may be too little too lateAs far as the Earth is concerned a sixth extinction could be just another cataclysmic event from which the planet will gradually recover For humans thoughwellwe might just wipe ourselves out in such a catastrophe If so something will inevitably take our place Elizabeth Kolbert half jokingly suggests it might be giant intelligent rats ha ha ha Some people think humans can counteract the harm we've done to the Earth One solution for global warming for example involves spraying salt water into low lying clouds to enhance their ability to reflect sunlight Even if this worked though it would solve only one problem of many In the extreme case of irreparable harm to Earth some optimists? believe the human race will survive by colonizing other planets Only time will tell Kolbert's book is well written engaging and personal with anecdotes based on her own observations as well as interviews with scientists she accompanied on their research trips I'd recommend this enlightening and interesting book to everyone interested in the Earth's futureFYI If you like the 'move to other planets' scenario you might enjoy the novel Seveneves by Neal Stephensonwhich has a related themeYou can read my book reviews at


  10. says:

    no snow now ice by photographer Patty Waymire National GeographicEvery part of the earth is sacred to my people Every shining pine needle every sandy shore every mist in the dark woods every meadow every humming insect All are holy in the memory and experience of my peopleChief SeattleWhen I was a child my favorite books were the Golden Nature Guides about insects birds sea shells and so on I learned many insect names as well as those of the butterflies and other animals I also remember seeing so many different varieties of wildlife back then Little did I know then that in later years I would look for the birds butterflies and insects of my youth and not see many of them I jump for joy when I see a praying mantis an inch worm or a walking stick We are losing our bees and I seldom see those either If we lose them all we lose our fruits and other plants that need pollinated China has to hand pollinate now The only butterfly I see here are black swallowtails What happened to the buckeye the yellow swallowtail and all the others?This year I learned that black swallowtails love fennel so I was given some fennel to plant in hope that it would draw of them to my garden One day I saw two caterpillars on it and they had eaten all the fennel As I was watching them they crawled off to look for food Not finding any they crawled back onto the fennel I called a friend who asked me to bring the caterpillars over to her house She put them in a jar with fennel where she could keep them safe from the birds They made cocoons hatched and flew off Why do we even have to do this? What happened? Little did I know back in my youth that we would be losing wild life There is so much we didn’t know back then but then I remember my 8th grade teacher Mr Bailey telling us about the book Silent Spring by Rachel Carson about a time when we would not be hearing song birds and other sounds of nature No one listened then; they still don't listen When it is silent they will listen and not hear a thingLike Silent Spring this book was written as another warning and it won the Pulitzer Prize It is easy to understand and at times it is enjoyable that is if you like reading about natureDid you know that there is a flower that ants live inside of and that the flower allows them to live there because the ants kill other insects that may try to harm it? Did you know that there are such things as antbutterflies that swarm around army ants and that they live off the droppings of the antbirds that also swarm around the flower? I love reading that kind of information but then again we are that sixth extinction that she writes about It is sad to see what we are doing to this planet and to learn that many species are dying daily My brother once said We don't deserve this planet How true The author said some things that made me feel a little better but not by much She mentioned that during the last extinctions new life forms evolved New life forms sound encouraging but who wants to lose what we have now?I often think of how much we have Junked out this earth I wonder if it will die or if something will happen that will save it When I read this next paragraph I thought of how nice it would be to have all of our Junk reduced to the size of a cigarette paper The author mentioned a scientist Professor Jan Zalasiewicz who is convinced that even a moderately competent stratigrapher will at the distance of a hundred million years or so be able to tell that something extraordinary happened at the moment in time that counts for us as today This is the case even though a hundred million years from now all that we consider to be the great works of man—the sculptures and the libraries the monuments and the museums the cities and the factories—will be compressed into a layer of sediment not much thicker than a cigarette paper”Other uotes “Though it might be nice to imagine there once was a time when man lived in harmony with nature it’s not clear that he ever really did”“Under business as usual by mid century things are looking rather grim” he told me a few hours after I had arrived at One Tree We were sitting at a beat up picnic table looking out over the heartbreaking blue of the Coral Sea The island’s large and boisterous population of terns was screaming in the background Atmospheric scientist Ken Caldeira paused “I mean they’re looking grim already”“Having freed ourselves from the constraints of evolution humans nevertheless remain dependent on the earth’s biological and geochemical systems By disrupting these systems—cutting down tropical rainforests altering the composition of the atmosphere acidifying the oceans—we’re putting our own survival in danger”“Ninety percent of all species on earth had been eliminated”“According to the UN Environment Programme the Earth is in the midst of a mass extinction of life Scientists estimate that 150 200 species of plant insect bird and mammal become extinct every 24 hours This is nearly 1000 times the natural or background rate and say many biologists is greater than anything the world has experienced since the vanishing of the dinosaurs nearly 65m years ago Around 15% of mammal species and 11% of bird species are classified as threatened with extinction” John Vidal environment editor