Half-Earth: Our Planet's Fight for Life Reprint Edition
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- Mike Weilbacher, Philadelphia Inquirer
“Wilson’s passion for the planet shines through on these pages. He looks at life in its broadest, grandest sweep…Wilson is a thinker in the tradition of Alexander von Humboldt.”
- Matthew Price, The National
“Few experts have offered such an exuberant and optimistic plan for dealing with [climate change] as biologist Edward O. Wilson…The strength of his argument lies in his ability to elegantly unveil the bigger picture, and to define and examine what in our essential human nature has led us to this point…[W]e need Wilson’s reminder that we are not demigods, but are instead, as he puts it, ‘a biological species tied to this particular biological world.’”
- Jessi Phillips, Sierra
“As an outline of our terrible ecological plight, it does a first-class job.”
- Robin McKie, Guardian
About the Author
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As I have written elsewhere, it took the Earth four billion years to reach the Holocene, an era where climate, ice, water and life achieved a state of pleasant equilibrium, with jet streams and ocean currents arranged in a virtuous circle. In just the last 150 years, Homo sapiens has upset the entire system, killing off the Holocene in favor of the Anthropocene, in which one invasive species rules, and any other species that does not add to its immediate benefit can be eliminated. And if even if it does add to its benefit, if it hasn’t been domesticated, it can still face extinction. We are clear-cutting the biosphere.
The book is a relentless, hardhitting – make that pounding – indictment of our custodianship. We are far worse than negligent; we are malevolent. We think it does no harm to remove a species from its environs – and its role. The way it really works, Wilson says, is there are no species living on the periphery; every species depends on other species or is critical to their survival. Our total disregard of this simple rule causes unpredictable disaster.
Wilson has been a naturalist all his long life, and it pains him to find things in this state. His childlike appreciation comes through, often overtaking his anger with the wonder of various species and how they live and contribute so differently. That we lose them daily before we even know how they fit in is criminal to him.
Wilson has introduced me to an ugly new subspecies. I will call it the Anthropocene Apologist. AA appears to be a subset of scientists and ignorant people whose attitude is yes, we’ve already wrecked this planet, so let’s just take what we want now and not worry about it. AAs say we should welcome all the invasive species because they fill gaps left by species we made extinct. That they will figure out what to do about the mess when the time comes. It infuriates Wilson. He keeps bringing it up in different contexts, probably because after a lifetime of watching the degradation, he can’t believe there are actual AA scientists promoting it.
His solution is to set aside far more than the 15% now dedicated to wilderness areas and parks. He says we need 50%. This is obviously not going to happen, as populations explode at the same time as land mass disappears (in the rise of the oceans), and less of what’s left is habitable. The book ends very weakly with a plea: Do no further harm to the biosphere.
I also couldn't tell who his target audience was. If it's a skeptical public, he isn't about to convince anyone of anything. Maybe a handful somehow don't already agree that humans can be bad news for wildlife, but the ones that don't aren't going to be persuaded by a book that reads like a panicked stream of consciousness. If it's fellow scientists, (I'm in this camp) he isn't telling us anything we don't already know. Honestly, his main purpose through most of the book seems to be to refute the so-called "Anthropocentrists" that contend that landscapes should be useful to man, and that there are no really wild places left. He's not necessarily wrong...that's not a great point of view if you apply it to all landscapes everywhere, but these "Anthropocentrists" seem to be a bit of a straw man, lacking overall influence, and generally constituting a much smaller threat to global biodiversity than almost any other aspect of modern civilization.
His big plan (SPOILER ALERT) is literally just conserving half of the earth's landmass for wildlife, and only the last chapter really addresses the logistics of that "half-earth solution" at all. And by addresses, I mean he simply suggests that better computers and biotechnology, and educating women so they don't have as many children, will magically make everything ok. Meanwhile, his contention that all we need to do to ensure people can enjoy all that preserved space is have "a thousand of so high definition cameras" to broadcast wilderness to our homes is just laughable.
Yes, the biosphere is clearly under imminent threat, and there are a lot of things all of us can do to help. Purchasing (and reading) this book are not among them.
One of his most profound quotable quotes is right up front in the Prologue: “To strive against odds on behalf of all of life would be humanity at its most noble.” Sadly, his constant and accurate warnings about how destroying Earth’s biological diversity will eventually also destroy humanities ability to survive are being ignored. This book should be included in a time capsule that should only be opened during the “end days” of human existence. It will serve as the ultimate, I told you so.
If there were a 25-star book rating, I would give Half-Earth a solid twenty-five stars.
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Je le conseille vraiment.