Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Elizabeth Kolbert's The Sixth Extinction (2014)

The Sixth Extinction (2014) Elizabeth Kolbert

Poignant and thorough, Kolbert traces the history of human impact on the planet and the emergence of this new, strange species that was (and continues to be) unchecked by habitat or geography due to its unique resourcefulness.


“Everything (and everyone) alive today is descended from an organism that somehow survived the impact. But it does not follow from this that they (Or we) are any better adapted. In times of extreme stress, the whole concept of fitness, at least in a Darwinian sense, loses its meaning: how could a creature be adapted, either well or ill, for conditions it has never before encountered in its entire evolutionary history?...The reason this book is being written by a hairy biped, rather than a scaly one, has more to do with dinosaurian misfortune than with any particular mammalian virtue.” (90-1)

“There is every reason to believe that if humans had not arrived on the scene, the Neanderthals would be there still, along with the wild horses and the woolly rhinos. With the capacity to represent the world in signs and symbols comes the capacity to change it, which, as it happens is also the capacity to destroy it. A tiny set of genetic variations divides us from the Neanderthals, but that has made all the difference.” (250)

“Right now, in the amazing moment that to us counts as the present, we are deciding, without quite meaning to, which evolutionary pathways will remain open and which will forever be closed. No other creature has ever managed this, and it will, unfortunately, be our most enduring legacy. The Sixth Extinction will continue to determine the course of life long after everything people have written and painted and built has been ground into dust and giant rats have-or have not-inherited the earth.” (268-9)

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