Half-Earth: Our Planet’s Fight for Life by Edward O. Wilson
Human activity is causing extinctions and rapid change to ecosystems. We all knew that already. What may be a revelation to some readers is how little we truly understand about what it is we are doing or what the results might be. We can only estimate the number of species we have driven to extinction because we still don’t have anywhere near a complete account of all those that exist today. We can be reasonably certain that this list will be shorter tomorrow, however.
Our understanding of how all these species interact with each other and their environment is also incomplete. Local ecosystems and the larger biosphere seem intricately balanced, so sudden changes can have unforeseen and catastrophic consequences. One of the species we drive to extinction may be our own.
In this book, Wilson argues that our knowledge must be expanded. But at the rate species are disappearing, we won’t be able to accomplish anything approaching a complete understanding before many species and their habitats disappear. He suggests that human development be restricted over 50% of the planet, specifically from those places that still can be returned to a state in which they existed prior to human encroachment.
My first reaction to this was, “Yeah, great idea, but that ain’t going to happen.” Wilson, however, suggests that it might. With just a bit of regulation, and with technological, economic, and cultural changes already underway, humanity is likely to become less wasteful. We will engineer and grow more nutritious crops in vertical farms, which require less land to feed a population that, he says, should stabilize at around 10 billion people. We will use fewer natural resources and use them more efficiently. We will draw our energy from renewable sources….
Well, maybe. Our species is capable of cooperation, reason, and foresight. Sadly, our capacity for aggressive competition, greed, and blind stupidity often gets in the way. We’ll see which prevails in the coming years.