[ Download ] The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History Author Elizabeth Kolbert – Andy-palmer.co.uk
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 Question Of What It Means To Be Human. hides in apocalypse safe bunker and cries A 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 it Would recommend highly. 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 See.Kolbert 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 amphibians.The 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 dinosaurs.The 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 Cuvier.The 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 Reef.Martyrs 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 Earth.Thomas 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 inquiry 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 wrote.But 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 squint to fit them into a familiar framework And squint 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 it.Are the early participants of Humanity s Mega Kill , the Sixth Extinction , if you will, martyrs to humanity s self awareness as immoral killers required to make us finally think through to the consequences 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 possible The 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 change When 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. 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 survive.There 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 base.Homo 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 question comes up why did these other nearly human species go extinct, while humans survived The question 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 off.What 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 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 people Chief 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 thing.Like 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 nature.Did 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 quotes 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 1,000 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 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 SOB.The 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 quotes We re seeing right now that a mass extinction can be caused by human beings Walter Alvarez Right now we are in the midst of the Sixth Extinction, this time caused solely by humanity s transformation of the ecological landscape plaque 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 squarely 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 quarter of all mammals, a fifth of all reptiles, and a sixth of all birds are headed toward oblivion.Let s take a look at some of the things we stand to lose.The Panamanian Golden Frog I 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 dissolve The Sumatran RhinoThe Marianas Flying FoxThis bat has become a victim of the accidental introduction of the brown tree snake.Disastrously introduced species are discussed in a chapter entitled The New Pangaea.Though 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 numbers To 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 hours Be careful when you reach for a popsicle in that house So, 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 sacrifices.Are we willing to do them If you want me, I ll be on the floor sobbing. A well balanced tour of apparent causes for five past massive extinctions and for the current epoch of the human caused Sixth Extinction The relatively sudden acceleration of extinctions has a lot of consensus among scientists as defining a new age, the Anthropocene.The author is a journalist who demonstrates a sound knowledge about how science works and its slow and contentious process of reaching consensus conclusions She travels around the world to visit scientists and sites that are significant in the history of discovery about extinctions, giving focus to specific species that illustrate themes and current issues For some, putting herself into the picture represents a distraction, but I found the approach an engaging way to put the reader into the picture and humanizing the ecological scientists on the job.I think all of us are a bit punch drunk over revelations in pieces One decade we hear of coral dying, and as I recall I could drive on in life thinking that in remote ocean atolls, far from pollution, they will thrive Another decade you will have heard about disappearing frogs Sad, but not really bowled over, thinking maybe acid rain, which is getting better then it was some kind of fungus then, okay, nothing to feel guilty about and maybe they will come back In recent years, the decimation of bats is one blow, any human cause of the mystery obscure Years later another weird fungus is identified as a cause And over the long haul we have grown up with the background threats to survival among top predators like tigers, exotics like rhinos, and all the great apes, a progression obviously tied to human development and deforestation, and illegal hunting All that leaves me praying sufficient reserves and parks and zoos can put their end on pause All this bad news sits heavy in a jumble Why Kolbert is a boon with this is by accommodating lots of individual cases in the frame of a big picture And then she gives emerging themes some life through stories from the work of current and historical scientists The first inferences of extinctions by Cuvier, the geological gradualism of Lyell linked by Darwin to the slow succession of species outcompeting others Geological epochs on the order of 100 million years get tied to massive changes in the fossil record, which eventually are recognized as mass extinction events and not an ordinary process of natural selection Major environmental changes of varying types are being applied to the five major mass extinctions For the last big transition, there was nothing gradual about it The history of the father and son team, Luis and Walter Alvarez, pursuing against great resistance the asteroid theory for the disappearance the dinosaurs is nicely told by Kolbert An older idea for demise of the dinosaurs And now if you begin add up all the extinctions in our current epoch, it begins to approximate the scale of some of these ancient patterns The background rate of