- Andersonn Prestes
Elizabeth's sixth extinction
I read this great book called “the sixth extinction” by Elizabeth Kolbert. I recommend it. It is well written and sometimes even funny, considering that we are talking about a very sensitive issue – or a tragedy. She advocates and speaks about a sixth great mass extinction happening at this moment, bringing many examples, theoretical foundation, and an enjoyable prose. What is the cause of the great mass extinction: us. Earth has passed at least for 5 great leaps in her history. The change was really significant at these times, leading the history to another course, moving directions, and creating different ends. It is terrifying and also liberating to know that if it was not because of a meteor, primates may have never had big brains, or may have never had existed at all.
Things really happen and change.
In the core of her arguments is the Antropoceno, a new geological age admitted by the academy. Humans have changed so much the land, that in the near future, when look back in time at geological formations, there would be a footprint of such a tremendous modification. And things are continuing to change.
She speaks about the decline of species worldwide, consulting the best science and scientists around. She traveled to the most remote places to document it by herself. (Also, she read a lot).
It is not a book about human nature, telling how evil we are, and these affectations that we frequently find. She just brings dense information. I “enjoyed” reading in the chapter on the megafauna that we are probably responsible for their extinction in ancient time. But it was probably not something conscious, like we are inherent assassins. We were hunters and the big animals did not have any predators before – that is the biggest advantage of being big. Even if humans had hunt them sporadically, due to their very slow offspring production, the population might have had collapsed. The end is still terrible. We eliminated them. But it was not like “genocide”.
Perhaps something similar happened to the Neanderthal and the other hominids that we shared time and space a few thousands years ago. Undoubtedly, we had sex with them and raised the kids. Some people carry DNA from these other species. But they disappeared (they only persist as part of the DNA of some of us). We really do not know what happened: Was it war? Violence? Genocide? It is very tempting to think that. And I think it might bring some comfort as well, perhaps even diminishing our responsibility. We just think: we are never going to change this situation, that is what we are, destroyers. But we can challenge a bit this view: maybe we brought diseases to these species, carrying in our bodies; maybe there was just some competition. Maybe there was confrontation, but not as violent and aggressive as we are tempted to think. Maybe it is all of that. I do not know.
The truth is that we are changing and manipulating the Earth since the beginning, and there are catastrophic events happening, from the past to the present. We need to study and spread the word that the sixth extinction is something real, and Homo sapiens is also at risk.
We live in society and altruistic behavior is widespread – and necessary. Empathy for other organisms is something very real and usual. Why is so hard to conserve our home? Some say that it is hard for us to think in long term and that it may be one of the explanations.
I must confess that it just puzzles me sometimes, the skepticism toward all the alarming facts.
Still, books like Elizabeth’s “the sixth extinction” may contribute enormously to spreading a conscious wave towards everyone. More than violent and "destroyers", we are learners, and creative organisms.
Education by all means may save the world and us.