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Well, now I’m depressed.
Elizabeth Kolbert, a journalist for the New Yorker, has chosen a handful of creatures, settings, and species – some of them extinct, some of them still barely hanging on – to show how, right now, humans are in the midst of causing the sixth mass extinction event.
The book starts by briefly discussing the history of extinctions, starting with the very idea that animals could go extinct, and that every animal alive today might have come from a different ancestor. We learn how there were five different events that signaled the “end of an era” – that is, a mass extinction that wiped out the majority of life on Earth. The most recent of these, of course, was the asteroid strike that took out the dinosaurs.
However, interspersed with this history are accounts of some of the many species that are currently vanishing from our planet, or have gone extinct within the last thousand years or less. Some of these species include the American bat, frogs and amphibians around the globe, rhinos and elephants, the auk (an extinct relative of the penguin), and corals, linked to vanishing barrier reefs.
Kolbert is definitely a gifted writer, and she expertly weaves together stories of history, accounts of her own personal travels and experiences as she sought out those who worked to protect these species (or at least chronicle their passing), and sobering facts about the changing world around us and the reality that is a result of humankind’s rapid spread and alteration of the environment.
However, while many books on topics such as this end with an uplifting note, that is largely absent from this book. The conclusion, we are told, is that this is happening, and it is likely too late to stop the sixth mass extinction event. This won’t be undone by recycling, by donating an extra $10 to Greenpeace or eating dolphin free tuna.
We are losing more and more of our biodiversity each day, Kolbert tells us, and there’s nothing we can do – except wait to see what the fallout will be.
Time to read: 3 hours 15 minutes. I’m a bit slower on non-fiction.