vertebrate extinctions has been estimated as on the order of one per several hundred years, but these days we re talking about thousands of times faster.Here is a short summary of the major conclusions There have been very long uneventful stretches and very occasionally revolution on the surface of the earth To the extent we can identify the causes of these revolutions, they re highly varies glaciation in the case of the end Ordovician extinction, global warming and changes in ocean chemistry at the end of the Permian, an asteroid impact in the final seconds of the Cretaceous The current extinction has its own novel cause not an asteroid or a massive volcanic eruption, but one weedy species She catches me in a relatively ignorant state about the impact of global warming on the acceleration of species extinctions Like many of us, the threat of global warming on a limited number of arctic mammals dominated my conception of impact the image of the polar bear on the melting ice is iconic I missed out on climate change impact in the tropical latitudes For example, the loss of corals, and all the species that depend on their reefs, is global due to ocean acidification tied directly to the rise of CO2 in the atmosphere a small rise in pH is enough to hinders the metabolic precipitation of calcium into calcium carbonate It s happening too fast for the coral to adapt and evolve in step with the changes I also never conceived that modest temperature changes could change the balance of competition in the local environment of tropical ecologies and cause extinctions Tropical areas are hit harder in terms of species loss, partly because that is where the lion s share so to speak of species reside While there are only 5,550 mammals, there are zillions of invertebrates and plants, and they are incredibly specialized in the tropics and the vast majority remain unidentified My picture of warm climate species just advancing en masse to higher latitudes as the earth warms does not conform to reality A long term research site in the Peruvian shows how many species just don t make the translocation especially trees and species that depend on them And studies at isolated plots of wilderness in Brazil reveal the adverse effects of fragmentation of ecologies, Part of the big picture that this book helps me with arises from moving the camera back on the time scale for the Anthropocene epoch If you just consider the industrial age and global warming, you are led to think in terms of the last century or two But from the time of Darwin, there were already reasoned arguments that man was likely responsible for the global loss of the so called megafauna, i.e critters like mastodons, mammoths, cave bears, giant elk, saber tooth tigers, ground sloths and a whole weird set in Australia Thus, it is fair to put the boundary of the new age as far back as the middle of the last ice age On the same scale, it seems likely that Homo sapiens did away with the Neanderthals though some hybridizing through interbreeding modifies that picture a bit A brilliant Swede working in Germany was able from DNA analysis of bones to identify two other humanoids that lost out in the final race to the future hobbit sized Homo florsiensis and the Denisovans.Another man caused impact on species loss is tied to the Columbian Exchange , which since 1492 involves worldwide transportation of species The invasive species cause extinctions when in the new environment they no longer have their usual predators Kolbert explains how this New Pangaea results in loss of biodiversity Creatures like rats turn out to be the big winners It s nice that the New World got earthworms for the first time from Europe, but who knows what they displaced When a fungus out of the blue takes out frogs worldwide and bats in a fast spreading wave, invasive species linked to human activity rises to the fore in theories of likely cause.Somehow I will have to digest her grim summary points It is estimated that one third of all reef building corals, a third of all fresh water mollusks, a third of all sharks and rays, a quarter of all mammals, a fifth of all reptiles, and a sixth of all birds are headed toward oblivionWhat matters is that people change the world.This capacity predates modernity, though, of course, modernity is its fulfilled expression Indeed, this capacity is probably indistinguishable from the qualities that make us human to begin with our restlessness, our creativity, our ability to cooperate to solve problems and complete complicated tasks.If you want to grieve over lost species, I recommend Cokinos Hope Is the Thing with Feathers A Personal Chronicle of Vanished Birds If you want to travel with a writer to visit and glory in what of endangered species can still be experienced in natural environments, I hope you try Safina s The View from Lazy Point A Natural Year in an Unnatural World If you are ready to face up to the pickle we are in, try learning of the inconvenient truths through this book. This book both awed and depressed me From page one, Kolbert writes an impressive survey of how destructive mankind has been to the planet She gives a brief history of the five mass extinctions that have happened, and travels around the world to report on species that are currently going extinct But the big problem now isn t a giant asteroid it s humans We are such a lethal force that we can unwittingly or just greedily wipe out entire species at alarming rates.There are a lot of good stories in this book, including the efforts of researchers who are desperately trying to save various species I don t regularly read science books, but I m glad I picked up this one It s a good reminder of how important our environment is to our survival we need to do better of taking care of our planet A lot better, if we want to survive another mass extinction.Highly recommended for readers wanting a good overview of the subject Opening Passage This intro is so great I had trouble deciding where to end it Beginnings, it s said, are apt to be shadowy So it is with this story, which starts with the emergence of a new species maybe two hundred thousand years ago The species does not yet have a name nothing does but it has the capacity to name things.As with any young species, this one s position is precarious Its numbers are small, and its range restricted to a slice of eastern Africa Slowly its population