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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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  • John Cedar

    “I’m not a scientist”
    Of course you’re not.

    • Ray in VT

      One need not be a scientist to observe and report upon the disastrous impacts upon many species that humans are having. One need only not be a half wit.

    • nj_v2

      ^ First shot in the expected volley of inane, troll comments from the ignoramus posse.

      Watch and see how much more they will blur the line between ignorance and stupidity.

      “Species have always gone extinct.” “Ninety percent of all species that have ever existed are now extinct.” “Like everything else, this must be due to global warming.”

      • jefe68

        Yep, and it will be filled libertarian self centered ideology.

    • Michiganjf

      The right has silenced actual scientists on topics such as this one, by threatening their livelihood, reputations, and funding sources.

      Now, no one else can tackle FACTS about topics such as this, EXCEPT people who don’t have to worry about backlash from the far right, corporations, and wealthy fanatics like the Koch brothers.

    • jefe68

      Right wing meme alert.

  • Michiganjf

    The long obvious, sad reality is that even most species which aren’t yet on anyone’s endangered list are also in trouble… man-made obstacles have doomed nearly every species on the planet to severely restricted “ranges.”

    This means that most species are restricted so severely in their movement, that gene pools are doomed to inbreeding and, ultimately, the resultant weakening of their long-term “fitness.”

    The fact that species can no longer “range” means that any natural course of evolution has also been halted… in other words, man’s “finger print” now plays a role in the development (or demise) of nearly every life form on the planet.

    At this point, wildlife preserves, parkland, and relatively “undeveloped” areas of the world, are little more than zoos, housing animals until their final, man-altered fate comes to pass.

    None of this should come as a surprise to anyone who has paid even a modicum of attention.

    • Matt MC

      Never too late to fix the world. Our generation needs a project. Fixing the planet our grandparents broke seems like a good one.

      • Michiganjf

        Sorry, but the idea that “it’s never too late” has kept humanity thinking that nothing yet needs to be done… people should have realized, decades ago, that there are tipping points, beyond which it might INDEED be too late.

        The fact is, this man-made mass extinction has already occurred, but too many are still blind to this fact… the end simply hasn’t fully played out yet.

        The question facing humanity now, is can anything be done to keep the planet habitable for any mammals, including humans.

        Let’s just hope people stop thinking “it’s never too late” when it comes to climate change and getting carbon output under control.

        It’s not that we shouldn’t still do what we can to mitigate our influence on the natural world, but we shouldn’t decry alarmism either… it’s both necessary AND realistic.

        • myblusky

          While I understand that “it’s never too late” can delay action, it can also get people motivated. Saying “it’s too late” doesn’t do anything.

          Humans are quite bad at predicting the future. We can only live in the present and in the present tense these animals are still with us and they can be repopulated with the right programs.

          Education in poor countries and elevating living conditions is imperative. Educated humans with careers and bright futures tend to procreate less which means less pressure on the environment.

          • Michiganjf

            “Humans are quite bad at predicting the future.”

            Actually, people have been raising the alarm on human expansion and the destruction of natural habitats for over a century… the National Park system was created due to fear that the “wilds’ would soon disappear completely in America.

        • Matt MC

          I meant “it’s never too late” in the exact opposite sense, in that we should “take action now” sense because things are not hopeless.

          Thankfully, genetic codes contains information that is beyond the species. We may be able to revive some of these extinct species. I believe there was a TED talk about this.

          • Don_B1

            The real phrase that should be used is:

            “It is not too late if we act today, but real soon it will be too late!”

      • nj_v2

        Pointing generational fingers is less than helpful.

        I bet you can find as many contemporaries of yours who are busy breaking things as effectively as anyone before us.

      • Maureen Roy

        Except each generation has thought the same thing…

  • Ed75

    Blessed are those who mourn, they shall be comforted.

    • Ray in VT

      Mourning will not help those species facing extinction or bring back those that we have destroyed.

    • jpolock

      Just like in Iraq and Syria eh?
      Oh, no? Is it cause they’re not Christian?

  • myblusky

    It isn’t too late. These species are still here. They can still be saved and everything can be turned around.

    There are effective programs like the one that brought the St. Lucia parrot back from the brink of extinction: “Protection through Pride”.

    Education and advertising initiatives to change people’s attitudes are the most effective. People need to want to save the species.

    There will never be enough police to enforce hunting and trading laws. People have to see the value in these animals and see them as a source of national pride and economic enhancement. These animals need people to become their guardians. It is very challenging in poor countries, but St. Lucia has extreme poverty and they were able to do it.

  • andrewgarrett

    The best hope for charismatic mega fauna is the rich world, where intensive agriculture and prosperity mean we have rural depopulation and relative wilderness areas. Wolves and wild boar are returning to parts of Europe where they’d been extinct for centuries. Moose have returned to New York and New England after an absence of 150 years. None of that would be possible if we still had subsistance farmers living lives of picturesque poverty. We should continue the trend by shouldering some responsibility for other big animals. “African” lions and North American cheetahs were either directly or indirectly killed off by North America’s first humans. We could reintroduce them to the American plains – helping to restore the ecosystem and bringing tourism and big game hunting. The species win, the land wins, the hunters win. Yes, I get it, lions are scarier than wolves. But I don’t understand the knee jerk reaction against reintroductions. If people like hunting, let there be managed hunting. What’s the problem?

