Over the past century, our species has made unprecedented technological innovations with which we have sought to control nature. From river levees to enormous one-crop fields, we continue to try to reshape nature for our purposes - so much so it seems we may be in danger of destroying it.
In A Natural History of the Future, biologist Rob Dunn argues that nothing could be further from the truth: rather than asking whether nature will survive us, better to ask whether we will survive nature. Despite our best - or worst - efforts to control the biological world, life has its own rules, and no amount of human tampering can rewrite them. Elucidating several fundamental laws of ecology, evolution, and biogeography, Dunn shows why life cannot be stopped. We sequester our crops on monocultured fields, only to find new life emerging to attack them. We dump toxic waste only to find microbes to colonize it. And even in the London Tube, we have seen a new species of mosquito emerge to take advantage of an apparently inhospitable habitat. Life will not be repressed by our best-laid plans. Instead, Dunn shows us a vision of the biological future and the challenges the next generations could face.
A Natural History of the Future sets a new standard for understanding the diversity of life and our future as a species.
People must have biological laws "in the front of our mind if we are to make any sense of the years ahead," warns biologist Dunn in this effective exploration of nature in the future (after Never Home Alone). To explain the probable impacts that a warming planet will have on life, Dunn focuses on such laws of nature as natural selection, the species-area law (which "allows us to predict where and when species will go extinct"), and the law of the niche, which governs where species can successfully live. He also explains "law-like biases" that people have about the natural world, such as anthropocentrism, which gives people a "false impression of the world." Life, Dunn argues, will continue, though it will likely be dramatically different from its current form, and humanity's future is far from secure, as rising temperatures will lead to increases in violence, decreases in gross domestic product, and far fewer places suited to human survival. Additionally, he posits, unless significant changes are made, within six decades 3.5 billion people will be living in environments unable to support human life. Dunn's pessimism is offset by his belief that people can help mitigate the effects of climate change by valuing "the rest of life" outside humanity, as well as heeding the lessons that other life has to teach. Thoughtful and accessible, this deserves a wide readership.