Elizabeth Kolbert’s new book lays out the grim fact that we’re now living in the era of Earth’s sixth great mass extinction – and that, whether we realise it or not, we are the culprits.
Around 65 million years ago, a massive asteroid or “bolide” smashed into the Yucatan Peninsula off the coast of southeastern Mexico, sending up a cloud of searing vapour and debris. This effectively killed off the dinosaurs. Some were instantly vapourised, others vanished as vast dust clouds blocked out the sunlight for years. It also ushered in what scientists have dubbed the fifth great extinction event in our planet’s history.
Many scientists believe a sixth mass die-off of biodiversity is now under way because of the activities of a single species that eventually evolved from the wreckage of the previous one, and managed to colonise the earth: Homo sapiens.