  • Jasoturner

    One wonders if the skeptics are missing something in the discussions of climate change and mass extinction. Perhaps these changes are not going to be clearly observable and continuous, but rather abrupt and discontinuous. A tipping point is reached, and suddenly a seemingly stable situation turns uncontrollable and chaotic. Think avalanche or earthquake or tsunami. How tragic it will be if my daughter lives to see magnificent animals suddenly begin disappearing at an accelerating and unstoppable rate. Gone forever.

    The Matrix was a kind of dumb movie, but the portrayal of humans as a virus resonates more and more. We seem to infect nature, and we seem to consume it until nothing of value is left, only degradation and waste remaining in our wake.

    • Don_B1

      In an interview with Jon Stewart on The Daily Show, Elizabeth Kolbert agreed with Jon’s calling humans “an invasive species,” the “best and largest” one.

  • Jim

    Yes, it will definitely happen. I can see it. Look how many people interested in this topic. I just can see it.

  • http://neilblanchard.blogspot.com/ Neil Blanchard

    Climate change, waste plastic, chemical pollution, overfishing, factory farming, water use, deforestation, are each causing huge problems in the environment. Combined they are devastating.

    I just finished Elizabeth Kolbert’s “Field Notes From A Catastrophe” and I have just started “The Sixth Extinction”.

  • MrWakiki

    I can’t help but think how wonderful the republican-head-in-the-sand folks lived long enough to see they were wrong about climate change…(among other things)

    • http://neilblanchard.blogspot.com/ Neil Blanchard

      It will be a very bittersweet “I told you so” – but it is swamped by the horrific reality.

      • MrWakiki

        I have to be ironic, because over the holidays I heard Rusty Limbaugh go on yet another rant about how there isn’t climate change…

        sad as only a guy with his head up his own climate can be

  • http://hlb-engineering.us/ HLB

    I volunteer Republicans to go extinct next. No, please. Don’t thank me.

  • Ed75

    Looks pretty grim.

  • Ed75

    There were six days of creation, perhaps mirrored in the six great extinctions. We have to keep in mind that the purpose of creation is man.

    • http://neilblanchard.blogspot.com/ Neil Blanchard

      We humans are different in that we can “understand” our situation, but I don’t think that evolution has a “purpose” like creating any specific species.

    • nj_v2

      ^ Could have been taken from the Onion.

    • Maureen Roy

      Okay, gotta do it. In the “All Things Are Covered (somewhere) in (the) Star Trek (Universe)” department:

      “…the former crew of the USS Enterprise finds the planet in grave danger from an alien probe attempting to contact now-extinct humpback whales. The crew travel to Earth’s past to find whales who can answer the probe’s call.”

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Star_Trek_IV:_The_Voyage_Home

    • John_in_VT

      Adam and Eve were placed in the Eden of multi-species and basically God told them to enjoy it – not destroy it. The Bible talks of man having a responsibility that goes beyond his basic survival – some call it a stewardship of the Earth. We are to go forth and multiply but not necessarily at the expense of Earth’s other inhabitants. God and the Earth strive for a balance – mess up that balance and there will be a cost to pay.

  • Max Utrillo

    Tom—this is all very interesting and the stories your guest tell are compelling, but what specifically do we need to do? This is where futility seems to present itself in environmental conversations. As time goes on more people, not less, want to industrialize, travel, and advance. As industrialization increases in speed and footprint, what does your guest think we can, or should, do about it?

    • http://neilblanchard.blogspot.com/ Neil Blanchard

      Max, if there is “an answer” to this, it is the most difficult task humans will ever face.

      Stop burning fossil fuels.
      Stop throwing anything away that cannot biodegrade.
      Stop all chemical farming and other chemical pollution.

      The simplest answer is fit into nature – do exactly what nature does. There is no waste in nature, and everything matters.

      • Max Utrillo

        That’s just it, if the answer is to return to a pre-industrial civilization it will never happen. People around the world will not have it and if we’re honest about it we probably won’t either. It’s a tough argument to make when we’re communication through computers. I can see adapting our industry to fit more seamlessly into nature, but going “backwards” doesn’t seem realistic to me.

        • http://neilblanchard.blogspot.com/ Neil Blanchard

          It does not mean that, Max. It means we have to fully fit into nature, but we can keep electricity and all that brings – if we do it without waste.

        • Don_B1

          Neil (and climate scientists) said “Stop burning fossil fuels.”

          That does not mean that the energy derived from burning fossil fuels cannot be obtained in other ways!

          There are many sustainable sources of energy, from capturing the sun’s radiation directly (either in concentrating – heat – collection or PV electricity generation) or indirectly from using biomass or fermentation of plants to produce fuel that can be burned in today’s engines (mostly for transportation).

          There are geothermal and wave/tidal sources that can be used to generate power.

          This change will also have other positive external effects of reducing the pollution that causes many chronic diseases that degrade the lives of so many today.

          Humans can have just as glorious, and even a more glorious, lifestyle without fossil fuels in the future. Don’t let the fossils sell you a bill of goods; it will not be ‘easy,” but it is doable if humans set out to do it. The first power plants will not be the most effective, but they can do the job and will get more effective with each new plant built.

          Note also that the costs of not doing anything are immense! Think of how the costs of ever larger storms are ramping up the number of $1 billion events (to 40 last year) from a total storm damage less than $1 billion not a few decades ago. This is only going to get bigger with the coming years. The investments in reducing CO2 emissions today will undoubtedly be the best investment with the highest return humans can make.

