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Science journalist says planet is "on the verge of another mass extinction" - on "The Takeout"

Journalist and author Elizabeth Kolbert on "The Takeout"
Journalist and author Elizabeth Kolbert on "The Takeout" — 4/16/2021 45:58

Elizabeth Kolbert, staff writer for the New Yorker and author of the book "The Sixth Extinction," which won the Pulitzer Prize, warns that the planet is "on the verge of another mass extinction" in large part due to climate change.

There have been five major mass extinctions in the last 500 million years, Kolbert explained to CBS News chief Washington correspondent Major Garrett in an interview for this week's episode of "The Takeout" podcast. The world is currently in a "moment of very elevated extinction rate," and if rates continue at this high level, the planet could face an event comparable to the extinction of the dinosaurs in the near future.

Listen to this episode on ART19

"We are on the verge of another major mass extinction, unless we change course dramatically," Kolbert said. "The question of how much we're responsible for it is pretty much 100%. We have no reason to believe we would be seeing these elevated extinction rates were it not for all the ways we are changing the planet faster than other species can evolve, to adapt to."

Kolbert has written a new book, "Under A White Sky," which was published in February. The book looks at some of the people who are trying to reverse the effects of climate change by intervening in nature.

One example she cites is the group of scientists in Australia trying to create "super coral" that can resist a hotter climate. There have recently been instances of mass coral bleaching due to climate change.

"This is happening more and more as our impacts become greater and greater and the consequences become larger and larger," Kolbert said about human intervention in the natural world. "We're increasingly faced with situations where the options aren't great."

Kolbert also noted that there are many benefits to the conditions that have exacerbated climate change, such as advancement in technology.

"It can be true that we as individuals and even that human society overall has benefited from technology, and it can also be true that there are many consequences that are dangerous," she said. Kolbert added that the solutions to reversing some of the damage to the planet are not "going to be perfect."

"We have to realize that there's a lot of damage that's been done that's kind of baked into this system," Kolbert said. "We can leave a serious problem for our kids or we can leave a disastrous problem for our kids."

For more of Major's conversation with Kolbert, download "The Takeout" podcast on Art19, iTunesSpotifyGoogle Podcasts, and Stitcher. New episodes are available every Friday morning. Also, you can watch "The Takeout" on CBSN Friday at 5pm, 9pm, and 12am ET and Saturday at 1pm, 9pm, and 12am ET. For a full archive of "The Takeout" episodes, visit And you can listen to "The Takeout" on select CBS News Radio affiliates (check your local listings).    
Producers: Arden Farhi, Jamie Benson, Sara Cook and Eleanor Watson

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