The Sixth Extinction

The juniors in AP English Language read The Sixth Extinction and some have adapted their ways of life to help lessen the impact of global warming. (Photo by

By: Blathnaid Heaney ’19

For as long as most of us can remember, our education detailed the importance that nature has on our lives and the life of the planet. All the animals, plants, and other organisms help to provide vital functions that we, as a whole, depend on. And just as we depend on them, they depend on us.

One book, The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert, details the fact that this relationship will soon cease to exist as all species from around the world become extinct. The main reason for such an event, known as the sixth extinction in a line of five previous mass extinctions, lies in the hands of humanity.

Living in an age known as the Anthropocene (the age of humans), we now contend with major issues and innovations that place the livelihood of all species perilously close to the edge of extinction.

With mass emissions of carbon dioxide entering the atmosphere, mainly due to the Industrial Revolutions, our oceans are becoming highly acidic and much warmer than they normally are. As such, these conditions have altered the biosphere and many types of coral and plankton are dying with limited hope of recovery.

Likewise, transportational advances have introduced new illnesses and foreign species. These foreign species, called invasive species, alter their new environments and add new levels of competition, even possibly killing off all the prey and previous species. One such species mentioned in the book was the Rattus rattus, or the ship rat, which arrived on new land due to a series of shipments and explorations by humans.

But this book offers a new outlook on how we currently live our lives.

Notre Dame’s AP English Language students just finished reading this book and many found this book to be incredibly impactful.

Evin Santana ‘19 felt so moved by what she read that she did further exploration. She found that livestock produces the largest amount of carbon dioxide and, when added to the fact of animal cruelty, changed her diet to become vegetarian. She even began to explore career paths involving the environment.  

Rhea Rahimtoola ‘19 said, “I’m making a conscious effort to reduce the amount of plastic I use. Instead of plastic bags, I use containers and I am doing my best to carpool to emit less fumes.”

These changes, some minor while others larger, will hold a large impact on our environment. Even acts such as lessening the amount of water we use to shower or reusing shopping bags, are instrumental in saving the planet.


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