In her new book The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History, Elizabeth Kolbert describes traveling the world to document the mass extinction of species that seems to be unfolding before our eyes. There have been five comparable crises in the history of life on Earth, she writes, but this one is different: It’s being caused by us.
Her subject this time is what she sees as the tragedy at the very core of human nature: “The qualities that made us human to begin with: our restlessness, our creativity, our ability to cooperate to solve problems and complete complicated tasks,” Kolbert writes, are leading us to change the world so rapidly and profoundly that other species can’t keep up. National Geographic reached Kolbert in New York to talk about it.
Sheila Watt-Cloutier shares her story in the Walrus. Naomi Klein reviews the book in the Globe & Mail. Klein writes,
Part of what makes this book so illuminating is that it insists on being more than a manifesto. In weaving politics with her own life story, themes emerge that challenge the tendency to treat climate change as some new and singular threat. In Watt-Cloutier’s narrative, just as dog sleds have been replaced by snow machines, so the emissions from the entire fossil-fuel-driven global economy are threatening the survival of her culture. And just as pollutants from industrial activities have ended up in the flesh and fat of the animals Inuit people rely on for food, so these same industrial activities are causing global temperatures to rise, threatening the continued existence of these same animals. Climate change, in other words, is nothing new – it is the ultimate expression of the same threats that have been ravaging this part of the world for a very long time.
Inuit culture, however, is far from dead and in fact is thriving despite the odds. That, argues Watt-Cloutier, is very good news, because her people’s hard-won knowledge about how to live sustainably on the land “could serve as a model for all nations, compelling the world to make the strong cuts in emissions needed to mitigate climate change.”