Victor Davis's Reviews > The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History

The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert
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Sep 05, 2017

it was amazing
bookshelves: science-books, influences
Read from June 18 to July 02, 2017

This book is extraordinary, and it threads an impossible needle: How do you write about climate change and environmentalism without invoking politics? Incredibly, Elizabeth Kolbert accomplishes this, and that is why she won a Pulitzer for this book. I don't want to get one page into a book about humans' impact on planet earth and her species without reading an alarmist rant or didactic denial. I'm going to put it down, because I don't trust the source to be unbiased, and therefore I'm going to miss out on the opportunity to learn something. This book flies above the typical public rhetoric and focuses on the hard science. Among the things I learned:

- Native Americans hunted the Mastodon and the Mammoth into extinction, as the Aboriginal Australians did to the Diprotodon. Early man has been killing off species long before the White Rhino.
- Globalization (not just pollution and deforestation) is a driver of massive die-offs. Any time you read about the fungus killing off bats or the beetle killing off Hemlock or Ash trees, remember that this is the first time in hundreds of millions of years that animals can travel between continents.
- There is an ongoing, longterm study in the Andes tracking trees growing at different elevations. Species are receding up in elevation at a rate of roughly 8 feet per year. Why? Because as the world warms, each generation thrives at a slightly higher, slightly colder environment.
- Even partitioning a forest, not just deforesting (think highway-building, clearing farmland) can harm or extinct forest-dwelling species like birds, butterflies, and insects whose range becomes limited if they can't cross the man-made obstacle.

The author spends each chapter exploring a different issue, a different set of studies affecting our planet. I was blown away by the sheer volume of information I didn't know about subjects I do know and care about. This is a science book for anyone interested in modern biology and environmentalism. There have been five mass extinctions in our planet's past, based on the fossil record. Curiously, each had a different cause. The book's thesis is that "one weedy species" (us) are causing a sixth, and that this is a documented, quantifiable fact.
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09/05/2017 marked as: read

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