A stimulating exploration into how the laws of biology can help us “understand the future into which we are—arms flailing, coal burning, and full speed ahead—hurling ourselves.”
Describing the havoc humans are wreaking on the planet is a fertile subject, but this challenging book focuses on what we think we know about nature but don’t. Dunn, a professor of applied ecology, notes that life is far vaster and unexplored than we imagine and that our default approach to nature seems to be an attempt to hold it back. He adds that those who study nature learn by studying isolated systems such as islands, where ecologists learn how species arrive, evolve, prosper, and go extinct. Recently, they have turned their attention to human-made habitats. The largest are farms and cities. Just as new species appear on islands, the same is true in human ecosystems. Rats, mice, pigeons, and weeds are evolving, and eventually each city will have its own species adapted to the local surroundings. Mostly, they eat, uninvited, from our plates, but humans still prefer these habitats. Today, the entire world is becoming a human ecosystem: Wild animals make up just 3% of the vertebrate biomass; domestic animals make up 65%, and the rest are humans. While cutting down forests and paving swamps, humans also began warming the world, which is good for diseases and parasites. In the near future, thanks to our profligate ways, Earth will be more pleasant for insects and microorganisms and less so for humans. “We can find ways to survive…just not forever,” Dunn warns. “Eventually we will go extinct. All species do.” Dealing reasonably with the circumstances requires knowledge and imagination. The author avoids the usual implausible how-to-fix-it conclusion: worldwide cooperation, self-denial, scientific breakthroughs, unpopular (and therefore unlikely) government actions. Instead, he offers a book that is less doomsday prophecy and more excellent primer on ecology and evolution.
An imaginative, sensible education for those concerned with the fate of the Earth.