        • jpolock

          It could be a great leap forward. There exists TODAY the technology to rig ones home (or business etc) with wind, solar, geothermal etc, rigged to a hydrogen storage and generator, both the the moments without wind or sun, and to fill your fuel cell vehicle.
          Only stoppage is that it means the END of fossil fuel, utility monopoly and bill slavery, and furthermore all the political/social power that goes along with them….

      • Adam B

        But the answer also lies in infrastructure. Our sprawling development pinches habitat for many, and our long highways cut off movement for ranging animals. We must also rethink the way we build, densify, and restrict our development to allow other species the space they need if we are to at least slow this trend.

        • http://neilblanchard.blogspot.com/ Neil Blanchard

          Agreed. Once we stop using oil, offshoring jobs becomes virtually non-existent, and local production of most things becomes required, then we get lots better employment, and healthier food, and we stop designing for the dump, and stop wasting our efforts and money on cheap things.

          Climate change hopefully takes a lot longer to happen, and/or doesn’t go as far as we might fear, and we come out of this with our society intact and our culture changes to meet the new reality.

      • James

        We’d have to go beyond that. We’ve have to end intercontinental travel or at the very least lock down everyone who travels across the ocean and sterilize the plains and boats.

        • http://neilblanchard.blogspot.com/ Neil Blanchard

          No, I think we can still travel, but we will have to do so sustainably, using only renewable energy. A certain amount of species moving is not the main cause of this. Fossil fuels are the main cause, and there are several other big reasons.

        • Don_B1

          The U.S. Navy has a program to power airplanes and ships from biofuels, which can replace fossil fuels:

          http://www.defense.gov/home/features/2010/1010_energy/

          and particularly algae:

          http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/navy-investigates-biofuels-to-power-ships-airplanes/

          There is no reason to think this cannot be used commercially once the technical kinks are worked out. Proof of concept is has arrived and scaling up will require some adjustments, but unless a real problem arises, this will be an available source for powering air and water transportation.

    • brettearle

      Man has killed other men for thousands of years.

      Man has killed animals for thousands of years.

      Animals have killed other animals (including Man) for thousands of years.

      Climate destruction, habitat loss, or predators acting for survival or by instinctive aggression…..

      All these seem to be inevitable phenomena–one way or the other.

      Man may be hastening the process; and species will be exterminated and/or will be come extinct eventually–on a massive scale.

      It has happened before. Why isn’t it happening again?

      Sometimes what sounds like “the voice of doom” might simply be a voice that is being harshly realistic–but realistic, nevertheless.

      • geraldfnord

        Yes, we now have (and are destroying) a wonderfully diverse natural world sixty-five million years after the Asteroid, but (being an humanist) I don’t think humanity should have to endure millions or even thousands of years in a sere and spare world while we wait for Nature’s ‘desire’ to maximise entropy by filling niches better to create something more interesting.

        Rate matters; here, as in many places, it is false to think that a difference in rate were not possibly a qualitative difference in its implications, quantitative though it be in itself.

        • brettearle

          I definitely take your point…..but the Fact remains….

          • jpolock

            Yes, the fact remains that we might just be just as dumb as the Mayans or Easter Island dwellers.
            Problem is, then there was more earth to move to, now? Not so much…

          • Don_B1

            The difference is that the devastation from the “Asteroid” was not avoidable whereas the consequences of man’s actions today could well be the extinction of all humans, or certainly all current civilization.

            Should not humans be capable of avoiding committing such a catastrophe? And since they could stop burning fossil fuels and avoid it, is it not incumbent on humans to do that? What consequences should be handed out to those who refuse to help avoid the catastrophe?

          • brettearle

            Excellent questions.

            What’s more, you put my skepticism into proper context.

            Although my heart was not really in the skepticism–in terms of what responsibility mankind can take now.

            However, Jared Diamond’s book on COLLAPSE might point to the inevitability of decline–one way or another.

  • Ed75

    Environmental concerns play a large role in the last two papal encyclicals. Not sure how much we can do about it? We aren’t the flaw in life – except in the extent that we committed original sin which damaged creation. But we remember Jesus ‘Do not fear the first death, fear the second death’ (the death of the soul). And that we look forward to a new heavens and a new earth. But it is going to be heart-breaking, with lots of suffering.

    • geraldfnord

      But Jesus’ attitude often is part and parcel of not caring for the rest of creation—if only the ‘ssecond death’ of the ‘soul’ is to be feared, why worry about the deaths of soulless plants and animals beyond the extent to which their loss might inconvenience us?

      • jpolock

        Christian beliefs are a HUGE part of the problem! “Go forth a propagate (prosper)” and the idea of “Shepherding” creation. That’s certainly not a humble, living in symbiosis with the earth ideology.
        Many (no, not all) Native American belief systems however ARE explicitly symbiotic with “creation”.
        But Alas! The Christians loosed genocide on those ideas…physically and philosophically….

  • Coastghost

    Since no evolutionary biologist is on hand in the studio to finesse Ms. Kolbert’s exposition, what is the extent of her training and formal study in the domain?

    • nj_v2

      She’s a journalist, reporting on the current science.

      Does every journalist need formal study in every area they report on?

      • Coastghost

        I for one would never object to any journalist’s having formal academic exposure to the specialized domain she writes of.

        • nj_v2

          You’re too smugly clever by half. Your clear implication—with no evidence presented—was that lack of formal training calls into question the veracity of the reportage.

  • Ed75

    The only possible response is to do penance, and to cry for mercy to God. (As well as do what we can to preserve species.)

