Wednesday, July 16, 2014

On the verge of…..

There is every reason to believe that if humans had not arrived on the scene, several extinct species like the wild horses and the woolly rhinos would be there still. Yet, humans ought to be given credit for pulling some of the species like the Panamanian golden frog, the great auk and the Sumatran rhino from the verge of extinction.

But extinction as an idea rarely registers in popular perception. It may have occurred in prehistoric times, most would say, but it is inconceivable that extinction could be as much a present-day phenomenon, with humans playing a catalytic role in it. Yet, estimates indicate that a quarter of all mammals, a fifth of all reptiles and a sixth of all birds are headed toward oblivion.  In fact, signs of extinction could just be found in our own backyard. Isn’t the lowly house sparrow seen less frequently now? 

Mass extinctions seemed to take place at regular intervals of roughly twenty-six million years but by loading undesirable gases and chemicals into the biosphere human civilization has indeed triggered early extinction of some 20 to 50 per cent of all living organisms and plants on this planet. Reporting from the frontlines of collision between human civilization and ecosystems, Elizabeth Kolbert warns that mankind is in the midst of what biologists call the Sixth Extinction and it is solely humanity’s own doing.  Bringing field reports from the Andes, the Amazon and the Great Barrier Reef and presenting accounts of species preservation in many zoological parks, Kolbert contends that pace of extinction far exceeds efforts in conservation. The signs are indeed ominous!

Biological oceanographer Ulf Riebesell adds to it by arguing that the time for the sixth extinction is indeed imminent. Each time during the previous five mass extinctions, the overall biodiversity was at its lowest and there is enough evidence that that situation of reduction in biodiversity is fast approaching. Immensely readable, The Sixth Extinction is a painful investigation of the most terrifying extinction in the history of mankind. 

It is narrative journalism at its best, diligently researched reportage presented with precision and flair. Kolbert has an eye for an image, an ear for an anecdote and affection for the worst. The species Kolbert chose to write about are myriad and varied. It is an intelligent work that celebrates creation and warns of the horror of extinction that is not too far away.  The historical retelling is an imaginative take based on files, documents, letters and research papers. The author goes to great lengths to tell us that this is a book of extinction, in which distinct locations have been used to create settings. Kolbert has used facts-dipped-narrative to good effect, making the backdrop, the time and pace of the incidents palpable.  The details are truly bedeviling which make it a must read book on the uncertain future of the mankind! 

The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History
by Elizabeth Kolbert
Bloomsbury, UK
Extent: 319, Price: Rs 399 

1 comment:

  1. Extinction of one form of being and emerging of another is a continuous process of creation as the Ultimate Truth attempts to manifest in totality in every being . Once it finds the need of alteration for the lack of growth of consciousness in each of the components of one particular set of beings , it facilitates the transformation of life to a better platform . It begins a fresh journey . Great article . thanks a lot