Elisabeth Kolbert’s book ”The sixth extinction” is about loss. Loss of species through catastrophic events that have occurred since complex life forms emerged. The latest catastrophic event to cause the extinction of animals and the plants they depend on is the evolution of humans – and it is going on as we speak.
Each chapter deals with the extinction, or near extinction, of one species. Species from ammonites to mastodons have been the victims of catastrophic events, be that a meteorite or other, invasive species that were introduced to a particular ecosystem by humans.
The subject of this book is both important and fascinating. The impact humans have had on this planet is staggering. It’s not even a process that started with global warming; it was only amplified horribly by it. It started as soon as we first appeared. We are unstoppable in our quest to conquer nature, like a plague of locusts that will eat everything in its path. Unfortunately, the gravitas of this situation was not effectively portrayed in this book. I found Kolbert’s writing to be not only lacking in this respect but downright silly at times. Extinction is serious stuff, lady. Don’t try to lighten the mood. Moreover, there were several very interesting scientists she met and interviewed for this book, but sometimes the quotes she used reminded me of myself when I had to turn in a paper for school and I had to use a minimum amount of literature references: any quote will do, no matter how insignificant.What a wasted opportunity to have access to such brilliant minds and not use them sufficiently in the book.
I also wish she’d have spent more than a couple of pages analysing what the consequences of our existence and environmental impact are. It’s not enough to say that birds and frogs are vanishing from our forests. Why does it matter to me? How will it affect my life? Why should I care if the great auks, birds that are decidedly un-sexy compared to, say, snow leopards and pandas, went extinct a century and a half ago?
If you, like me, are the kind of person who already knows about these consequences, this book will give you ammunition the next time you need to give your global-warming denying relatives examples of how our mere presence on this planet, let alone our unbridled consumerism and dependence on fossil fuel, has had catastrophic effects on every living thing on this planet. If you are one of the deniers, though, it’s likely that you’ll just shrug it off because you will fail to see the connection between animals going extinct and the danger this poses for us. In other words, as easy as the book was to read, it never delivered the knock-out punch I’d been anticipating since the first page. Still, a very interesting book, if only to understand the mechanics between the extinction of different species.