In The Sixth Extinction, Elizabeth Kolbert looks at the connection between
people and the environment, and determines that human actions and behaviors are
causing a mass-extinction. Worldwide, different species are already going
extinct, as the result of the declining amount of available undeveloped land,
and the rising temperature. In Panama, for example, the population of golden
frogs has diminished significantly. Kolbert’s visit to Panama to study the
golden frog motivated her to become more educated about extinction and its
place in the science records.
Kolbert discovers that people didn’t always understand
that some animals went extinct. It was Georges
Cuvier who first brought up the idea.
Cuvier and his colleagues discovered prehistoric fossils of large mammals, such
as the mastodon and the giant sloth, authenticating the theory of extinction. Cuvier
saw extinction as a slow, gradual, and rather random process. Even after Charles
Darwin published his influential
book, On the Origin of Species,
scientists didn’t grasp that people are capable of affecting the environment so
much where it can cause certain animals to die off. It wasn’t until the
scientist Alfred Newton
in the late 19th century, in trying to preserve
the existing population of great auks in Iceland, established the idea that people
could play a role in preserving species at risk of going extinct. It took much
longer for scientists to realize that people were responsible for the
extinction of hundreds of animals.
Kolbert contends that we are
living in the Anthropocene period of planetary history—an era
defined by peoples’ attempts to manipulate their environments, resulting in the
extinction or close extinction of many different species. This period of mass
extinction will be unique in the Earth’s history because it will have been
caused by people by burning fossil fuels and cutting down forests. People have
drastically increased the temperature and acidity of ocean water, meaning that
sea creatures will have to adapt to the changing environment, or die out..
Kolbert journeys to the Great Barrier Reef, where scientists show her
the impact that increased temperature and acidity have had on the diversity of
life in coral reefs. Increasingly warmer temperatures will cause the amount of
algae and plankton in the ecosystem to grow, which will in turn reduce the
amount of available nutrition for larger animals. She also visits the tropical
rainforests of South America, where she sees the phenomenal diversity of life
there. In recent findings, scientists have discovered that different rainforest
species are being forced to move, hoping to find an environment similar to the
one to which they’re most adapted to. Also, the amount of available land is constantly
decreasing because of deforestation of the rainforests by farmers and ranchers.
Some rainforest species will live through the environmental changes affecting
the Earth, but others will not. The larger affect is that the extinction of any
rainforest species will have a huge influence on the biodiversity of the
rainforest because rainforest species are closely connected to each other.
Kolbert knows that she is showing a dark future for people, but that does
happen to be the realities of our situation. However, it’s important to keep in
mind that people have the power to change the environment, along with a
preserving, nurturing it, and protecting it. People need to continue working to
protect endangered species, and realize actions have already started a domino effect
of a Sixth Extinction that will greatly affect the future.
Deep in the Himalayas on the
western edge of the Tibetan plateau lays the Ladahk one of the highest and driest
inhabited regions on earth scorched by the sun and frozen for 8 months of
winter. This place may seem incapable of sustaining human life. Over centuries,
fields have been carved out of rocks and sand of the desert enabling the people
not only to survive, but prosper. But the face of Ladahk is changing. People
are having trouble getting along causing people to split up and live separately.
Everything is getting dirty. Even culture is dying. Most people are coming out
of every culture. There’s been progress, but people aren’t as happy. The
modernization of Ladakh calls into question a number of widely held assumptions
of industrial society. In fact, it reassesses the whole notion of progress.
Helena Norberg-Hodge who
wrote Ancient Futures has spent much
of the last 18 years in Ladakh. She’s convinced that looking at Ladakh can
actually help us better understand what is going on in the West. When she first
went to Ladakh there was no pollution, no crime, and people have lived
peacefully side by side for centuries and the they had an incredible joy to
life. In recent years, she’s seen the impact of the modern western world on the
traditional culture and this ability to contrast the old with the new clarifies
many things. It helps explain the reasons behind many of the problems that we
face in the west. The reasons behind environmental break down and the breakdown
of communities. It also more importantly helps to show how we might get out of
this mess we’ve created.
Cultural traditions have limited
population growth and helped to ensure the natural carrying capacity of the
land is not exceeded. More than 90% of Ladakhi families own their own land. An
average of 3 or 4 acres and a number of animals. Land holdings are neither sold
nor divided, but passed on from one generation to the next. In families, they
eat, sleep, and work together. Villages lie between 10,000-14,000 ft and at
this altitude, growing season is very short. None the less, local varieties of
wheat and barley produce plentiful yields, year after year. Each family also
keeps a small vegetable garden and at lower elevation there are orchards for
apple and apricot trees. With few exceptions, basic needs are met within the
community. Houses are made with resources from the immediate environment.
Stones for the foundation and ground floor and sun-dried bricks made of mud and
straw. Dwellings are large and graceful yet there are no need for architects. Everyone
in Ladakh knows how to build a house. Self-reliance is based on skills which
are finely tuned to the local environment. During the summer villages spend
time at the high pastures watching over their animals. At 16,000 ft conditions
are harsh, but these local breeds of sheep and goats are well adapted to the environment.
Vegetation is scarce so the herds are moved each day to prevent overgrazing.
This is an almost timeless
life. Work and leisure are one. Over the generations, the Ladakhi’s have
learned to make the most of the resources around them. Almost everything that
grows wild is gathered and put to use. For fodder, food, medicine, fence making,
or basket weaving. People don’t waste anything in Ladakh, whatever it may be.
Everyday life in the village
is based on a close relationship between people and the earth. This loving
experience of inert-connectedness is reinforced by teachings of Buddhism. The
religion permeates all aspects of life. Within each house there is a private
chapel. The landscape is dotted with stupas or chortens. These monuments
represent the essence of Buddhist philosophy and the interdependence of
everything in the universe. At the top of the stupas a crescent moon cradles
the sun, symbolizing the oneness of all life. Even the sun and moon which seem
so far apart are inextricably inter related. Interdependence is a very important
Buddhist philosophy because it says that everything depends on every other
thing. Things come into being through dependence and relationships. Animals are
depending on plants, plants are depending on soil, water and air. People depend
on animals and plants and other things so all are interrelated and
World as Lover World as Self brings in the importance people’s
relationship to the world and intertwines them with Buddha’s teachings of
interdependent co-arising. Macy tries to bring about ideas for change for people’s
attitudes towards the environment and how people need to stop being destructive
threatening everyone’s futures. Buddha’s teachings showing the importance of
everything from every object, emotion, and action is influenced by everything
around it. Anything that changes affects anything else because everything is
interconnected. She brings in climate change and how everything that people do
can positively or negatively affect environment. She explains how people are
destructive through selfish nature. The idea that all people need to work
together to make any type of change is important for people to understand.