    • nj_v2

      Why do anything to preserve species? Extinction must be God’s will. Why should mere humans try to interfere?

    • brettearle

      So God’s Free Will allows Man to destroy Species and to commit Genocide….

      But his Free Will also allows for birth defects, end-of-life suffering, and natural disasters?

  • Ed75

    Who wants to live in a world without our fellow creatures?

  • AliceOtter33

    How does Ms. Kolbert feel about the concept of “re-wilding” i.e. re-introducing extinct species?

    George Monbiot’s TED talk:

    http://www.ted.com/talks/george_monbiot_for_more_wonder_rewild_the_world.html

  • MatthewNashville

    Until it becomes popular and / or easy for people to have a meaningful impact on the impact we’re having, nothing will change. How can we make it popular or easy?

  • Ed75

    We harm nature … because of sin. We are turning toward sin, not away, so I don’t have much hope. Our sin harms us and the nature itself.

    • nj_v2

      ^ Has become completely self-parodying.

  • jpolock

    It all apart of what I’ve coined the “Domesticated Landscape”. This was something that became incredibly clear flying across the USA from Boston to LA on a clear day, pretty much the whole way across. There was hardly ANY land without the human footprint, from roads, to towns, to farming etc. I forget the exact stat, but I think there currently does NOT exist anywhere in USA land that is not bisected by a road over 3 miles in any direction…
    I you read Theroux’s work (I especially like K’tahdin) which is what about a 100 years ago? You’ll see just how dramatically humans have changed the world right here in New England…
    Yes, very sad. Yes, humans, infected by insatiable greed, are doomed to destroy the planet one way or another…if not AGW and resource depletion, it will be nuclear catastrophe….

    • georgepotts

      You can do your part to minimize humans impact on the planet and reduce your carbon footprint to zero.

      • jpolock

        That’s great for those educated enough and able to procure that methodology (and afford it). Pretty hard to sell to 3rd world citizens though, and with 10 billion coming online shortly.
        And btw, I have no car, live in small condo in city, have 100% windpower (sadly its still, thanks to unfair markets still double regular plans..but that’s the price I pay for conscience) eat organic, all organic products, he appliances etc, cfls etc etc…

        • georgepotts

          It seems that you want to lament about the problem of the human impact on the planet and all of her species.

          But all you want to do is complain about other people, and you are not willing to do what is necessary.

          • jpolock

            Do explain? I described above how I am living by example (and also btw my wife and I have chosen not to breed either). I give as generously as I can to local, state, and national conservation charity…
            Besides “One Child” rules ala China or forced abortion ala North Korea, or “too bad for you” reactions to disasters and famines, or maybe genocide?
            I just do not see people following our examples in significant enough numbers, meanwhile rainforest disappears, and ever new carbon release records are breeched.
            No sir, I lament ignorance, apathy, and lack of political will, not individual people.

          • georgepotts

            Because you are living, you are part of the problem.

          • jpolock

            Perfect act of Reducio ad Absurdum mon ami.
            There are cures to diseases, there are solutions to problems, and the only way to ever have a chance of getting to them is through intelligent discussion, communication, and education. Something clearly you want no part of.
            Just because YOU have no imagination doesn’t mean you should try to drag everyone down to your ignorant masquerading as know it all level.

    • nj_v2

      It may not even be solely a matter of “greed.” By our mere numbers, human activity is stressing the major ecosystems of the planet. I worry that, no matter what forms of putative “sustainable,” “renewable,” or “green” technologies or methods we adopt, the number of us alone will have certain large-scale, negative, unmitigable effects.

      • jpolock

        It’s too late. The carbon in the atmosphere ALREADY will cause doom. It will remain there for at least 1000 years, and we are just piling it on.
        Without a MASSIVE war effort, moonshot, Manhattan Project type effort WORLDWIDE, would we even have a fighting chance. It is a F-ing joke, humanity is an F-ing joke! We can’t even feed and clothe and house and educate the people we’ve got now (even though technically we could)…
        Fat chance getting people to ease of the accelerator even one iota

        • http://neilblanchard.blogspot.com/ Neil Blanchard

          I think the natural carbon sink process (weathering) can lower atmospheric carbon roughly 15-16 ppm per Million years.

          http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZGFAWzjO378

    • ToyYoda

      3 miles? That’s an incredible stat if true, but somehow I doubt it.

      • jpolock

        It’s pretty much true. There are a very few areas in the mountains, and North Maine woods, and deserts where it might get up to 20-30 miles (which is still pretty sad when you consider the whole picture).

        This Gov map show all:

        http://www.fort.usgs.gov/products/publications/21426/21426.pdf

        • ToyYoda

          There’s plenty of regions with 12 mile radii. But compared to the whole country is just a tiny fraction. Ugh.

          That is all the more reason why I wish they keep the underground Lake Vostok free from human contact. As much as I want to visit it, I also wish there was some land not touched by humans.

          Anyways, thanks for the link!

  • James

    Yes because voting Democrat or Green Party is going to solve all our environmental problems FFS

    • John_in_VT

      Oh I don’t think anyone believes that any more. The almighty dollar trumps the almighty God and or nature every time. This is an enduring truth seperate from any political party or system.

      • James

        Sadly I seemed to get that impression from that last caller

  • georgepotts

    I eat organic, ride a bicycle to work, compost my faeces, and am a macrobiotic vegan.

    Thai kind of discussion makes me want the liberals to take away SUVs, private jets, golf courses and large waterfront homes from everyone who has them (except Al Gore and Barack Obama).

