Serendip is an independent site partnering with faculty at multiple colleges and universities around the world. Happy exploring!

You are here

Our Choice

ally's picture

Elizabeth Kolbert’s The Six Extinction seems to be talking about different extinctions without much relationship. But in my opinion, it has a clear logical relationship beyond the simple extinction stories of different species. The order of the stories unveiled the whole process of how human came up the idea of extinction, how they gradually understood and developed the idea of extinction, how human are destroying the nature and how we’re sensing our damage to the environment. Finally, the author brought up a question at the end of the book: could human avoid extinction or are we doomed to extinct? Analyzing the deeper relationship between human and extinction, I tried to find our choice to the question.

Starting with the extinction of the golden frogs in Panama, Kolbert wrote the extinction of something rather near to us, no matter time or place. The numbers of different kinds of frogs in Panama have been declining rapidly these years. Many species became extinct even without anyone noticing. Kolbert said the main reason for the extinctions is a kind of fungus from the North America which is bought to Panama because of humans travelling, indicating the ubiquity of extinctions nowadays. It seems to be the fungus that led to the extinction, but the real truth lying behind the insignificant fungus is the globalization of human beings.

In the next chapters, Kolbert introduced how human discovered extinction from the mastodon’s molars and how human’s actions accelerated the extinction speed of animals. Chapter 5 turned out to be the turning point, the word “anthropocene” is used to define the age of human, a completely different time because human have had an unprecedented effect on the earth. In the following content, Kolbert mainly discussed how humans’ actions directly affected the environment and led to extinction and how should humans act to protect the world.

In the end of the book, Kolbert talked about a visit to the Institute for Conservation Research, where all the extinct animals are preserved in tank with liquid nitrogen. Every cell of the animal is carefully preserved for the last chance of resurgence. The fast-developing technology seems to be omnipotent. However, is it what we really want? A used to be colorful world now all locked in the pool of nitrogen. Is technology powerful enough to save the extinct species? At last, Kolbert left the reader with a question. Can human beings escape extinction with their powerful technology that could even control nature? Or it is our fate to extinct eventually?

The whole book focuses on the relationship between human and extinction. Obviously, human is destroying the nature, accelerating extinction. However, the extent to which human is influencing the nature is beyond our imagination. Not only are the release of pollution, overcut of forests leading to damage, but also human’s globalization, a single footprint can be related to extinction of another specimen. As long as human exist, everything we do could cause damage to the environment.

It seems that impairment to nature is inevitable when it comes to human, technology development. Kolbert said that human development accelerated or directly caused the extinction of many species. Ozeki unveiled the confrontation between Genetic-Modified crops’ benefits for the farmer and the damage to the natural world. However, Van Jones suggested that we could both solve the problem of poverty and environment, by offering green jobs to the unemployed people. This sounds like a brilliant idea that can save the environment and develop economy at the same time. His plan has never been practiced, so it’s hard to say whether it will work or not. In my opinion, no matter how hard we try to find a balancing point between environment and development, inescapably, human need to bear some kind of loss in order to save the environment.

Van Jones made successful speeches in persuading and encouraging people to take action of protecting environment. There are a lot of questions behind these seemed-to-be successful speeches. How long could the speech receivers’ enthusiasm for environment protecting last? It is far more complex to really persuade people into this, because it’s not just a simple action, but more like a belief, the belief that truly relates us with the environment, enabling us to identify, empathize with the nature and willing to make sacrifice for it. Like Lloyd in All Over Creation, he didn’t genuinely learn to protect the diversity and give back to nature before he comprehended the interdependence, equal position between nature and human.

However, humans are in a contradiction of our relationship with nature. Lloyd was always saying how plants and nature resembles human but in the end he suddenly laid out the idea that human might not be identical to nature because of human’s intelligence and adaptability. Do humans exist equally as the other living beings in nature? Our existence that keeps damaging the nature excludes us from part of nature. Maybe human were evolved to be part of the nature, but human civilization made us different from others. If we are excluded from nature, could human be an exception of nature rules, like evolution and extinction, or is anything different from nature doomed to be wiped out by nature?

Our actions also arouse a contradiction. Definitely, we are trying to avoid extinction by protecting the earth. Could our action of protection be understood as a way to prevent or slow down the process of extinction? Not really, protection can also be viewed as human’s desire to control the environment and protection also involves the use of technology. Protection could be interpreted as another way of human trying to control nature.

Can human ever give up their desire to control and develop? And does a point exist where human can find the balance of development and environment? If development is inevitable and irreversible, then the only thing we could do now is strive to use our superiority as a human – intelligence to save ourselves.