grows, but quite possibly then it contracts again some would claim nearly fatally to just a few thousand pairs.The members of the species are not particularly swift or strong or fertile They are, however, singularly resourceful Gradually they push into regions with different climates, different predators, and different prey None of the usual constraints of habitat or geography seem to check them They cross rivers, plateaus, mountain ranges In coastal regions, they gather shellfish farther inland, they hunt mammals Everywhere they settle, they adapt and innovate On reaching Europe, they encounter creatures very much like themselves, but stockier and probably brawnier, who have been living on the continent far longer They interbreed with these creatures and then, by one means or another, kill them off.The end of this affair will turn out to be exemplary As the species expands its range, it crosses paths with animals twice, ten, and even twenty times its size huge cats, towering bears, turtles as big as elephants, sloths that stand fifteen feet tall These species are powerful and often fiercer But they are slow to breed and are wiped out.Although a land animal, our species ever inventive crosses the sea It reaches islands inhabited by evolution s outliers birds that lay foot long eggs, pig sized hippos, giant skinks Accustomed to isolation, these creatures are ill equipped to deal with the newcomers or their fellow travelers mostly rats Many of them, too, succumb.The process continues, in fits and starts, for thousands of years, until the species, no longer so new, has spread to practically every corner of the globe At this point, several things happen or less at once that allow Homo sapiens, as it has come to call itself, to reproduce at an unprecedented rate In a single century the population doubles then it doubles again, and then again Vast forests are razed Humans do this deliberately, in order to feed themselves Less deliberately, they shift organisms from one continent to another, reassembling the biosphere.Meanwhile, an even stranger and radical transformation is under way Having discovered subterranean reserves of energy, humans begin to change the composition of the atmosphere This, in turn, alters the climate and the chemistry of the oceans Some plants and animals adjust by moving They climb mountains and migrate toward the poles But a great many at first hundreds, then thousands, and finally perhaps millions find themselves marooned Extinction rates soar, and the texture of life changes.No creature has ever altered life on the planet in this way before, and yet other, comparable events have occurred Very, very occasionally in the distant past, the planet has undergone change so wrenching that the diversity of life has plummeted Five of these ancient events were catastrophic enough that they re put in their own category the so called Big Five In what seems like a fantastic coincidence, but is probably no coincidence at all, the history of these events is recovered just as people come to realize that they are causing another one When it is still too early to say whether it will reach the proportions of the Big Five, it becomes known as the Sixth Extinction Rereading this intro gave me chills again Kolbert is such a good writer She s able to take complex scientific ideas and explain them to a layperson like me That is an admirable skill. This is officially the most boring book I ve read this year.There 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 on.Don t recommend. I ve read a lot of non fiction books that are dry and sometimes gets bogged down in details and others that are very engaging but rather light on the meat And then sometimes, you get a very cogent work with a very rich sampling of science from all different quarters laid out in such a way that it is impossible to believe anything BUT the final summation.This is one of those works We are in the middle of the sixth extinction event on Earth The final result of the dieoff, as of just how many millions of species will succumb to the tipped balance of the biosphere, is yet to be known But let s put it this way if you were just informed that there were no jobs in your town and that everyone else was just told that 1 3 of the jobs would remain for the next six months, and then after that, they would leave as well, you d decide to move away Right So, you try to, only you find out that someone has just destroyed all the roads in or out of your town and there s no supply line for foods or services Imagine the chaos How would you survive How would anyone Now assume you slow that process down just enough that no one or very few people living there have a clue as to the reality of this situation Belts tighten, poverty increases, some may try to move away but get crushed under the wheels of a much larger machine.Now extrapolate that situation to every other town in the world.And then overlay the problem to every other species in the world Dice up ecospheres, destroy the homes and habitats there, and only the fleet of foot can survive but where do they go They re an invasive species now They take on and live or die in someone else s backward If it s a human s backyard, it ll get killed Rinse, repeat Add disease, and predatory species filling in stressed niches, and you ve got a pandemic Across all species Now, remember, a few hundred years or even a few thousand is just a flash in the pan for extinctions Not all come from meteorites or volcanoes We probably didn t kill off the Neanderthals by hunting Economics works just as well And even if a tribe hunts down a wooly mammoth every ten years, the gestation is slow enough that it would still bring a downward pressure on the species until it s gone in several thousand years Period And this isn t even accounting for the widespread death in rainforests now.Add global warming, acidification of the ocean, the deaths of the coral reefs, the disappearance of the frogs, the bees, and from there, the tipping point that will eradicate larger species as they begin to wipe out other species because their food is disappearing, too, and we ve got a major dieback.In hundreds of years, or even 50, our world might become a bonefield An optimistic outlook is 25% 50% of everything dead.THANOS, ANYONE Truly a sobering book One of the very best I ve read on extinction events Only, this one might be ours.