The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History


I finally finished reading this book! I realize that it sounds like I feel relieved to have done so, because it is, partially, that. After having felt so guilty for the last few months for failing to finish it, I managed to. However, finishing this book under normal circumstances (aka if I would have had time), would have by no means inspired such a feeling. Rather, it would have made me feel sad at having parted with such an interesting read (though the parting is not permanent, as I can revisit it from time to time).

More than this, however, I would have felt wary, which I am experiencing as we speak. Wary of what we, as people, are doing to this beautiful world, and wary of what our actions will cause in the future. I think that this was the exact kind of thing that Kolbert would have wanted us to feel after having read this book, so I commend her on having achieved that.

Let’s have a look at some of the lessons this book teaches us (there are many more), and let’s try to understand what they all mean, because I’m sure you’ve heard them before:

1) What We Are Doing to the Planet Affects it Badly

We hear about climate change all the time. No seriously, ALL. THE. TIME. Because of this, it can be easy to feel frustrated at hearing the same damn thing over and over again, and forget what this actually means. It means that so many organisms will lose their homes, or the conditions that made it possible for a certain place to be their home, and while they are losing that, we will be losing them.

2) Living Organisms are Dependent on Each Other

You might think “Oh well…so a bunch of frogs (substitute any other organism you might have heard about) are going to die. So what?” . You might not care about those frogs, but you should remember that those frogs are not an independent part of the world. They are a part of it, and there are other organisms that rely on their existence so that they can exist too. Take frogs out of the equation, and you’re taking other beings as well.

3) Changing the Environment Means Affecting (Sometimes Killing) the Species that Lived There

It’s hard to become aware of just how much the environment means to everything on Earth. One small change in that environment (I’m sure you’ve heard about deforestation), and BOOM! A whole host of living organisms disappear into oblivion, where they won’t come back from (not without us trying to get them back to life they won’t). Keep this going, and in a short enough time, there will be nearly no organisms alive, maybe except for us and a few others. But hey! don’t we need other beings to survive? I guess we won’t be alive for that much longer if other animals go extinct.

“The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History”, by Elizabeth Kolbert is a truly wonderful book. It’s written clearly, which means that you won’t need any prior knowledge so that you can understand what’s going on. Also, she manages to keep in interesting, so that the reader doesn’t get bored. This is quite difficult to achieve, since a lot of the time she is talking about species that most people don’t know much about. Keeping the whole thing interesting is, in it of itself an achievement.

All in all, I think this book is perfect for anyone out there who wants to learn more about the world around them. I think those who don’t want to know what’s happening need to read it even more, but no one can be forced to read a book, so that’s that.

Before I go, I want to mention an interesting argument that I have heard many times, but the most memorable time was when I heard it from George Carlin (via a youtube video). He was saying that species used to go extinct before man came along, that they’re doing it now, and that they’ll always do it, so we shouldn’t do anything to intervene.

While I love George Carlin, I disagree with him, and this book gives me more reason to do so. It is true that species used to go extinct: that’s the whole point of natural selection. Keep what works, and get rid of what doesn’t. But now a lot more species are going extinct, and not because they weren’t well-equipped to deal with their environment. It is because we have change their environment a lot faster than environments would have normally changed if it wouldn’t have been for us. So, while I’m sure some of the species going extinct are doing so of natural causes, most of them are going because of unnatural ones.


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