Saturday, September 19, 2015

Over the last half-billion years, there have been five mass extinctions, when the diversity of life on earth suddenly and dramatically contracted. Scientists around the world are currently monitoring the sixth extinction, predicted to be the most devastating extinction event since the asteroid impact that wiped out the dinosaurs. This time around, the cataclysm is us.

In prose that is at once frank, entertaining, and deeply informed, The New Yorker writer Elizabeth Kolbert tells us why and how human beings have altered life on the planet in a way no species has before. Interweaving research in half a dozen disciplines, descriptions of the fascinating species that have already been lost, and the history of extinction as a concept, Kolbert provides a moving and comprehensive account of the disappearances occurring before our very eyes. She shows that the sixth extinction is likely to be mankind's most lasting legacy, compelling us to rethink the fundamental question of what it means to be human.  

Chapters 1 - 8 Discussion Questions

Have you learned anything that’s really surprised you so far? 

Yes! The most surprising thing to learn so far was how quickly the Great Auks were extinguished! It was a real eye-opener to see things from a broader perspective after it had all happened - and it was terribly sad to read about the death of the last two known living Great Auks.

Are the descriptions of how science is done matching your expectations? 

So far, yes. The author really gets into detail while explaining things for readers who may be less familiar with the processes taking place.

So far, do you have any ideas for things people could do to prevent causing more extinctions? How likely do you think it is that we’ll make the necessary changes? 

Not really - this book is rather depressing. It just isn't likely that we can make the changes necessary in time to truly have any major impact - especially when you consider that the majority of the population seems to care more about either money and profit (such as in terms of the agriculture industry, etc) or themselves to really care enough about how their actions are impacting the environment, and what will be in store for future generations. Though, when too many people think that their actions can't make a difference, it also has an impact...

Have the many topics the author has covered made you want to learn about any specific topic in more detail? 

Actually, this book has really made me want to get started on reading Charles Darwin's The Origin of Species.

What location the author visited would you most like to visit? 

Gola del Bottaccione, in Gubbio, Italy. The moment I read about it, I looked up Gola del Bottaccione online and knew I wanted to visit one day. I was fascinated at the idea of getting to see (and perhaps even touch!) actual traces of the asteroid that brought about the end of the Cretaceous period. Plus, the town of Gubbio itself looks fascinating in and of itself!

(as a reminder, she’s been to El Valle de Anton, Panama in a volcanic crater, which used to have golden frogs; the Museum of Natural History in Paris; Reykjavik with the Icelandic Institute of National History and last island of the auks; Gola del Bottaccione, the ravine with the asteroid remains just North of Rome; Scotland with the Dob Linn stratified rock; Castello Aragonese, the castle on an island with acidic oceans; and One Tree Island, Australia’s Great Barrier Reef)

1 comment:

  1. I thought the story of the auks was surprising and sad too! It seems as though we drove the auks extinct so quickly, things were almost hopeless by the time we even realized what we were doing.

    Like you, I think it's unlikely we'll make the necessary changes in time. As with the auks, in general I don't think we realize what we're doing. The change is just too slow to alarm people as much as it should.

    I don't know that I want to pick up The Origin of Species, but I'd definitely like to learn more about Darwin!


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