Book Review: The Sixth Extinction

Over the holidays I finally got around to reading/listening to The Sixth Extinction. It was quite good, but the language was at a density level where I found listening to the audio book to be a lot easier than reading on my kindle. Fortunately for me, both copies were in our library, so after my ebook lend expired I switched to e-audiobook lend to finish it off.

The book uses the lens of a number of extinct or endangered species to look at humanity’s impact on the world. And each species provides an opportunity to dig into a different part of science or the history of science around them.

The chapter on the Mastadon was fascinating. I never realized that the Mastadon, first discovered not that far from here in the Hudson Valley, was the trigger for the idea of species extinction. Unlike the Mamouth, whose teeth can be confused for that of an elephant’s, the Mastadon has cone shaped teeth that can’t be. It was odd enough that Thomas Jefferson believed these beasts were roaming the west, and were part of the reason he sent survey teams out. Eventually it would trigger the idea that species could go extinct, and start the process of reconstructing our past. But it’s super cool this happened in our back yard.

I learned was that Ocean Acidification was kind of accidentally discovered to be a thing after picking through the remains of the failed Biosphere 2 project. It turns out their biosphere wasn’t so good, so CO2 levels got up north of 1000 ppm, which drove the pH of the water quite acidic.

I discovered that I had a closer relationship to bat white-node syndrome than I realized, as Al Hicks was one of the state ecologists that first found it in NY. I met Al last year through at the regional Citizens’ Climate Lobby conference, as he’s also the Albany chapter lead.

And I really liked some of the visuals around the idea of a “new pangea”. It’s interesting to think about how global trade has effectively eliminated all the island barriers that we once had.

Definitely a recommended read. Going to be digesting some of it for a while.

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