A lot has been happening on our little planet. Some of it, despite the seriousness of our ecological predicament, is good news. In fact, all of it's good news in some way.
First, we know we are in the middle of the sixth great extinction, but we need to make people more aware of it. The people who hand out Pulitzer Prizes have given this awareness a big boost by picking, as this year's winner in Nonfiction, Elizabeth Kolbert's compelling, highly readable, and powerful book The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History. I can't say enough about this book: Kolbert is authoritative, engaging, and memorable in her assessment of the science and her first-person reports on her trips to see the threats and the threatened species for herself. There have been five mass extinctions in known geological history, the most recent being the impact which ended the Mesozoic, and Kolbert documents the way human beings have brought about yet another mass extinction. Some of the extinctions are unwitting (early Native Americans certainly didn't intend to wipe out the mastodon) and some shockingly deliberate, as when a scrounger stomped on the last viable Great Auk egg ever to exist. Kolbert recounts her own journeys, ranging from the depressing to the amusing, to pull us in and give the science a human dimension, but she never lets herself overpower the story. Rarely has an author provided us with such a compelling account of an ongoing crisis which demands global action before we lose yet more irreplaceable creatures and their habitats.
In the meantime, that good news I mentioned? We are still finding new species, and every news article on such discoveries is one more little ray of hope (and prod to action). We have a new frog from Costa Rica, Hyalinobatrachium dianae, that, despite being less than 3cm long, looks startlingly like the beloved muppet Kermit. We have new action on protecting key habitat around the world - whether a habitat corridor in Suriname to the world's largest marine reserve around Palmyra Atoll, Johnston Atoll, Wake Island, and other terrirories in the Pacific. In the latter case, a national monument created by President Bush in 2009 has been expanded five-fold via executive action by President Obama. And we learned more about existing species that will make a difference in conservation planning, the most striking example being the fact that western Pacific gray whales migrate over 27,000 km and intermix with eastern gray whales.
Finally, science has restored Brontosaurus to its proper stature: the of iconic and beloved king of the plant-eating dinosaurs. If all's not right with the world, we are at least making some strides.
The big guy (Wikipedia Creative Commons license)