The Sixth Extinction

sixth extinction cover image The Sixth Extinction

by Elizabeth Kolbert
Science, Mind & Matter
Henry Holt and Co.
Hardcover, 336 pages
$28.00

So, we guess it’s quite natural. Any species that gets a dominant leg up in an ecological niche (like algae in a pond) seems to reproduce exponentially, eat itself out of house and home, foul its nest and, ultimately, die off along with everything around it. Sound like anybody we know? Sounds like somebody Elizabeth Kolbert knows! She finds us in the midst of a great extinction - the sixth to occur in the past 500,000 years. The earlier five were the products of inanimate objects or geophysical forces – asteroids, volcanos, etc. This time according to Kolbert, it’s us! 
 
She notes that, "One-third of all reef-building corals, a third of all fresh-water molluscs, a third of sharks and rays, a quarter of all mammals, a fifth of all reptiles, and a sixth of all birds are headed toward oblivion." And that’s just for starters. And virtually all these extinctions can be traced to human activity and impacts. All this within the blink of an eye in terms of geologic time.
 
The content is rigorously researched. The writing is crisp and accessible. The tone is deeply affectionate, but deeply troubled. This is an important book. One thing though. Its subtitle is An Unnatural History.  Hmmmmmm…?  We wonder about that – the really scary thing is that it seems like it might be quite natural after all.