  • Ed75

    In the U.S. we kill 4,000 human beings each day in abortion. How can we expect things to go well in general?
    How beautiful is creation.

    • jpolock

      And we need to abort and preclude via family planning and birth control worldwide MANY more cell packs to save both the planet and our race…that is the actual born and living ones.
      And yes, the evolved world is indeed beautiful and awesome.

  • jefe68

    Snake handling?

  • http://hlb-engineering.us/ HLB

    How come these dinks don’t go into the ocean and handle sharks?

    Get closer to God’s fearless killing machines. Please.

    • geraldfnord

      The verse refers particularly to holding serpents and drinking poison…so unless it’s imbibed poison milked from a Cobrashark (coming soon on the Tertiary SyFy-lis Channel) it doesn’t apply.

    • ToyYoda

      Lions are also worthy of God’s attention. I would love to flock to his church to see the holy feast.

  • Ed75

    This is taking a verse out of the Bible out of context. (I’ll ignore the slight at people who go to Church on Sunday.) The problem is that the snake hadn’t read that part of the Bible yet.

  • J__o__h__n

    I guess you don’t need to believe in Evolution to win a Darwin Award.

  • georgepotts

    It is always someone else doing something bad to the planet. The mere existence of human beings on the planet has an impact. You who are reading this message on this web site has a negative impact on the planets environment.

    • brettearle

      Let’s not split hairs to the point where you are, in a specific way, stomping on Free Speech.

      Some compromises are essential. Pl-eeease

      Although perhaps you were expressing a mocking satire–in which case I take your insight and salute it.

      • jpolock

        It’s a classic (and fraudulent) debate tactic called reducio ad absurdum. Reducing a point to absurdity, effective throwing sand in the gears…

        • brettearle

          Right.

          So, then, to you, he might say,

          “It’s a classic dismissive strategy, designed not to take into account the hard-to-excavate subtleties.”

          • jpolock

            To which I would repeat: “you just did it again”.
            To tell someone trying to engage in a serious discussion about sustainability and the human races impact on the planet to basically “just go and die” (reduce ones’ carbon footprint to zero…which by the way can actually be done without suicide…) can hardly be described as “hard to excavate subtlety”!

          • brettearle

            Got it.

            But maybe you misunderstood me, somewhat.

            I was employing a sarcastic mocking satire of his pettiness.

            I was not, in the least, defending him.

  • http://hlb-engineering.us/ HLB

    “O death, where is thy sting?”

    O-U-C-H! Found it.

  • http://hlb-engineering.us/ HLB

    Snake handlers. The answer to the question: which species is going extinct next.

    We have a WINNER!

  • Ed75

    For God, all things are possible.

  • http://hlb-engineering.us/ HLB

    Church of the New Age Nutters, Clueless Git Synod.

  • J__o__h__n

    I think if I were god, I’d much rather have people leave poisonous snakes alone and not rely on me to protect them. Failing that, I’d be really annoyed if they didn’t seek medical attention.

    • ToyYoda

      Or you starve them. I saw a documentary of pentecostal snake handling. It was commented by a herpetologist. He pointed out several symptoms showing that the snake was starved and weakened. When they are in that state, they are too weak to attack.

  • AliceOtter33

    Interesting juxtaposition of topics this hour. Can’t help noticing the irony of two instances of human exceptionalism run amok….

    • geraldfnord

      Since his children appear to be taking-up his mantle, think of it as evolution inaction.

      • AliceOtter33

        Evolution “inaction” or evolution “in action”? :)

  • BHA_in_Vermont

    As with all other religions:
    When things don’t work out as they expect, they come up with some reason why it ISN’T because of any failing in their belief system.

    The snake bites not because it wasn’t put in the cage before the “anointing” wore off, it bites because it doesn’t like what was happening to it.

    • geraldfnord

      Yup, never trust anything whose mantra is, implicitly or ex-, ‘X cannot fail you, you can only fail X.’.

      I’ve seen this spouted by most religions, including Objectivism and Marxism and Americanism, a couple of martial arts groups, and any number of self-help hucksters…in all cases, the only reasonable response is ‘I say it’s reality-testing-free spinach and to self-uncorrecting Hell with it.’

  • http://hlb-engineering.us/ HLB

    Or like trying to describe nuttery to folks with real, working brains.

  • MatthewNashville

    You have to respect his conviction. He died by his belief. Who are we to judge?

    • geraldfnord

      Alive.

    • J__o__h__n

      Live and let . . . never mind.

    • http://hlb-engineering.us/ HLB

      The conscious and the thinking. That’s who we are to judge. Hoober Doober

  • Maureen Roy

    Really, really worried for the poor snakes….

    • ToyYoda

      I saw a documentary on this. The snakes are usually kept in a weakened state which makes them less likely to attack their religious handlers.

      • Maureen Roy

        Why am I not surprised….

  • Ed75

    Jesus didn’t tell people to take up serpents … he said that they would not harm them. We have to use our intellect also. It’s not symbolic, but it means that they will have protection from natural things, but not to do these things intentionally. I applaud their devotion to Jesus, but it is a misunderstanding.

    • Ray in VT

      So if he had just happened upon the rattlesnake then it would not have bitten him or he would not died had he been poisoned?

