Monthly Archives: November 2014

We may be on the verge of the sixth mass extinction

By Chris Mooney

 Two Asian lion cubs stand next to their mother Sita, on November 13, 2014, at the zoo, in Mulhouse, eastern France. (AFP PHOTO SEBASTIEN BOZON)

Two Asian lion cubs stand next to their mother Sita, on November 13, 2014, at the zoo, in Mulhouse, eastern France. (AFP PHOTO SEBASTIEN BOZON)

When we think about the concept of mass extinctions, we tend to think of something pretty dramatic. For instance, we now know that the dinosaurs were wiped out by a six-mile-wide asteroid that hit the Earth at thousands of miles per hour. Its impact, according to the new Smithsonian Channel documentary Mass Extinction: Life at the Brink (airing Sunday night), had the force of “a hundred million nuclear bombs,” unleashing tsunamis hundreds of feet in height that hurtled across the ocean “at the speed of a jet.”

So yeah, that’s pretty dramatic. And yet many scientists think that today we may be on the verge of another creeping mass extinction — the sixth the planet has seen — even as most people barely notice it happening.

Consider just one species highlighted by Mass Extinction: the African lion, or Panthera leo. There are some 32,000 to 35,000 lions left, according to a recent scientific estimate. But as of 1950, their numbers were vastly higher; one group of experts puts them at 500,000, and Mass Extinction uses the number 400,000. Either way, that’s a 90 percent or more decline.

The lion numbers, stark as they are, are pretty solid, says Anthony Barnosky, a biologist at the University of California-Berkeley who is featured in the film, and who authored the book Dodging Extinction: Power, Food, Money and the Future of Life on Earth.

“We know that from historic records of where lions used to be, and where they clearly are not any more. So it’s a combination of using the historical data about what we know distributions were over the past couple …read more


Poor kids who do everything right don’t do better than rich kids who do everything wrong

By Matt O’Brien

Poor Grads, Rich Dropouts

Source: Data from Richard Reeves and Isabel Sawhill

Not a day seems to go by where we’re not reminded that inequality is growing in America. But it’s not just outcomes that matter; it’s opportunity. Last month, we looked at startling new research that showed that poor kids who do what they need to do — go to college — make just about as much money later in life as wealthy kids who don’t even graduate high school.

America is the land of opportunity, just for some more than others.

That’s because, in large part, inequality starts in the crib. Rich parents can afford to spend more time and money on their kids, and that gap has only grown the past few decades. Indeed, economists Greg Duncan and Richard Murnane calculate that, between 1972 and 2006, high-income parents increased their spending on “enrichment activities” for their children by 151 percent in inflation-adjusted terms, compared to 57 percent for low-income parents.

But, of course, it’s not just a matter of dollars and cents. It’s also a matter of letters and words. Affluent parents talk to their kids three more hours a week on average than poor parents, which is critical during a child’s formative early years. That’s why, as Stanford professor Sean Reardon explains, “rich students are increasingly entering kindergarten much better prepared to succeed in school than middle-class students,” and they’re staying that way.

It’s an educational arms race that’s leaving many kids far, far behind.

It’s depressing, but not nearly so much as this:

Even poor kids who do everything right don’t do much better than rich kids who do everything wrong. Advantages and disadvantages, in other words, tend to perpetuate themselves. You can see that in the above chart, based on a …read more