By Christine Sellers
Scientists have documented five mass extinctions of life in the last half-billion years and now are monitoring the most dramatic die-off of species since the demise of the dinosaurs.
In her Pulitzer Prize-winning book The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History, author Elizabeth Kolbert explains how people have altered the planet like no other species has before and how that is driving another mass extinction.
In recognition of her outstanding contributions in interpreting natural science, the Academy will award Kolbert the Richard Hopper Day Memorial Medal at a Town Square event Wednesday, Sept. 21. Kolbert will give an illustrated presentation and then sign copies of her book. The event begins at 6:30 p.m. and is free. To register, visit the Academy’s website.
In The Sixth Extinction, Kolbert presents evidence in a clear, scientifically documented, sometimes comical way that is accessible to wide audiences. She writes that besides creating issues related to climate change, people are destroying habitats such as rain forests, leaving animals and plants without a place to live.
What’s worse, she writes, is that these things are happening simultaneously, leaving the planet more susceptible to a sixth mass extinction.
“What Elizabeth has done in The Sixth Extinction and her earlier writings is pull together what scientists have been researching and saying for some time now,” said Academy President and CEO George W. Gephart, Jr. “She presents the evidence in an engaging and even startling way. She makes us think about what it means to be human.”
Kolbert has been a staff writer for The New Yorker since 1999. Her 2005 New Yorker series on global warming, “The Climate of Man,” won a National Magazine Award and was extended into a book, Field Notes from a Catastrophe, in 2006. Prior to The New Yorker, she was a political reporter for The New York Times.
Since The Sixth Extinction came out in 2014, the book has become a New York Times bestseller and Kolbert has been interviewed on The Daily Show, among other programs.
The Academy presents the Richard Hopper Day Memorial Medal periodically to individuals who have made outstanding contributions in interpreting natural science and making discoveries in natural history more accessible to the general public. The award was established in 1960 in memory of Richard Hopper Day (1847–1924) in recognition of his great interest in natural history.
Previous recipients include paleoanthropologist Louis Leakey, natural history filmmaker Sir David Attenborough, oceanographer Sylvia Earle, historian Stephen Ambrose, and Pennsylvania naturalist Scott Weidensaul.
Town Square is a series of free public panel discussions and speaker presentations about important science and environmental issues affecting the Philadelphia region and beyond. The 2016 Town Square series is made possible by Warren Environmental Counsel.