Elizabeth Kolbert

The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History

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Lena von Bülowhas quoted5 months ago
Beginnings, it’s said, are apt to be shadowy. So it is with this story, which starts with the emergence of a new species maybe two hundred thousand years ago. The species does not yet have a name—nothing does—but it has the capacity to name things.
As with any young species, this one’s position is precarious. Its numbers are small, and its range restricted to a slice of eastern Africa. Slowly its population grows, but quite possibly then it contracts again—some would claim nearly fatally—to just a few thousand pairs.
The members of the species are not particularly swift or strong or fertile. They are, however, singularly resourceful. Gradually they push into regions with different climates, different predators, and different prey. None of the usual constraints of habitat or geography seem to check them. They cross rivers, plateaus, mountain ranges. In coastal regions, they gather shellfish; farther inland, they hunt mammals. Everywhere they settle, they adapt and innovate. On reaching Europe, they encounter creatures very much like themselves, but stockier and probably brawnier, who have been living on the continent far longer. They interbreed with these creatures and then, by one means or another, kill them off
b1773208318has quoted10 days ago
eye for vivid colour.
b5790320226has quoted2 months ago
Each nucleotide contains one of four bases: adenine, thymine, guanine, and cytosine, which are designated by the letters A, T, G, and C, so that a stretch of the human genome might be represented as ACCTCCTCTAATGTCA. (This is an actual sequence, from chromosome 10; the comparable sequence in an elephant is ACCTCCCCTAATGTCA.) The human genome is three billion bases—or, really, base pairs—long. As far as can be determined, most of it codes for nothing
b5790320226has quoted2 months ago
he difference between the number of species that have been doomed by some sort of environmental change and the number that have actually vanished is often referred to as the “extinction debt.” The term implies there’s a lag to the process, just as there is to buying on credit.
Another possible explanati
b5790320226has quoted2 months ago
change. Gases from the atmosphere get absorbed by the ocean and gases dissolved in the ocean are released into the atmosphere. When the two are in equilibrium, roughly the same quantities are being dissolved as are being released. Change the atmosphere’s composition, as we have done, and the exchange becomes lopsided: more carbon dioxide enters the water than comes back out. In this way, humans are constantly adding CO2 to the seas, much as the vents do, but from above rather than below and on a global scale. This year alone the oceans will absorb two and a half billion tons of carbon, and next year it is expected they will absorb another two and a half billion tons. Every day, every American in effect pumps seven pounds of carbon into the sea
b5790320226has quoted2 months ago
INCE the start of the industrial revolution, humans have burned through enough fossil fuels—coal, oil, and natural gas—to add some 365 billion metric tons of carbon to the atmosphere. Deforestation has contributed another 180 billion tons. Each year, we throw up another nine billion tons or so, an amount that’s been increasing by as much as six percent annually. As a result of all this, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the air today—a little over four hundred parts per million—is higher than at any other point in the last eight hundred thousand years. Quite probably it is higher than at any point in the last several million years. If current trends continue, CO2 concentrations will top five hundred parts per million, roughly double the levels they were in preindustrial days, by 2050. It is expected that such an increase will produce an eventual average global temperature rise of between three and a half and seven degrees Fahrenheit, and this will, in turn, trigger a variety of world-altering events, including the disappearance of most remaining glaciers, the inundation of low-lying islands and coastal cities, and the melting of the Arctic ice cap. But this is only half the story.
Ocean covers seventy percent of the earth’s surface, and everywhere that water and air come into contact there’s an ex
Ivana Franetahas quoted3 months ago
Valle has one main street, a police station, and an open-air market. In addition to the usual assortment of Panama hats and vividly colored embroidery, the market offers what
Ёна Ерохинаhas quoted8 months ago
(Diminishing population density may have made survival less likely for the remaining individuals, a phenomenon that’s known as the Allee effect.)
Ёна Ерохинаhas quoted10 months ago
The word “catastrophist” was coined in 1832 by William Whewell, one of the first presidents of the Geological Society of London, who also bequeathed to English “anode,” “cathode,” “ion,” and “scientist.”
Tina Ellerød Larsenhas quotedlast year
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.
Аня Афанасьеваhas quoted2 years ago
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.
Аня Афанасьеваhas quoted2 years ago
Kinohi’s tragicomic sex life provides more evidence—if any more was needed—of how seriously humans take extinction. Such is the pain the loss of a single species causes that we’re willing to perform ultrasounds on rhinos and handjobs on crows.
Аня Афанасьеваhas quoted2 years ago
Kinohi came fairly quickly to accept her attentions—crows do not have phalluses, so Durrant stroked the area around his cloaca—but at the time of my visit he still had failed to deliver what she referred to as “high-quality ejaculate.” Another breeding season was approaching, so Durrant was preparing to try again, three times a week for up to five months. If Kinohi ever came through, she was going to rush with his sperm to Maui and try to artificially inseminate one of the females at the breeding facility.
Аня Афанасьеваhas quoted2 years ago
Raised in isolation, he does not identify with other 'alala. Nor does he seem to think of himself as human. “He’s in a world all to himself,” Durrant told me. “He once fell in love with a spoonbill.”
Аня Афанасьеваhas quoted2 years ago
The Neanderthals lived in Europe for more than a hundred thousand years and during that period they had no more impact on their surroundings than any other large vertebrate.
Аня Афанасьеваhas quoted2 years ago
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.
Аня Афанасьеваhas quoted2 years ago
We know what modern culture looks like, and so then what we do is we want to explain how we got here. And there’s a tendency to overinterpret the past by projecting the present onto it. So when you see a beautiful hand ax and you say, 'Look at the craftsmanship on this; it’s virtually an object of art,' that’s your perspective today
Аня Афанасьеваhas quoted2 years ago
They never came to Madagascar, never to Australia. Neither did Neanderthals. It’s only fully modern humans who start this thing of venturing out on the ocean where you don’t see land. Part of that is technology, of course; you have to have ships to do it. But there is also, I like to think or say, some madness there. You know? How many people must have sailed out and vanished on the Pacific before you found Easter Island? I mean, it’s ridiculous. And why do you do that? Is it for the glory? For immortality? For curiosity? And now we go to Mars. We never stop.
Аня Афанасьеваhas quoted2 years ago
But the main difference we’ve seen is 'putting our heads together.' If you were at the zoo today, you would never have seen two chimps carry something heavy together.
Аня Афанасьеваhas quoted2 years ago
Before modern humans “replaced” the Neanderthals, they had sex with them. The liaisons produced children, who helped to populate Europe, Asia, and the New World.
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