Book review: Will humans survive climate change?

annaleenrewitz A review of “Scatter, Adapt, and Remember: How Humans Will Survive a Mass Extinction,” by Annalee Newitz

***** (5 out of 5)

Come what may, the human race is heading toward a fall.

As Berkeley Ph.D. Annalee Newitz writes, “the world has been almost completely destroyed at least half a dozen times already in Earth’s 4.5-billion-year history . . . Each of these disasters caused mass extinctions, during which more than 75% of the species on Earth died out. And yet every single time, living creatures carried on, adapting to survive under the harshest conditions.”

In “Scatter, Adapt, and Remember,” Newitz explores what humankind must do to be among the survivors of the next mass extinction. Because, as she emphasizes, there will inevitably be a next time. If the current acceleration in species death — think honeybees and frogs — isn’t an early stage of a full-blown mass extinction, something else really bad will surely happen sooner or later. Thus it is, Newitz insists, “we need a long-term plan to get humanity off Earth. We need cities beyond the Blue Marble, oases on other worlds where we can scatter to survive even cosmic disasters.”


For me, as a long-time science fiction reader (and once-upon-a-time science fiction writer), this assertion is not news. Nor are the apocalyptic scenarios she paints, with massive asteroids or comets crashing into the earth, megavolcanos blanketing the earth with soot and ash that trigger an ice age, bursts of cosmic radiation frying all life on the planet, an incurable contagious disease gone pandemic, or, worst of all — here’s the surprise — climate change.

Yes, it turns out that the worst of the half-dozen mass extinctions science has brought to light “involved climate change similar to the one our planet is undergoing right now.” During that distant period, around 250 million years ago, “95% of all species on the planet were wiped out over a span of roughly 100,000 years.” And lest you take comfort in the hope that our brush with such a catastrophe lies in the distant future, please note that some in the scientific community date the beginning of the current mass extinction to a time about 15,000 years ago when human invaders from Asia began to exterminate the giant fauna of the Americas (mammoths, giant elk, sloths and other species).

Continue reading this review on Mal Warwick’s Blog on Books.

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