The author and his team use data-mining and statistical analysis (pretty dull reading, to be honest) to show patterns in species diversification and extinction. In stable environments without outside interruptions, fairly normal, bell-shaped curves emerge. Species (Families, actually) expand and decline over time. There isn’t much in this book to explain how, just that it seems to be a consistent pattern. And then there are mass extinction events caused by outside forces like those that occurred 245 and 86 million years ago. These break that common pattern. From statistical analysis, the current pattern of extinction shows we are currently experiencing such an event, presumably caused by human disruption of Earth’s climate and environments.
From here, Boulter seems to argue that this means humanity is doomed. This seems quite a leap, especially in that he suggests no proximate cause. Basically it’s something like, “We’ve messed up our climate. We’re doomed.” Clearly, Boulter is a pessimist when it comes to humanity. This comes through in some of his underlying assumptions (like peaceful Neanderthals vs. aggressive modern humans) and in not so subtle turns of phrase, one of which was ‘our selfish burning of fossil fuels’ (Pg 189). Sorry, but ‘selfish’ is the wrong word here. ‘Ignorant’ might work. ‘Poorly considered’ might be better. But my point is that people didn’t really understand the possible environmental impact when they started using fossil fuels. They didn’t see how what they did could effect the entire planet. We know better now, and we’re starting to do something about it. It may be later than it should have been, and maybe we’re a bit slow intellectually, but we can learn and we can alter our behavior. Yeah, we messed up, but we’re still a young species. We’re going to make a few mistakes. But we’ve proven we can learn, adapt, and go on. We’ve done it before. We’ll do it again. Doomed, we may be, but I think we’ve got a few good years left.