Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The Next Species: The Future of Evolution in the Aftermath of ManThe Next Species: The Future of Evolution in the Aftermath of Man by Michael Tennesen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I wish everyone would read this book. It’s a well-researched popular science overview of the current climate picture and the history of mass extinctions on the planet. It’s a step above Discovery Channel or NatGeo television, but not so high a step that members of Congress, for instance, couldn’t understand it.  It’s hard not to be angry when there’s so much of our planet’s life at risk, and the author does a much better job than me, taking the approach of “How did we get here and what happens next?”

As well as the past and present, Tennesen takes us on a speculative journey to mankind’s future, on-planet and off. Which is a little scary, because some of the folks he talks about going to Mars plan to pretty much treat that planet the same way, filling it with nuclear waste whilst terraforming.  So we are left with the central question: will humans survive to live new futures?

The problem with the future is not climate change, but humans. We are animals that move into a place, use up the resources, and move on. We pretend that our brains and perceptions make us better than all the other animals on the planet, but a look at current policies and behaviors proves our hubris. Climate change is happening, and the only real power we have is to adapt and possibly mitigate the effects.

“Extinction in reality is a simple process…This will come for man (sic) in five hundred, five thousand, or fifty thousand years as current rates of overpopulation, disease, or all the possibilities listed above continue. Toss in a nuclear war, an asteroid (a regular occurrence in our geological history), or a supervolcano (a major factor in the Permian and Cretaceous) and we’re there much faster.”

‘Stopping man from killing himself will take more than behavioral modification. Like a world of dieters fending off hunger, we would have to push back from the table of reproduction, renounce growth, and limit our use of natural resources in order not to hit that fatal inflection curve—to avoid the catastrophe of nature making those selections for us.”

Like most people handed a fatal diagnosis, the human race has been focusing on rage and denial. In fact, the diagnosis is more that of a chronic illness. It would be wise for us to curtail certain behaviors. Like children, the race is acting out—we’d rather fight than switch, die than change. No matter what we do, our children inherit a diminished world—though they have the opportunity, as did we, to adapt and change. What will change first, humans to fit into the world, or Nature, to make a world unfit for humans (and incidentally, most current living things)? The author leaves room for hope.

Life is amazing and wonderful and tenacious and will continue after humans, but we could grow and change with it—evolve. I hope there’s a grassroots miracle of small living and sustainability; it seems pretty obvious that the powers-that-be intend to leave a legacy of ashes and stone.

I received an EARC from the publisher and Netgalley for review.

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