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The Next Great Extinction: It’s Now

Elizabeth Kolbert takes on humanity, right now, driving a great wave of extinctions around the planet. Plus, a top religious scholar on serpent handlers in America.

In this Wednesday, July 17, 2013 photo, Suci, a female Sumatran rhino, sniffs the air at the Cincinnati Zoo in Cincinnati. Her brother, Harapan, is in a separate area next to hers. With the global population of Sumatran rhinos plunging at an alarming rate, Cincinnati Zoo experts who have some success with captive breeding are trying something they admit is a desperation effort _ bringing back the brother of a female rhino in hopes they will mate.  (AP)

In this Wednesday, July 17, 2013 photo, Suci, a female Sumatran rhino, sniffs the air at the Cincinnati Zoo in Cincinnati. Her brother, Harapan, is in a separate area next to hers. With the global population of Sumatran rhinos plunging at an alarming rate, Cincinnati Zoo experts who have some success with captive breeding are trying something they admit is a desperation effort _ bringing back the brother of a female rhino in hopes they will mate. (AP)

Over millions of years, life on Earth has seen great waves of life – species – come and go.  Coming into being takes a long time.  Going, going extinct, can be fast.  As fast as an asteroid collision.  Right now the planet is in one of those rare and terrible waves of extinction, says my guest today, Elizabeth Kolbert.  It’s big and its fast – and this time, humans are the asteroid.  The cause and calamity.  Huge chunks of life, headed toward oblivion.  This hour On Point:  the sixth extinction of life on Earth.  And we’ll look at the death of Kentucky snake handler Jamie Coots, and the culture of snake handling.

– Tom Ashbrook

Guest

Elizabeth Kolbert, staff writer for the New Yorker. Author of “The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History.” Also author of “Field Notes From a Catastrophe: Man, Nature, and Climate Change.” (@ElizKolbert)

From Tom’s Reading List

The New Yorker: The Lost World — “The Geological Society of London, known to its members as the Geol Soc (pronounced ‘gee-ahl sock’), was founded in 1807, over dinner in a Covent Garden tavern. Geology was at that point a brand-new science, a circumstance reflected in the society’s goals, which were to stimulate “zeal” for the discipline and to induce participants ‘to adopt one nomenclature.’ There followed long, often spirited debates on matters such as where to fix the borders of the Devonian period. ‘Though I don’t much care for geology,’ one visitor to the society’s early meetings noted, ‘I do like to see the fellows fight.'”

The Wall Street Journal:  Book Review: ‘The Sixth Extinction’ by Elizabeth Kolbert –“What raises her book far above ‘Silent Spring,’ especially for those who share neither author’s ecological fervor, is Ms. Kolbert’s use of key incidents in the study of natural history to illustrate how accepted scientific knowledge can be radically disrupted. At a time, like our own, of apocalyptic assertions and predictive hubris, it is tonic to be reminded of such paradigm shifts and of the contingent nature of scientific interpretation.”

Slate: Elizabeth Kolbert and Gillian Blake — “ I was trying to figure out the vantage point to write it from. I’m not a scientist, so I couldn’t write from the perspective of an expert. But nor could I write from the perspective of a naïf, who just sort of wandered into what’s arguably the biggest story of our time. So I had a hard time coming up with a way to get the book going and to explain—implicitly, of course—why I, as a journalist, was writing it.”

Read An Excerpt From “The Sixth Extinction” by Elizabeth Kolbert

On Snake Handling And Faith

W. Paul Williamson, professor of psychology at Henderson State University.

Lexington Herald Leader: Snakebite death of Middlesboro pastor was quick, son says; medical treatment refused — “Snake-handling preacher Jamie Coots, who never backed away from his beliefs despite derision, criminal charges and excruciating bites, died Saturday night after being bitten by a rattlesnake during a church service.”

BuzzFeed: Pastor Andrew Hamblin Would Rather Die Or Go To Jail Than Give Up Handling Snakes — “Hamblin’s is one of an estimated 125 active serpent-handling churches. He and his congregants handle venomous snakes in the name of Jesus — a century-old practice inspired by the verse Hamblin mentioned in his post and outlawed in every state but one. You’d think a church where supplicants risk their lives and break the law would keep itself small and secret. Hamblin’s is anything but. After a write-up about the church in ‘The Wall Street Journal,’ Hamblin and his mentor, a fellow serpent-handling pastor named Jamie Coots, became the stars of a new National Geographic Channel reality-television show called Snake Salvation.”

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