      • Ed75

        As in any science a simple question can lead to a difficult answer. If we look at the lives of the saints, we never see them handling snakes or drinking poison intentionally. But we do see them, in the course of preaching in a foreign country or traveling, bitten by snakes or poisoned (I think of St. Benedict) and not harmed (but not always!).
        We even see it in the life of Jesus – when after his first sermon they drove him to the crest of the hill to throw him off, he ‘passed through their midst’ because ‘his time had not come’. And when Jesus was tempted in the desert the evil one quoted Scripture correctly ‘The angels will bear you up’, but Jesus quoted another Scripture ‘Do not tempt God’, and did not do it. so we see that a verse in Scripture has to be interpreted in the context of all the rest of Scripture.
        Additionally one idea against snake handling – though I don’t doubt the fervor of these people – is that it’s a vain or purposeless act, it’s not producing or aimed at any good, and we’re supposed to be making it our business to do good work.
        Also, God expects us to use our intellects (the Protestant tradition kind of cast of the philosophical tradition and has this weakness) and not do dumb things.
        So handling a snake, as they said, might indeed bring the person closer to God, indeed, it might happen right away, face to face.

  • J__o__h__n

    What does PETA think about snake handling?

  • http://hlb-engineering.us/ HLB

    Ye shall handle the serpent and fear the weeping angel. Oh, yes. The Doctor – stay away from him, too.
    –Gospel According to Rose Tyler

    • J__o__h__n

      great scarf

    • Ray in VT

      I didn’t even notice this comment earlier. Awesome. I loved Rose as a companion.

  • http://neilblanchard.blogspot.com/ Neil Blanchard

    I am very sorry we had to split this hour down to cover snake bites. This sort of religious belief is an obstacle to solving our MUCH larger problem – i.e. climate change and extinctions.

    • georgepotts

      It would be good for you to reduce your carbon footprint to absolute zero.

      • J__o__h__n

        You are recycling your jokes.

      • http://neilblanchard.blogspot.com/ Neil Blanchard

        Yes, and for you, too, George.

  • georgepotts

    Can we get global warming kooks start handling snakes to reduce the carbon footprint of humanity?

    • nj_v2

      ^ Troll. Unimaginative, dull-witted troll.

  • Robert Michaelson

    Sad that each passing day your program gives more and more airtime to these right-wing fundamentalists and their inane beliefs. Don’t we have enough AM talk radio stations in New England without your station being infected as well? For shame…

  • amazonjn

    Let them handle the neuro-toxic snakes such as the coral.
    Darwin

  • georgepotts

    Don’t kiss any snails.

  • nj_v2

    : : : Searching for a reason why i’m supposed to care about this snake thing : : :

    A segment on species extinction, part of a constellation of the most important issues facing us, gets truncated (they could have had a biologist to add some detail on extinction), for a cursory look at a fringe religious sect.

    What am i missing?

    • ToyYoda

      Absolutely. I just caught the end of this show. I really wanted to hear it. And at first, I didn’t know what was going on. OnPoint has done this several times in the past. Kind of annoying.

      • nj_v2

        I suspect that the “thinking” went something like… “Oh, hey, look, this strange snake handling incident. That’s kind of unusual. We should do something with it. Oh, hey, we’ve got this species extinction show planned. This snake thing has some little bit of something to do with biology, and we probably couldn’t sustain a whole show on it, so let’s tack it on to the extinction show, since, you know, it’s also kinda about biology.”

    • hennorama

      nj_v2 — one might view the snake handling few as a self-limiting population rather than one that is being driven to extinction by external forces or the actions of another species.

      (Admittedly, it’s a real stretch.)

  • gemli

    Because we’re talking about religion, we’re speaking in hushed tones and with deference and respect when we should be pointing out that denying reality is generally a foolish thing to do. We tolerate absurd behavior from the religious that would be considered moronic, or even illegal, if it wasn’t protected by a shield of piety. If anything will put humanity on the endangered species track it will be our ability to engage in hurtful and illogical behavior that can be justified by belief in invisible spirits. What a waste of life, and of intellect.

    • J__o__h__n

      intellect?

  • J__o__h__n

    If a pregnant woman wants to handle a snake, what rights does the fetal person have to prevent it?

    • Ray in VT

      If she also chooses to have a beer is she providing alcohol to a minor?

  • John_Hamilton

    It is telling that On Point found this topic worthy of a half-hour, shared with a discussion of snake handling. “Reform Conservatism,” though, was found worthy of a full hour. Part of the reason, I suspect, is that the guest is female, but mostly it is that the show host was out of his element, unable to sustain a discussion of pending extinction for a full hour. It could be that the topic is too unthinkable, so let’s not think about it for more than a half-hour.

    • Ray in VT

      I think that you’re reading a little too much into it.

      • John_Hamilton

        I was listening.

        • Ray in VT

          Reading as in to read into, as in to discern in or infer from a statement (or in this case a programming decision).

          • John_Hamilton

            I think you’re reading a little too much into it. I was being metaphorical. Metaphor is hard for some people to understand.

          • Ray in VT

            I used “reading” metaphorically, yet your response was “listening” which is literally what you were doing as regards consuming the show. Metaphor is, I think, not hard to understand when it is being used. If I missed some metaphor that you were using, then please enlighten me.

          • John_Hamilton

            I think you’re reading a little too much into it. If someone asks for a metaphor to be explained, it’s already too late.

          • Ray in VT

            Maybe you just aren’t using a metaphor. Pray tell, where is it? Bestow some light upon us lesser beings.

          • John_Hamilton

            At the risk of starting a whole new round of tedium over seeming a bit high in self esteem, did you ever hear Bob Dylan explain one of his songs? Think of it as a koan. It should be obvious, but that obviously doesn’t include everyone.

