The Sixth Extinction as Man’s Long-Lasting Legacy
In her book The Six Extinction, Elizabeth Kolbert argues that humanity is solely
responsible for the “sixth extinction.” Humanity stands on the edge of the knife; one step
backward will likely spell doom. Kolbert is no prophet of doom. Scientists all over the world are
currently monitoring the sixth extinction, deemed to be one of the most devastating mass
extinctions since the time of the dinosaurs. Accordingly, this is humanity’s long lasting legacy –
a legacy characterized mainly by biodiversity loss and ecological imbalance caused by man’s
insatiable greed, climate change, and the proliferation of climate-altering industrial systems.
Thus, in the book, the author chronicles the fate of several species in the wake of the sixth
extinction. These include the Panamanian golden frog, the great auk, ammonites, the brown bat,
and the Sumatran rhino.
More than a decade ago, Panama was once home to the Panamanian golden frogs. They
were practically everywhere, in the streets, in the woods, and even in gardens. However, within a
couple of years, the frogs started to disappear. Scientists have concluded that the introduction of
the Chytrid fungus was solely responsible for the disappearance of the frogs. Of course, the
Chytrid could not travel on its own. There is evidence to suggest that humans were solely
responsible for introducing this invasive species to Panama. The “extinction” of the Panamanian
golden frog was therefore man-made.
This is a great start to an introduction, but it is lacking an argument. If you want to discuss the species you list, how do their extinctions prove human responsibility? And why should your reader be concerned? Do you have a suggestion for what should be done in order to combat human influence/responsibility for species extinction? Is your argument that there is nothing we can do? And if so, why not?
The same case can be said with the Sumatran rhino. Before the turn of the 20th century,
the Sumatran rhino was once considered to be a pest. There were literally thousands of rhinos in
the jungles of Sumatra. Due to excessive logging, the rhino’s habitat became essentially
fragmented. By 1900, barely a few hundred survived in the wild. Although a captive breeding
program was implemented, only a few dozen rhinos survive to this day. Again, this is a man-
made induced extinction event.
Evidently, even coral reefs are disappearing at an increasing rate all over the world. It is
interesting to note that since the Industrial Revolution, enough fossil fuels have been consumed
and burned, emitting more than half a trillion tons of CO2 over the past 300 years or so.
Unknown to many, these emissions find their way into the sea. Higher CO2 emissions translate
to higher acidity. If CO2 emissions remain at their current levels, the oceans will be 150% acidic
by 2100 that it was at the start of the Industrial Revolution. At the present surface pH, a small
proportion of the world’s coral reefs are dying each year. Again, in the case of coral reefs, its
gradual disappearance is man-made rather than natural.
Of course, the disappearance of some species was not due primarily to the Industrial
Revolution and the perpetual rise in carbon emissions. The disappearance of the great auk, a
flightless bird native to the Northern Hemisphere, was due to excessive human hunting. Early
settlers used the bird for a variety of purposes, as fish bait, fuel, and stuffing material. Similarly,
the disappearance of the ammonites was primarily due to the KT extinction event which also
wiped out the dinosaurs. The dust created by the asteroid impact proved lethal, as it raised the
ocean acidity to unprecedented levels.
For the author, although the sixth extinction is man’s lasting legacy, there is still hope.
Humans are living in a time of very elevated extinction rates. How human will respond to this
challenge will ultimately define its character as a species. And as of the present time, people
around the world are exerting immense effort to avert this disaster.
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