A quick and modestly quirky tour of humanitys dance of death
THE FATE OF THE SPECIES: Why the Human Race May Cause Its Own Extinction and How We Can Stop It. By Fred Guterl. Bloomsbury. 209 pages, $25.
Fred Guterl, executive editor of Newsweek with 10 years’ experience covering science, technology and international affairs, has written a lively popular account of the various modalities in which humans continue to invade their own space with hitherto unheard-of inventions.
“The Fate of the Species” is a quick and modestly quirky tour of humanity’s dance of death with climate change, bio-engineering, overpopulation, ecosystem disruption (think corporate manipulation of seed), nanotechnology and synthetic biology.
In Guterl’s view, all of the above (and more) create a clear and present danger that humans are playing with fire and may get burned.
Of course, we already have been burned, though it seems hard to fathom that at current rates the human species may go extinct in the near term.
Most mammalian species in the geologic history have hung on for a couple of million years, while modern humans have been around for barely 200,000. Nevertheless, as Guterl explains, Earth history reveals five mass extinction events in its past, including the devastating Permian extinction in which about 95 percent of all species disappeared, leaving a clear field for the ensuing Age of Reptiles in the Mesozoic. Many, if not most, ecologists believe we are in the midst of a sixth mass extinction caused by human activity.
Guterl explores current dangers like super-bugs, microbes that are rapidly becoming immune to antibiotics, or genetically engineered species that might be unleashed by terrorists on civilian populations.
These deadly plagues also threaten our fragile “mass monoculture” agriculture, dependent as it is on huge amounts of water, chemical fertilizer and genetically engineered seed. What if the weather gets hotter and all this fence-row-to-fence-row corn, wheat and soy dies off? Whose famine will come next and on what continent?
“The Fate of the Species” is a quick, fascinating read, built for discriminating laymen who want to learn about state-of-the-art adventures in biology, climatology and biochemistry and how they threaten our existence.
Reviewer Gaylord Dold, a writer for The Wichita Eagle