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Summary of The Sixth Extinction 

Short summary

What is mankind’s most important legacy on the planet at this time? Could it be the invention of the world wide web? Or the mass extinction of species? Elizabeth Kolbert is a staff writer at the New Yorker. In the “Sixth Extinction”, Kolbert shows the various ways in which the human race is responsible for the sixth mass extinction. Homo sapiens have been encouraging the extinction of various species long before industrialization began. Still, there are many things we can do to save some species. But this will demand a radical change in the way we live our lives and relate to the ecosystem. The approach of this book is to help readers understand the processes involved in the harm that humans cause the planet. This approach empowers people to act rather than just feel guilty and helpless about the situation. Kolbert shows that we can reverse the processes that cause extinction, and perhaps, we might just be able to save the planet.

Key points

1

The extraordinary nature of the moment in which we live produces mixed feelings — excitement and horror

200,000 years ago, a special kind of species emerged on planet earth. They had a peculiar ability to give names to things. Initially, they were in a precarious position because of the limitation in their numbers and geographical range. They were initially restricted to eastern Africa. Gradually, there was an increase in population of this species then some fatalities caused their numbers to fall to near extinction.

Resourcefulness, despite the frailties of this species, cause them to push into new regions with different climates, different predators, and different prey. They were not deterred by changes in habitat and geography. Traversing rivers, plateaus, mountain ranges, they were able to exert their dominance everywhere they went. Adaptation and innovation enabled them to gather shellfish, hunt mammals and drive further inland.

When they got to Europe, they encountered creatures that were similar to them in many ways but much bigger than them. Through interbreeding with these creatures, they made themselves at home. Then, as it is their custom, they killed their hosts. Huge cats, towering bears, large turtles, sloths and other gigantic animals could not match this unique species. The visitors from eastern Africa outpaced them in reproduction and by sheer numbers, subdued these gigantic animals.

The Sixth Extinction is about identifying this species and exploring their impact on the planet. It also explores the potential salvation of the planet by the same species responsible for its extinction. Remarkable changes need to be made now if the course of history will be altered. Lessons from the first 5 extinctions also furnishes us with an understanding of the terrain so that we can avoid a repetition of mistakes.
2

The chief agent of the sixth extinction spares no expense in facilitating this extinction and plunders everything that stands in the way

The peculiarities of this agent make it appear docile but in reality — lethal. On the hit list of these unique species are the evolution’s outliers who have been accustomed to living in isolation. These are birds that lay foot-long eggs, piggy-sized hippos, and giant skinks. These were brought to their knees by the new species on the block.
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3

Very, very occasionally in the distant past, the planet has undergone change so wrenching that the diversity of life has plummeted

4

Transportation, industrialization and other human activities have resulted in the extinction of animal species

5

There is a controversy that is centered around the nature of extinction of species — is it a sudden event or a gradual process?

6

The presence of Carbon dioxide in the warm climate has led to the acceleration of the extinction of many species

7

Aside from the content of acid in the oceans, another problem that the emission of carbon dioxide has created on the environment is global warming

8

Transportation made both man and the problem of extinction travel the earth faster

9

Besides the extinction of the Wooly Mammoth, Homo sapiens have caused the extinction of other large animals

10

Conclusion

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