Book: The Sixth Extinction

Just started reading The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert, a writer for The New Yorker. (Her previous book was Field Notes from A Catastrophe: Man, Nature, and Climate Change.)

The following few paragraphs from the Prologue give you an idea of the subject matter and her writing style. Here she traces our early history from our spread out of Africa to our modern ability to drill for energy and its Earth changing consequences:

Although a land animal, our species – ever inventive – crosses the sea. It reaches islands inhabited by evolution’s outliers: birds that lay foot-long eggs, pig-sized hippos, giant skinks. Accustomed to isolation, these creatures are ill equipped to deal with the newcomers or their fellow travelers (mostly rats). Many of them, too, succumb.

The process continues, in fits and starts, for thousands of years, until the species, no longer so new, has spread to practically every corner of the globe. At this point, several things happen more or less at once that allow Homo sapiens, as it has come to call itself, to reproduce at an unprecedented rate. In a single century the population doubles; then it doubles again, and then again. Vast forests area razed. Humans do this deliberately, in order to feed themselves. Less, deliberately, they shift organisms from one continent to another, reassembling the biosphere.

Meanwhile, an even stranger and more radical transformation is under way. Having discovered subterranean reserves or energy, humans begin to change the composition of the atmosphere. This in turn, alters the climates and the chemistry of the oceans. Some plants and animals adjust by moving. They climb mountains and migrate toward the poses. But a great many- at first hundreds, then thousands, and finally perhaps millions – find themselves marooned. Extinction rates soar, and the texture of life changes.