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Focusing on issues surrounding environmentalism and extinction.

  • Nov 9, 2009
When Rachel Carson penned "Silent Spring" in the early 1960's she essentially gave birth to the environmentalist movement in the United States and around the world.  And for the most part this was a good thing.  She correctly alerted the public to the sad fact that the use of certain pesticides was decimating and even wiping out numerous species of birds all over the world.   "Silent Spring" was a clarion call to action that resulted in new laws regulating many of those chemicals and helped spawn a plethora of new environmental organizations that would become advocates for clean air and clean water.  For the past half century these organizations have for the most part served humanity very well.   But as we enter the 21st century there are a whole host of other issues to ponder when we consider enviromental matters.  In "The Sixth Extinction: Journey's Among the Lost and Left Behind" author Terry Glavin challenges us to look more broadly at these problems and to consider the consequences of the policies we choose to deal with these important issues.  It turns out that there is a lot more at stake here then merely the well-being of birds and wildlife.

What is new and different about "The Sixth Extinction" is the way Glavin links the fate of wildlife, foods, cultures and language.  Glavin points out that multinational corporations continue to invade more and more remote areas of this earth with their hybrid fruits and vegetables.  As a consequence of this invasion the world is rapidly losing thousands of varieties of plants and a frightening number of species of birds and other wildlife.  For example, consider the apple.  100 years ago there were over 7000 varieties of apples in North America.  Today only about 15 varieties are considered commercially viable. Unfortunately, a large percentage of those 7000 varieties appear to have been lost forever.  And as Glavin reminds us we are losing something else just as precious.  Perhaps a few lines from page 219 will help me to explain: "Like the loss of language, all it takes is a single human generation to stop cultivating an old crop variety for two or three seasons, and it's gone forever.  Its charactoristics are forgotten.  Its distinctive strengths and various uses are forgotten.  Its taste is forgotten.  The stories associated with it become extinct.  The techniques of cultivating and harvesting it become obsolete, and the myths and songs that grew up around it become extinct."  I now understand why my wife is so adamant about planting an heirloom variety of string beans that has been handed down from her grandather's family.  She guards those seeds like they were gold.  And I guess they are.  Likewise, Glavin talks about the conflict between the environmentalists and those like the Lofoteners from Norway who seek to continue to hunt minke whales like they have for thousands of years.  Radical environmentalists are absolutely adamant that no whaling should take place anywhere in the world.  There seems to be no room for compromise in their position.  Lofoteners and other cultures like them argue that minke whale populations are not threatened at all and that they need whaling to make a modest living and to survive as a people.  It is this tug of war that is really at the heart of "The Sixth Extinction"Terry Glavin argues passionately that we must also consider the fates of people, cultures and language when considering such problems.  For it is every bit as tragic when these things are lost as it is when another species of wildlife becomes extinct. And the sad fact is that these things are being lost at an alarming rate and few people seem to care.

For me, "The Sixth Extinction: Journeys Among the Lost and Left Behind" served to put a lot of these important issues into some kind of perspective.  This is a well written and thoughtful book that serves to challenge much of the conventional wisdom out there. Highly recommended!

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Paul Tognetti ()
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I guess I would qualify as a frustrated writer. My work requires very little writing and so since 1999 I have been writing reviews on non-fiction books and anthology CD's on amazon.com. I never could … more
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About this book


The Sixth Extinction is a haunting account of the age in which we live. Ecologists are calling it the Sixth Great Extinction, and the world isn’t losing just its ecological legacy; also vanishing is a vast human legacy of languages and our ways of living, seeing, and knowing.
Terry Glavin confirms that we are in the midst of a nearly unprecedented, catastrophic vanishing of animals, plants, and human cultures. He argues that the language of environmentalism is inadequate in describing the unraveling of the vast system in which all these extinctions are actually related. And he writes that we’re no longer gaining knowledge with every generation. We’re losing it. 
In the face of what he describes as a dark and gathering sameness upon the Earth, Glavin embarks on a global journey to meet the very things we’re losing (a distinct species every ten minutes, a unique vegetable variety every six hours, an entire language every two weeks) and on the way encounters some of the world’s wonderful, rare things: a human-sized salmon in Russia; a mysterious Sino-Tibetan song-language; a Malayan tiger, the last of its kind; and a strange tomato that tastes just like black cherry ice cream. And he finds hope in the most unlikely places---a macaw roost in Costa Rica; a small village in Ireland; a relic community of Norse whalers in the North Atlantic; the vault beneath the Royal Botanical Garden at Kew; and the throne room of the Angh of Longwa in the eastern Himalayas. ...
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ISBN-10: 0312362315
ISBN-13: 978-0312362317
Author: Terry Glavin
Genre: Endangered Species
Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books
Date Published: April 3, 2007
Format: Hardcover
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