          • Ray in VT

            It seems to me that you are far from being the sort of artist that Bob Dylan is. To me you just come off as pompous. I just think that you’re reading too much into this programming decision, and concluding that Mr. Ashbrook is unable to conduct a thorough interview on the topic or has some sort of bias against women. It’s like concluding that all soda sucks after just trying Moxie.

          • John_Hamilton

            I knew mentioning Bob Dylan would bring exactly this response. That’s why I pre-disclaimed delusions of grandeur. It was, ahem, a metaphor. I didn’t say “Mr. Ashbrook” is unable to conduct a thorough interview on the topic. Or even unwilling. Just that it was a contributing factor, as was the guest’s gender.

            By the way, have you figured out that metaphor yet? Now that there is an added one (Bob Dylan), you have your hands (mind) full (hands is a metaphor).

            By the way, by the way, at one point today he introduced his guest as the wife of country star Brad Paisley, and a star in her own right. You might catch the subtlety. And you might not.

    • ToyYoda

      Part of the reason is that the guest is female? Could you please explain this.

      • John_Hamilton

        Sure. I have noticed in the past that Tom Ashbrook has been more disrespectful of women guests -interrupting, berating, agitated, etc. He didn’t interrupt this time, but instead gave this important topic a half-hour.

        I know from past experience that no explanation will suffice, but this is it.

        • John_Hamilton

          I forgot to mention that there are far fewer female guests. It would be interesting to see the “metrics.”

          • nkandersen

            Hello, all! The decision to include the conversation about snake handling had everything to do with the news and absolutely nothing to do with Ms. Kolbert’s book, assertiveness, or gender. If anything, we as a staff were upset we weren’t able to spend more time with both guests after the hour. We recommend reading her excellent book for more.

            Best,

            nick andersen
            web producer | on point radio

          • jack1951

            Ill-conceived decision, Nick. Kolbert deserved a whole hour. Snake handling could have waited until tomorrow. Or never.

          • John_Hamilton

            Terry Gross interviewed Elizabeth Kolbert last week. She was the only guest, and it was a much better interview. I was expecting something comparable today, but instead heard something less, really an insult billing it with snake handling. I found a site about other crazy religions (http://www.oddee.com/item_98640.aspx). Maybe On Point can split other climate change shows with interviews about them.

            And, for the minions of On Point, that’s Terry Gross, Fresh Air, WHYY Philadelphia, the standard-setter for how to do an interview. Just rubbing it in a bit.

          • nkandersen

            Thanks for the input, everybody. We of course appreciate the thoughts on programming, and will bear it in mind with future shows!

            n

          • John_Hamilton

            NIce try. One can only wonder why you don’t split the show on a regular basis. If the criterion is that something is in the news, how about a show on Bob Costas having pink eye?

            You are able to spend more time on what you choose to spend more time on. For some reason, great global extinction rates as equal to snake handling.

            The other denials are just denials. As for recommending The Sixth Extinction, nice substitute for a decent interview. Maybe you could recommend more books each show for interviews you don’t have.

          • J__o__h__n

            I question that it was news. People who lack the sense to avoid picking up poisonous snakes tend to die. At most it should have gotten a brief mention on Friday.

        • ToyYoda

          I’ve noticed that Tom will “come after” a guest if they equivocate or are less assertive.

          It’s been documented that women attend to more viewpoints than men and so I would think women will state their case in a more nuanced manner.

          I think that is what you are observing. I don’t think it has anything inherently to do with a guest’s gender.

          • John_Hamilton

            NIce opinion. An opinion on what I experience. My experience is different from your opinion. For some, there is no limit on what they have opinions about. They can empty a room in seconds.

          • ToyYoda

            On the other hand, it’s often times useful to get a different interpretation of one’s experience, that’s often what people do to gain a wider perspective. People who leave rooms because they don’t want to hear another interpretation are often close minded.

          • John_Hamilton

            It’s closed-minded. Close minded would mean, hmm, having a mind that is close to something.

            People that go around interpreting other people’s experiences are exactly the kind of annoying boors that drive ordinary people out of the room. Part intrusion, part b.s., what they have to offer can be smelled, often before it arrives.

          • brettearle

            Tom is committed, I think, to moving the conversation and discussion, along–in a lively and forthright manner.

            He has likely ‘programmed’ himself and has been `programmed’ to do this, because it increases the acute attention of, and the stimulation of, the audience.

            it is partially due to ratings and partly due to the concept of `infotainment’.

            Lulls and silences are considered somewhat Taboo in Radio–regardless of which gender might be speaking.

  • ToyYoda

    I don’t deny that a 6th extinction is occurring. I just don’t come up with the same depressing conclusion as everyone else. Every extinction that has ever occurred was followed by an outburst of new species. Currently, there is a tremendous amount of hybridization being done due to globalization. Invasive species that destroy native inhabitants get all the news, but other species that aren’t destructive, don’t get any airtime. Insects feed on invasive plants and nature will adapt them to it. Longer warm periods give insects and plants a new niche to fill. European rhododendrons have hybridized with cousins from North America. Speciation happens faster than people think.

    This doesn’t mean we have an excuse to trash the planet, but it certainly doesn’t mean the end of the world. The greatest extinction event that ever occurred was the Permian extinction. Over 90% of all species went extinct; life was nearly snuffed out. Yet life continued. Life survived massive asteroid attacks, cataclysmic volcanic bursts, long ice ages periods, and an earth hotter than it is now.

