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As a species, "Homo sapiens" is at a crossroads. Study of our planet's turbulent past suggests that we are overdue for a catastrophic disaster, whether caused by nature or by human interference.
It's a frightening prospect, as each of the Earth's past major disasters--from meteor strikes to bombardment by cosmic radiation--resulted in a mass extinction, where more than 75 percent of the planet's species died out. But in "Scatter, Adapt, and Remember," Annalee Newitz, science journalist and editor of the science Web site io9.com explains that although global disaster is all but inevitable, our chances of long-term species survival are better than ever. Life on Earth has come close to annihilation--humans have, more than once, narrowly avoided extinction just
during the last million years--but every single time a few creatures survived, evolving to adapt to the harshest of conditions.
This brilliantly speculative work of popular science focuses on humanity's long history of dodging the bullet, as well as on new threats that we may face in years to come. Most important, it explores how scientific breakthroughs today will help us avoid disasters tomorrow. From simulating tsunamis to studying central Turkey's ancient underground cities; from cultivating cyanobacteria for "living cities" to designing space elevators to make space colonies cost-effective; from using math to stop pandemics to studying the remarkable survival strategies of gray whales, scientists and researchers the world over are discovering the keys to long-term resilience and learning how humans can choose life over death.
Newitz's remarkable and fascinating journey through the science of mass extinctions is a powerful argument about human ingenuity and our ability to change. In a world populated by doomsday preppers and media commentators obsessively forecasting our demise, "Scatter, Adapt, and Remember" is a compelling voice of hope. It leads us away from apocalyptic thinking into a future where we live to build a better world--on this planet and perhaps on others. Readers of this book will be equipped scientifically, intellectually, and emotionally to face whatever the future holds.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2013-05-13
- Reviewer: Staff
"Earth has been many different planets with dramatically different climates and ecosystems," says Newitz, journalist and founding editor of io9.com. Finding a common ground between climate change arguments Newitz found a thread of hope while researching mass extinctions: that life has survived at least six such events thus far. Without addressing the cause of the current shift, she cites data that indicates we may already be in the midst of another period of mass extinction. Guiding readers through the science of previous mass extinctions, Newitz summarizes the characteristics that enabled species to survive: variable diet and habitat, and ability to learn from the past. "The urge to survive, not just as individuals but as a society and an ecosystem, is built into us as deeply as greed and cynicism are." She reviews theories of how Homo sapiens survived while Neanderthals did not, discusses how science may one day enable a disaster-proof city, and advocates geoengineering and research for eventual moves to other planets. "We'll strike out into space.... And eventually we'll evolve into beings suited to our new habitats among the stars." Newitz voice is fervent and earnest, and despite her gloomy topic, she leaves readers with hope for a long future. (May)
The end is near, so what do we do?
Earth—you know, that big round thing we live on?—is in for a rough time. We’re overdue for a catastrophe the likes of which have caused mass extinctions in the past. We don’t know if a megavolcano will darken the planet’s surface or if gamma rays might fry us like so many man-in-the-moon marigolds. We may even author our own demise by continuing to burn fossil fuels at a rate that overheats the atmosphere. Bad things will happen, and people will die. But humanity as a whole? We got this. The key is to Scatter, Adapt, and Remember.
Science writer Annalee Newitz initially set out to write a fairly gloomy analysis of our planetary destiny, but the facts she found wouldn’t support it. Traveling the world to study past mass extinctions, as well as cutting-edge urban design, Newitz found evidence at every stage of survival through adaptation and evolution. Building a foundation in prehistory, she speculates that our future may involve a combination of more underground cities, as well as space colonization. It’s heady reading, both thought-provoking and entertaining.
Among the fantastical notions Newitz uncovers are visions for bioengineered cities, where all available surface area is used to grow food, indoor lights may be powered by algae and bacteria may help filter pollutants. This could potentially lead to a greater sense of urban stewardship, as neighbors “tend their buildings together, trading recipes for making fuel the way people today trade recipes for holiday cakes.”
While much of the information here is subject to debate—even the causes of previous mass extinctions tend to be argued over by scholars—we do know it will happen again. How we choose to act on that information may slow the process, or give us a fighting chance at a legacy to be proud of. Scatter, Adapt, and Remember raises frightening issues but offers multiple reasons to remain hopeful. Read it and find your place in the matrix of solutions.