The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History
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Previously, the Earth had experienced five mass extinctions, the worst of which occurred 220 million years ago, when 96% of marine species and 70% of the land organisms disappeared. The most famous, although not the largest, mass extinction occurred about 65 million years ago. It is well-known due to the extinction of the dinosaurs. Today, scientists believe that climate change coupled with the destruction of the natural habitat and migration of animals to new territories will lead to the extinction of many species. The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert is dedicated to the theme of extinction of flora and fauna that today exists on Earth. It analyzes the research of the events that happened thousands of centuries ago due to the data that scientists dispose today. In such a way, the author describes the ecology of the Earth that existed in prehistoric and historic periods. The main target of the book is to show how serious the situation will be and what will happen to the Earth if people speed up the process of pollution and continue to irresponsibly use the natural resources. Kolbert writes, “extinction might be the first scientific idea that kids today have to grapple with” (Kolbert, 2014). She makes the readers think about the thousands of extinct species in the oceans and everywhere on Earth. According to the author, the extinction of flora and fauna will reach the level of 50 % by the end of the 21st century (Kolbert, 2014).
Total extinction can usually be estimated very roughly, with precision of up to 1 million years. The causes of mass extinctions are not precisely set, although there are many theories. Kolbert together with other scientists supports the view that the Earth is living in a time of the sixth mass extinctions. According to the author, the extinction rate varies in different kinds of organisms. Kolbert cites the famous paleontologists Antony Hallam and Paul Wignall that described mass extincton as “events that eliminate a significant proportion of the world’s biota in the geologically insignificant amount of time” (Kolbert, 2014). She defines the process as “substantial biodiversity losses”(Kolbert, 2014). The concept of extinction as the disappearance of the species was invented in France due to the death of the American mastodon.
The topic raised in the documentary called The End of the Line filmed by Rupert Murray in 2009 is central to the book. The film was dedicated to the topic of the extinction of ocean’s recourses. In her view, changing the chemistry of the oceans is perhaps the most important factor of mass extinction. A third part of the carbon dioxide emitted into the air by humans penetrates into the oceans. The worst crises in the history are associated with changes in the chemistry of the oceans. The author of the book underlines that it is unwise to use continuously the limited resources which are renewable, while the ocean is not able to restore them in such quantities in a short period. Durig the last years, many scientists talk about the rise in the temperature of water that led to the melting of ice on the North Pole and South Pole. The changes in streams caused by the temperature changes could lead to the great massive extinction of species in the ocean and coastal territories.
The book is written on the basis of the article created for the New Yorker in 2008. It became very popular in scientific elite, and the author decided to make a deeper research on the topic. As a result, the book summarizes the condition of almost all ecosystems on the planet. The book is easily written because it is oriented on an average reader. All terminology is well explained. There are many examples and interviews with the scientists and researchers of the issue. In thirteen chapters of the book, Kolbert raises a lot of controversial issues. The author explains the extinction oof the frogs in Panama. She indicates that frogs lived on the planet even before the dinosaurs and their disappearance today is dangerous (Kolbert, 2014). Kolbert talks about the population of rare penguins and auks that lived many years ago on the territories of modern Iceland. People’s overexploitation of the species for fuel and food led them to their total disappearance (Kolbert, 2014). Kolbert raises an interesting issue, suggesting that the extinction in the Cretaceous-Paleogene era occurred because of the dust after the asteroid fell on Earth. The author gives the approximate list of species that died in that time (Kolbert, 2014). According to the book, there is a problem of the high level of acids in the water, which causes the extinction of coral reefs. Moreover, in the next chapters, she talks about the problem of forests, the enormous use of land, melioration and global warming. According to the scientist, humanity changed by its activity a third part of surface on the planet. (Kolbert, 2014). People polluted all major rivers on Earth, which led to the increase of the nitrogen in the ecosystems on Earth. Elizabeth Kolbert writes about the alarming rate of carbon dioxide in the air. Thus, the major pollution of the atmosphere occurred in the period of the industrialization. The gas is absorbed into the ocean and is present in all ecosystems nowadays.
There are a few rivers left in the world that have not been contaminated by human waste products. Apparently, with sewage in the rivers come fertilizers and pesticides from agricultural lands. They also get water from the sewage and drainage ditches. In rivers and lakes, some plants withered because of spoiled water. Pollution of rivers and lakes with chemical elements on the planet grows practically every week. Moreover, the thawing ice of the North Pole indicates that the root cause of climate change is the irrepressible human activity, which will ultimately lead to environmental disaster.
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