top of page
The Sixth Extinction

society & culture

The Sixth Extinction

Elizabeth Kolbert

What is the book about?

The book The Sixth Extinction (2014) is about the alarming and devastating reality of human impact on our planet's biodiversity. Elizabeth Kolbert's captivating writing style takes us on a journey to understand how our actions are causing the sixth mass extinction, and what we can do to prevent it.

Who should read the book?

This book is a perfect read for individuals, that are interested in science, anthropology and environmental studies, and are concerned about the future of our planet. It offers a well-researched and thought-provoking analysis of the current state of the world's ecosystems, and the impact of human activity on the natural world.

About the Author:

Elizabeth Kolbert is an American journalist known for her coverage of environmental issues. She has written for The New Yorker since 1999, and her work has also appeared in other publications such as National Geographic and The New York Times Magazine. Kolbert has won numerous awards for her reporting on climate change, extinction, and other environmental topics. She has been a visiting fellow at the University of Chicago and a fellow at the MacDowell Colony.

Book Summary

Three Key Ideas - find more in our App!

Welcome to the world of The Sixth Extinction, a book that takes us on a journey through the history of the planet and the impact of humans on its biodiversity. In this fascinating read, Elizabeth Kolbert explores the current state of our planet, and how we are causing a mass extinction of species at an alarming rate.

Throughout the book, you will discover the incredible diversity of life on Earth that is now threatened by human activity. From the Great Barrier Reef to the rainforests of South America, Kolbert takes us to the front lines of this crisis, where we witness firsthand the devastating effects of climate change, habitat destruction, and invasive species.

But this book is not just a doom-and-gloom account of our planet's decline. It is an inspiring call to action, a reminder that we have the power to change the course of history and save our planet from destruction. By understanding the causes and consequences of the sixth extinction, we can learn to appreciate the beauty and complexity of life on Earth and work together to restore balance to our fragile ecosystem.

So join us on this journey of discovery and learn how you can make a difference in the fight to protect our planet. The Sixth Extinction is a must-read for anyone who cares about the future of our world and wants to take action to preserve it for generations to come.

Mass Extinctions: Earth's History and Impact

Delving into Earth's history, Elizabeth Kolbert reveals the profound impact of mass extinctions on our planet. She identifies five major extinction events that have occurred over the past 450 million years, each resulting in the loss of at least 75% of species. These events, triggered by natural causes such as volcanic eruptions, asteroid impacts, and climate change, have shaped the course of evolution and redefined ecosystems.

Kolbert draws attention to the compelling evidence left behind by these mass extinctions. For instance, she highlights the end-Permian event 252 million years ago, which wiped out nearly 96% of marine species and 70% of terrestrial species due to massive volcanic activity. This catastrophic event led to the rise of the dinosaurs, which dominated the planet for millions of years until the end-Cretaceous event – another mass extinction caused by an asteroid impact – 66 million years ago.

Through engaging anecdotes, the author takes us on a journey to explore these extinction events and their lasting impressions on the fossil record. She shares the story of Luis Alvarez, the Nobel Prize-winning physicist who discovered iridium, an element abundant in meteorites, at the end-Cretaceous extinction boundary. This finding provided crucial evidence for the asteroid impact hypothesis.

Kolbert also discusses the significance of the Great Ordovician Biodiversification Event, which saw an explosion of new species and set the stage for future mass extinctions. By examining these past events, she emphasizes the importance of understanding the factors that lead to extinctions and the consequences they have on the natural world.

In summary, the first key idea in Elizabeth Kolbert's work focuses on mass extinctions throughout Earth's history, highlighting their causes, impacts, and the evidence left behind. This exploration of the past sets the stage for a deeper understanding of the current extinction crisis and its potential consequences.

Human-Induced Species Loss: The Anthropocene Era

The reality of species loss caused by human activities during the Anthropocene Era, characterized by the significant impact of our actions on the Earth's ecosystems is alarming. Elizabeth explains that this disastrous phenomenon is a major factor in the ongoing sixth mass extinction event, posing a threat to the delicate balance of life on our planet.

To convey the severity of the situation, the author presents numerous examples of species driven to the edge of extinction or beyond due to human interference. For example, she recounts the tragic story of the great auk, a flightless bird once plentiful in the North Atlantic, which was hunted to extinction in the 19th century for its meat, feathers, and oil. This distressing tale serves as a stark warning of how human exploitation can annihilate entire species.

Kolbert also emphasizes the dire consequences of habitat destruction, fueled by human activities such as deforestation and urbanization. The disappearance of natural habitats results in the decline of countless species reliant on these ecosystems for their survival. She highlights the plight of the golden lion tamarin, a small primate found only in Brazil's Atlantic Forest. With more than 90% of its habitat destroyed, the tamarin's population dramatically decreased, landing it on the endangered species list.

Additionally, she investigates the role of pollution in species loss, chronicling the calamity of the American chestnut tree. This once-dominant species in North America was nearly eradicated by an invasive fungal pathogen inadvertently introduced by humans. This instance underscores the unexpected and far-reaching consequences of human meddling in fragile ecosystems.

In summary, the Anthropocene Era signifies a period of unparalleled human-induced species loss, propelled by factors such as overexploitation, habitat destruction, and pollution. Elizabeth Kolbert's captivating examples and narratives act as a clarion call, urging humanity to acknowledge its role in this ecological crisis and take immediate action to prevent further destruction.

bottom of page