Title: The Sixth Extinction
Rating: 5 Stars
This was a well written, accessible science work on one of the most critical issues that we’re facing in which quite possibly the survival of humans are at stake.
In the history of Earth, there have been five previous extinctions, the most recent of which was the meteor (asteroid?) that struck in the Yucatan Peninsula, sending out a firestorm of death and a plume of matter that darkened the skies and lowered the temperature. This wiped out the dinosaurs. In fact, nothing larger than a cat probably survived it.
In the time since then, the human species has arisen. We have what appear to be two unique characteristics. One is that we are the ultimate apex predator. Sure, on occasion a shark might get one of us or maybe a bear might get one of us, but basically no one can really touch us, and to us, everything is a prey. It hardly seems coincidental that within a fairly short period of time when humans migrate to a certain area, all large animals disappear.
The second characteristic is that we are the ultimate invasive species. We can live anywhere, adapt anywhere, and thrive anywhere. No place is safe from us.
Being the ultimate apex predator and invasive species means that we almost inevitably are going to destroy whatever world that we live in. Currently we are doing it via climate change and ocean acidification. We’re also pretty smart, so we might be able to solve those problems. Our nature is that we’ll figure something else that will cause our destruction.
One of the fundamental questions that people wonder when there is talk of extraterrestrials is, where are they? Aside from some country bumpkin or the infamous Area 51, they don’t seem to make much of an appearance (other than late ‘90s Will Smith movies). One theory is that the advancement of technology to a certain point will inevitably result in its destruction.
To me, for a species to actually colonize other worlds implies that it must itself be, in its area, the ultimate apex predator and ultimate invasive species. This makes me wonder if somehow there is a kill switch somehow innate in such species that once it reaches a certain level of development, it must inevitably destroy itself.
The Sixth Extinction is dire. Well-meaning people in the past have made the situation must worse. The environment is so complex that pretty much anything that we can do will result in unintended consequences that could very easily make things much worse (like the group who noticed that rabbits were not native to Australia and introduced them, to disastrous effect).
Therefore, there is a chance that in the next 150 to 200 years, we might actually see the start of the end of the human species. I’m in my 50’s now, so probably will only live to see further decline, not the actual rapid collapse. I find this fascinating that science now seems to have some of the trappings of the eschatology that religion has.
Christianity has been prophesying the end times since quite literally immediately after the death of Jesus. His apostles thought that he would rise again in their lifetime. The fact that 2000 years have now gone by has not dimmed the confidence of millions of his imminent resurrection. I’ve always found a certain arrogance in the belief that, with the Earth being hundreds of millions years old and the human species being, in one shape or another, 200,000 years old, that the actual end of the Earth and/or human species would actually happen in your lifetime.
Now, here’s a book, with compelling evidence and argument, making pretty much that point. Maybe not in your lifetime, but certainly within your grandchildren lifetime there could be cataclysmic events that could fundamentally affect their survival.
I find myself skeptical, humbled, and horrified.