Elizabeth Kolbert

  • Aired:  02/11/14
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"The Sixth Extinction" author Elizabeth Kolbert describes the habits of Earth's most invasive species. (7:06)

>> WELCOME BACK.

MY GUEST TONIGHT A STAFF WRITERAT THE NEW YORKER.

HER NEW BOOK IS CALLED THE SIXTHEXTINCTION, AN UNNATURAL

HISTORY.

PLEASE WELCOME TO THE PROGRAMELIZABETH KOLBERT.

[CHEERS AND APPLAUSE]HOW ARE YOU?

>> PRETTY GOOD, HOW ARE YOU?

>> Jon: VERY WELL, THANK YOU.

THE BOOK IS CALLED "THE SIXTHEXTINCTION."

THERE HAVE BEEN FIVE EXTINCTIONEVENTS THUS FAR.

>> HERETOFORE, YEAH.

>> Jon: THOSE ARE WHAT?

THE FIFTH AND MOST FAMOUS IS THEEXTINCTION THAT DID IN THE

DINOSAURS.

>> Jon: THAT WAS AN ASTEROID.

>> THAT WAS AN ASTEROID.

>> Jon: AND PRIOR TO THAT WHATHAD EXTINCTED THE ANIMALS?

>> A VARIETY OF THINGS EXTINCTEDTHE

ANIMALS.

THE FIRST IS 450 MILLION YEARSAGO BELIEVED TO BE CAUSED ABOUT

A SUDDEN COLD SNAP.

>> Jon: POLAR VORTEX IF YOUWILL.

>> MAJOR, MAJOR POLAR VORTEX.

>> Jon: THE SIXTH EXTINCTIONIS CAUSED BY AN INVASIVE SPECIES

THAT YOU WRITE ABOUT.

THAT WOULD BE US.

>> EXACTLY.

>> Jon: YOUR EARLY DESCRIPTIONOF US REMINDED ME OF THE ASIAN

CARP.

[ LAUGHTER ]>> THERE ARE SIMILARITIES.

>> Jon: WE ARE INTRODUCED TOAN AREA AND WE IMMEDIATELY

SPREAD OUT AND MAKE IT OUROWN.

>> YEAH, WE'RE THE WORLD'S MOSTSUCCESSFUL INVASIVE SPECIES.

WE'VE GONE TO EVERY CONTINENT.

STARTED OUT ON ONE CONTINENTAND NOW OCCUPY EVERY CLIMATE AND

HABITAT THAT YOU CAN IMAGINE.

WE'RE THERE.

>> Jon: AND WE ARE, IN DOINGSO, KILLING A LOT OF THINGS.

[ LAUGHTER ]>> THAT SEEMS TO BE AN

UNFORTUNATE SIDE EFFECT.

>> Jon: NOW YOU HAVE -- THISBOOK IS NOT MUSINGS ON THIS.

THERE'S SCIENTIFIC EVIDENCE, IFYOU ARE TO BELIEVE SCIENCE.

[ LAUGHTER ]>> YES, I CHOSE TO GO WITH THE

SCIENTIFIC EVIDENCE.

[ LAUGHTER ]>> Jon: I UNDERSTAND.

I PREFER TO TEACH THECONTROVERSY BUT OKAY.

>> AND I WAS REALLY FORTUNATEENOUGH TO GO OUT WITH A LOT OF

REALLY WONDERFUL SCIENTISTS,TALENTED SCIENTISTS INCREDIBLY

DEDICATED SCIENTISTS.

SO WE WENT TO THE GREAT BARRIER

REEF.

I WENT TO THE AMAZON RAINFORESTAND THE TOP OF THE ANDES WITHGREAT

FOLKS.

>> Jon: IN SOME RESPECTS ITTOOK A GIANT ASTEROID TO CAUSEAN

EXTINCTION AND WE'RE DOING ITOURSELVES.

IT'S IMPRESSIVE IF YOU THINKABOUT IT.

>> WE'RE DOING IT WITHOUT EVENTRYING.

WE HAVEN'T EVEN REALLY PUTOUR MINDS TO IT.

>> Jon: JUST THINK IF WE GOTTOGETHER AND THOUGHT YOU KNOW

WHAT?

LET'S ONLY MAKE THOSE PLASTICCANNED THINGS THAT TRAP

DOLPHINS.

LET'S ONLY MAKE THAT, REALLYFILL UP THE OCEAN WITH THEM.

>> EXACTLY THINK WHAT WE COULDDO.

>> Jon: IT'S INTERESTING THATBIODIVERSITY AS YOU GET TOWARDS

THE EQUATOR YOU WRITE A LOTABOUT -- IN CANADA THERE'S A

TREMENDOUS LAND MASS ONLY 20SPECIES OF TREE BUT BELIZE HAS

OVER -- WHAT IS IT -- 200?

