By Chet Yarbrough
The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History
Written by: Elizabeth Kolbert
Narration by: Anne Twomey
Homo sapiens are the only species that has the capacity to change events to conform to plan. Elizabeth Kolbert argues that the fate of life on earth is subject to nature and human volition; i.e. the randomness of nature’s cataclysmic events and the will of society. “The Sixth Extinction” recounts the history of five worldwide extinctions. In recounting that history, Kolbert and most scientists suggest there is a pending sixth extinction. The difference between the first five and a presumed sixth is the birth and maturity of humankind.
To some listeners, this story is tiresome. It is tiresome because the future seems so far away. It is tiresome because it is a hoax. It is tiresome because humans are an adaptive species. It is tiresome because it is God’s plan. It is tiresome because science says extinction is a part of evolutionary science.
TRUMP’S VIEWS ON CLIMATE CHANGE:
In spite of, earth’s rising average temperatures, melting icebergs, and seashore flooding, the story of extinction offers no sense of urgency.
Some believe wildlife extinction is a part of the natural order of existence; others, a cataclysm of human-caused events, while coreligionists, believe it is a part of “God’s” plan. And finally Kolbert and others believe science will provide a solution for humans to escape extinction.
A fatalist might read Kobert’s book and think it implies a “…Sixth Extinction” is inevitable, regardless of one’s belief. President Trump and other “do-nothings” sing “Be Happy, Don’t Worry”. There is nothing that can be done; so why try?
Kolbert’s book is popular, and is awarded the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for general non-fiction because she writes well and has a point of view that offers hope for the future of humanity. She infers science will provide a plan for humans to escape extinction. On the one hand, Kolbert decries the death of bat species, the acidification of earth’s oceans, and the loss of coral reefs; on the other, she suggests human life prevails because it has shown the capacity to change.
The real fear that Kolbert, and some other journalists, scientists, and politicians talk about, is that society will not respond to manmade degradations of earth’s environment soon enough to delay an inevitable “…Sixth Extinction”. Kolbert infers artificial preservation of endangered species is a fool’s errand in the face of habitat destruction. After all, what is the point of preserving a species in a zoo or in a frozen state of animation if natural habitats are destroyed?
A way of interpreting Kolbert’s theme is to argue that loss of life’s diversity is a consequence of earth becoming an island of sameness; i.e. an island where the environment is degraded and species are introduced to the same bacteria, the same pollutants, and the same adaptive needs to survive. Biodiversity becomes less possible because of the interconnectedness of continents, consequent to international travel and species introduction to all the continents of the world.
One may argue this is the fault of human civilization. That is wasted intellectualization. The advance of civilization naturally induces loss of biodiversity. Part of Kolbert’s theme suggests interconnectedness is the proximate cause of loss of biodiversity but it does not have to be the cause of a “…Sixth Extinction”.
Kolbert’s argument reminds one of the Serenity Prayer:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.
“The Sixth Extinction” notes that human beings are the only species that shows the capacity to change events to conform to plan. What the world’s people need is the political will to mitigate the causes of human pollution of the environment. It is not that “The Sixth Extinction” will not occur but that human beings need not be the proximate cause.