    I’m not worried about life on earth. Life -to me- seems inevitable. Life will continue, the real question is whether we screw up the world so badly that we won’t continue.

    • nj_v2

      Part of the problem with the basis for your apparent optimism has to do with time scale. “Outbursts” of new species happen over extremely long periods of time; millions of years. Human fiddling with hybridization doesn’t constitute the creation of new species.

      Modern humans have been around for about a couple of hundred thousand years, and modern-era civilization (such as it is) for much, much less.

      The effects on human culture of a large species extinction in current times would be unprecedented and, possibly incalculable. Yes, species come back and ecosystems adjust, but, again, over millions of years.

      If one is concerned about a viable, sustainable, human culture in the foreseeable future, your sanguine musings that “life will continue” are rather irrelevant.

      • Arkuy The Great

        However, the extinctions have historically taken place over a relative blink of the eye. The Permian extinction, which wiped out 90% of all life in existence, took about 60,000 years. Anyways, the assumption that human existence should be durable for eons seems silly and even egotistical. We have only existed about 150,000 years, lived in civilization for about 7000 and industrialized society for less than 300. We are the exception in Earth’s biosphere and are quite insignificant given geological history. Our future here, regardless of our behavior and its effects, is not guaranteed.

  • jimino

    I have never understood why those who believe the Bible is literally true would not be at the vanguard of protecting every living species after all that hard work of creation by God and preservation by Noah. Yet they seem to be among the first to oppose efforts to adapt human behavior to assist the preservation of another species. Talk about putting oneself above God!

  • 65noname

    instead of cutting the program about species extinction short in order to discuss snake charming why not cut short the previous free time given to the profession rightwing spin dude who, dispite opposing govenrment subsidies to government radio, has no problem using it for free political advertising for his political bosses?

  • Harold Hensel

    Greenhouse gases carbon dioxide and methane emissions are excessive. Hydroxyls are natures air cleaners. They can and do neutralize greenhouse gases. They are produced by the infrared in sunlight hitting moisture. They are being reduced by pollution. Do you know of any efforts to restore hydroxyls in the atmosphere to help the atmosphere restore itself?

  • Larry Talbot

    Joseph Campbell (a Catholic) was right, the world would be a much better place had western religion not come to be.

    How wonderful the world would be if one of the nature based beliefs was the dominant belief.
    What has your white haired man in the sky done for you lately…. or ever for that matter? Grow up people, fairy tails for are 2 year olds.
    Western religion has weakened us as a species, the need to keep everyone alive no matter what. I know 3 couples personally that were unable to have children naturally and with help were able to have babies whom spent weeks/months in NICU and are now somewhere between retarded and not quite “normal” These kids with then get to pass on their inferior genes all because the western religious belief that ALL (read human) life is sacred and special and should be saved at all cost.
    My wife and I had a heart to heart, if the test came up that our child would be impaired we would terminate the pregnancy. We could not bring an impaired child into the world, for us, for society, or the gene pool.
    Thankfully we now have a healthy, intelligent 9 year old who knows the western god is as real as the tooth fairy, santa claus or the easter bunny.

    • brettearle

      Are you suggesting that, for example, Christianity–in its basic core beliefs, from thousands of years ago, in Scripture–would sanction neo-natal care, at all costs and risks?

      Or are you really implying that modern Christian beliefs sanction the scenarios above?

      Indeed, there may be a difference between the modern view and the traditional one.

      I wonder if the earliest version of Christianity would have unremitting respect for modern medical technology, at all costs.

      After all, why would God’s will require anything other than a natural outcome?

    • Susan Neely

      ? ” White haired man in the sky” Seriously? I am sure that he does not have white hair because that would be a sign of age. My God is omnipresent,omniscient and eternal. He is the maker of Heaven and Earth. He also sent Jesus,the Son of the Trinity to be the messenger to man. Born of virgin, he lived a perfect life although fully man and fully God. Jesus died on the cross to pay for our sins, but he didn’t stay dead. He was buried but rose from the dead which conquered death for all men. Salvation from the penalty that man is destined to pay for his sins(eternal death or separation from God) is possible just by believing God’s Word. Which takes more faith: your stance that God does not care for individuals or mine which says he does?

  • Sy2502

    The only sure thing about nature is that it doesn’t care who stays and who goes.

  • Keepinitreal50

    Take comfort in knowing the earth will survive either with or without humans.

  • rich4321

    Mankind has degraded to such a rotten degree, cooperate greed, terrorism, war……. Mankind is destroying the earth. It’s time to press the reset button like a faulty computer and start over again!

  • Erik_Thorkildsen

    Tom, you really dropped the ball on this one – curtailing Kolbert’s
    interview to allow space for snake handlers. Here’s the link to Terry
    Gross’s much more extensive and informative interview:
    http://www.wbur.org/npr/275885377/in-the-worlds-sixth-extinction-are-humans-the-asteroid

  • Arkuy The Great

    Or perhaps we are destined to not be long for this world. The entire existence of our species is an imperceptible blip in terms of the age of the biosphere. What is to say that our end is not far off? As this article posits grand die-offs in the biosphere are very much a regular occurrence and diverse life keeps bouncing back. If we could do so I would just love to peer millions of years into the future and see what organisms have adapted to thrive off our toxic wastes. We might even be surprised to find an intelligent race of creatures who think that “nature” involves plastics, complex hydrocarbons, refined metals, steel, concrete and glass.

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