Tuesday, April 19, 2016

The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert

This is by far the scariest book I’ve read in years!  Kolbert details what many scientists are calling the Anthropocene, an epoch that begins when human activities started to significantly impact ecosystems of the Earth.  This is not a universally accepted time period, but after reading the various studies in this book it’s hard to argue that humans have not affected all life on Earth sometimes in drastic ways.  And we have probably been making huge changes in our environment since we’ve existed.  It’s for better or worse, what we do.

The book opens with a chapter on the death of the frogs.  I knew frogs were dying but I had always thought it was due to human caused pollution.  Nope.  They are dying because of a fungus which kills most species of frogs and some other amphibians as well.  But guess what?!  Humans are the ones that brought it all over the globe and inadvertently infected the rain forests and other ecosystems.  Worst part?  Can’t kill the fungus.  Why not?  To kill it you’d need to bleach the rain forest to kill the fungus, which we all know would never (and could never) happen, so all those captive frogs that have been saved from the brink of extinction can never return home.  The stories, each told in a new chapter highlighting another issue, get worse from there.

If there are any positive takeaways it would have to be the author’s reporting on the research being done about current extinctions and ways to prevent more, as well as the lengths humans are willing to go to save species in crisis.  This is an eye-opening account, conveyed in many different ways, of how humans have changed the Earth simply by living, altering the landscape and our environment.  There is a reason this book won the Pulitzer, it is extremely well-written and researched, and a book anyone with any interest in the natural world should read.