The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural HistoryThe Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

so this is the second time i’ve read an over-the-top awesome book, very well written and researched, that is still hard to recommend because the subject matter is so depressing (the other was Behind the Beautiful Forevers).

in this book Kolbert outlines the case for understanding our moment in history (the Anthropocene) as a massive global extinction event. her arguments are solid–that a confluence of forces we unleashed or created are in all likelihood going to reduce the number of species to a (comparatively) vanishingly small number, not necessarily including us. She walks us through the deaths of amphibians worldwide (courtesy of a fungus we carried around with us); ocean acidification; the effects of habitat fragmentation, and why “saving” a few square miles of natural landscape isn’t enough; the horrors of invasive species; and of course climate change.

it’s, as the shiny new terminology goes, a wicked problem.

there’s a lot to be learned in this book, even for a well-versed layperson. knowledge is always good. it’s the conclusions one can’t help but draw that are…. ugh.

Kolbert very carefully doesn’t say we (and possibly every living thing on earth) are fucked, and she tries to end on a hopeful note. but… as she travels all over the globe and notes the holes poked in the web of life, one can’t help but conclude that web is getting a little… tatty. and what she teaches is that holes can have domino effects–lose an ant species and the birds that eat those ants will also go, until eventually a whole swath will be blown out of the web.

which implies that there’s a tipping point, a point at which it becomes inevitable that the whole web will get enough holes ripped in it that it’ll just be tatters.

i personally don’t have faith that humanity is going to have some Eureka moment and change our ways. people can and do some extraordinary things to save individual species, like the California condor or the panda, and good for them. but people also drive SUVs two blocks to the grocery store and sit in Congress denying climate change… and, ya, you know, humans.

so the book is a genuinely perspective-altering book and of crucial import to the planet and the future… but oh. it’s so distressing to read.