The Sixth Extinction

Y’all I’ve been reading Elizabeth Kolbert’s The Sixth Extinction and it’s getting me down a bit. Extinction is like death squared. So sad.

The premise, which will likely be familiar to you, is that there have been five times of Serious Extinction in the geological past (most famously the dinosaurs – I’m not sure being extinction rockstars counts as a success or not.) And then there’s a sixth act which is happening now and totally our fault. This is a pretty Big Idea, so she mostly focuses on examples like frogs, rhinos, mastodons. (You will note from the mastodons that this sixth extinction thing has been happening for a while.)

It’s sad, but also fascinating. I’m fascinated in particular by the idea that in olden times extinction wasn’t an obvious possibility. Scientists argued over whether it could happen and concocted elaborate theories to account for all those fossils that clearly weren’t the remains of any currently living animal. I try to be sympathetic to people who lived in different times and roll my eyes a bit at people who insist on judging historical figures by modern standards. (Dude, no one from the Middle Ages is even listening to you.) But seriously Victorian naturalists, when you shot all the birds what did you think would happen?

I’m a bit weirded out by collections of pinned insects but I might be thinking of gathering a few live animals into my apartment. You know, just for safekeeping, a la Noah’s Ark. Alas, most bathtubs won’t accommodate even one whale, let alone a breeding pair. Still some details to work out…

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2 Responses to The Sixth Extinction

  1. I read what I think is an excerpt/chapter/something from The Sixth Extinction in the Best American Science & Nature Writing this past year, and I loooved it. It was about extinction being a non-obvious concept, which of course had never crossed my mind before. I love hearing about ideas people had in The Past and how they moved away from those ideas.

    Also, the solution to the whale thing is obviously a bigger bathtub. Don’t be so poor-spirited! Whales are on the line!

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