Tuesday, June 26, 2018

The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural HistoryThe Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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.


Truly a sobering book. One of the very best I've read on extinction events. Only, this one might be ours.

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