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The Sixth Extinction: Suggested Resources

This guide will provide links to resources for faculty who wish to integrate the One Book into their classes.

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Discussion Questions

Collected by Tamara Whyte

  1. The hallmark of evolutionary biology is adaptability. Is the main challenge facing our era the speed with which we are forcing things to adapt? Explain.
  2. Describe the causes and effects of ocean acidification.
  3. Which of Kolbert's examples seems most compelling/troubling to you, and why?
  4. If humans have a place in the natural balance, should we expect the planet itself and other organisms to adapt and evolve in response to our impact?
  5. How has "the new Pangea," as Kolbert calls it, accelerated certain threats to various species' future around the globe?
  6. "The Thing with Feathers" (chapter XIII) alludes to Emily Dickinson's poem "Hope is the thing with feathers" (Poem 314). After reading Kolbert's book, where do you see some hopeful possibilities?
  7. Has reading this book changed your views about climate change in any way? How so?
  8. What specific steps might you take to counteract the trends that Kolbert describes in her book?
  9. Did you find what you learned in this book alarming?
  10. What do you think about the example of the ammonite – they were perfectly adapted to their environment, but the catastrophic effects of the asteroid still resulted in their extinction.
  11. Do you see any way of slowing the acidification of the ocean? (pg118 tipping point is pH 7.8 – expected 2100)
  12. Do you think the “islands on dry land” method of studying small ecosystems can help us to predict the effect of our actions our larger ecosystem?
  13. In some parts of the world the number of species has dropped, in some parts of the world the number of species has increased. How does this add to the difficulty of predicting the future?
  14. What percentage Neanderthal are you?
  15. How far would you go to stop a species from becoming extinct?
  16. Do you think that Kolbert remains unbiased about the subject?
  17. Do you think you will change the way you live as a result of reading this book?
  18. Chapter 1: The Sixth Extinction
    • Why has Bd, a natural fungus, become such a big problem for amphibians in recent years?
    • EVACC seeks to keep species alive that are threatened or extinct in the wild. Do you think it’s a good use of resources to try to keep alive species extinct in the wild? Does reintroduction of the species seem feasible? Explain why or why not.
  19. Chapter 3: The Original Penguin
    • What is similar in the causes of the extinction of the Great Auk and the Charles Tortoise?
    • Do you find it troubling that species go extinct from human causes? Is that fundamentally different from going extinct from natural causes? Does the presence of morality in our species hold us to a higher standard?
  20. Chapter 7: Dropping Acid
    • What is threatening coral reefs? Why are scientists so worried about the loss of corals?
    • Reefs of different types have been lost in previous mass extinctions (see pages 140-141). Is it thus a big deal that reefs may be gone from the world for a few million years again?
  21. Chapter 8: The Forest and the Trees
    • If Earth was warmer in the past than it is now (for example, the palm trees in Antarctica), why are people concerned about the warming from climate change? Chesapeake Bay Governor’s School for Marine and Environmental Science 2017
  22. Chapter 10: The New Pangaea
    • Travel and commerce have drastically increased species introductions, which increases the likelihood of species invasions. Do you support measures to reduce the chances of invasions? Should people be unable to plant nonnative plants in their yards or to buy exotic pets? Should travelers’ luggage be subjected to increased scrutiny? Would you be willing to pay more for products (like lumber) so they could be screened for invasive species?
    • How is the problem of white nose syndrome in bats similar to the problem of Bd in amphibians?
  23. Chapter 11: The Rhino Gets an Ultrasound
    • People often consider ancient humanity to have lived “in harmony with nature”. What does the discovery that people may have caused the extinction of megafauna even in prehistoric times mean for humanity’s role in nature? What bearing should that have as we seek to integrate modern humans more effectively into the natural world?