>> YEAH, LIKE 700.

THERE'S AN INTERESTINGPHENOMENON WHICH YOU VISCERALLY

SORT OF SEE IN THE TROPICS THATTHEY ARE WAY MORE DIVERSE.

ONE OF THE THINGS WE TALK ABOUTIN THE BOOK IS WE ASSOCIATE

CLIMATE CHANGE AS A PROBLEM THATIS EFFECTING THE POLAR BEARS.

WE ALWAYS SEE PICTURES OF THEM.

I DON'T WANT TO MINIMIZE THEPROBLEMS OF POLAR BEARS.

>> Jon: AND ALSO SENSITIVETHEY GET DEPRESSED.

>> THEY DO.

THEY ARE GREAT BEASTS.

>> Jon: YOU GIVE THEM A COKETHEY ARE FINE.

[ LAUGHTER ]>> EXACTLY.

BUT, YOU KNOW, CLIMATE CHANGE ISREALLY A PROBLEM OF -- A MORE

MASSIVE PROBLEM ACTUALLY WHERECREATURES ACTUALLY LIVE

WHICH IS IN THE TROPICS AND THEYTEND TO LIVE IN A VERY NARROWRANGE.

WHEN WE WERE IN THE ANDES WEWERE WALKING ALONG AND ONE OF

THEM SAID TO ME PICK OUT A LEAFYOU'LL SEE IT FOR 100

YARDS OR SO THIS SHAPEOF LEAF THAT TREE HAS ONLY THIS

RANGE.

>> YOU WRITE THERE'S A MIGRATION

ALGORITHM OF 30 FEET PER -- WHATIS THE --

>> 30 FEET PER DAY.

>> Jon: YOU HAVE TO MIGRATE.

>> THAT YOU HAVE TO BE MARCHINGTO KEEP UP WITH THE CLIMATE.

THE CLIMATE IS CHANGING SOQUICKLY ALL THE SPECIES WOULD

HAVE TO BE ON THE MOVE EXACTLYNORTH.

>> Jon: IT'S THE OPPOSITE OFHOW JEWS GO WHEN THEY GET OLDER.

>> EXACTLY.

DON'T GOOD TO FLORIDA.

GO TO JERSEY.

>> Jon: MAYBE NEW HAMPSHIRE ISTHE NEW FLORIDA IN SOME

RESPECTS.

WE'LL KEEP AN EYE ON THAT.

>> EXACTLY.

[ LAUGHTER ]>> Jon: THE OCEAN ISSUE IS THE

ONE WHERE IT'S REALLY STARK,WHERE THE REEFS ARE THE RAIN

FOREST OF THE SEA AND THEY ARETURNING INTO PETRIFIED FORESTS.

>> YEAH, THAT'S KIND OF ADOWNER.

YEAH.

[ LAUGHTER ]REEFS TURN OUT TO BE -- THEY ARE

BUILT BY THESE TINY LITTLEGELATINOUS CREATURES AND THEY

HAVE TO PUT ON WEIGHT TO STAYEVEN.

AS WE POLLUTE THE AIR WE'REPOURING ACID INTO THE WATER.

>> Jon: WE'RE ACIDIFYING. ISTHERE ANYTHING ABOUT HOW MANY

>> Jon: WE'RE ACIDIFYING. ISTHERE ANYTHING ABOUT HOW MANY

ANTIDEPRESSANTS WE'RE PUTTINGIN, COULDN'T THAT MAKE THEM LESSANXIOUS TO WHAT

WE'RE DOING TO THE HABITAT.

>> MAYBE THERE'S AN NSF GRANT INTHERE FOR YOU, I THINK.

>> Jon: IN SOME WAYS THE STORYOF THIS IS BOOK IS JUST WHAT

SERIAL KILLERS --[LAUGHTER]

ON A HOPEFUL NOTE.

>> YES.

>> Jon: WAS THERE A HELPFULNOTE?

I DID NOT SEE ONE.

>> I WAS WAITING FOR WHAT YOUWERE GOING TO SAY.

>> Jon: I GOT TO THE END AND IWAS LIKE MY GUESS IS THERE'S AN

EPILOGUE IN THERE. I LIKE TOTHING THERE'S SORT OF A JONSTEWARTIAN TOUCH THERE.

THERE'S NO SUBJECT TOO GRIMWE CAN'T HAVE A LITTLE HUMOR.

>> Jon: EXACTLY.

THAT HOPEFULLY WILL BE THEEPITAPH OF THE PLANET.

THE SIXTH EXTINCTION, ON THESHELVES NOW PLEASE GET IT.

ELIZABETH KOLBERT.

[CHEERS AND APPLAUSE]

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