A natural history of the future What the laws of biology tell us about the destiny of the human species

Rob R. Dunn

Book - 2021

"Biologist Rob Dun grew up listening to stories of the Mississippi River, how it flooded his grandfather's town of Greenville, swallowing up the townsfolk and leaving behind a muddy wasteland. Years later, Dunn discovered the cause of the great deluge. The Army Corps of Engineers had tried to straighten the river, cutting off its meandering oxbows in order to allow for the easy passage of boats. They had tried to bend nature to their own design. But as Dunn argues in A Natural History ...of the Future, nature has its own set of rules, and no amount of human tampering can rewrite them. We might think that we can meet the challenges of global warming by manipulating nature with our technology--and even that we can live without non-human life--but as Dunn shows, we can't. We not only rely on the natural world for food, but we need its microbes to carry out the most basic bodily functions. The rules of life, Dunn explains, are all-encompassing, governing where species are likely to abound, the inevitable arms race between humans and our predators, and even our own ignorance about nature. Collectively, these rules shed light on the future of life and our destiny, revealing where our visions for cities, roads, schools, and society at large run afoul of nature's inescapable dictates. The future we have been planning is one in which we try to hold back life. As Dunn argues, we cannot: Surviving or reversing climate change and other ecological catastrophes isn't just a question of reducing our carbon footprint with clean technologies or protecting ecosystems. It's not about "fixes." It's about working with nature, and so learning to live by the rules that entails. Drawing on topics as diverse as how microbes acquired during birth affect our health and what species might inhabit the crust of the Earth, Dunn reveals the surprising complexities of the natural world and the interconnectedness of life itself. Along the way, he offers plenty of simple lessons in how we can, individually and collectively, through environmental policy, make the lifestyle changes necessary to ensure our own species' survival. At once hopeful and practical, A Natural History of the Future offers a vision of our future in which humans and the natural world coexist symbiotically"--

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Subjects
Published
New York : Basic Books 2021.
Edition
First edition
Language
English
Physical Description
vii, 306 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm
Bibliography
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN
9781541619302
1541619307
Main Author
Rob R. Dunn (author)
  • Blindsided by life
  • Urban Galapagos
  • The inadvertent ark
  • The last escape
  • The human niche
  • The intelligence of crows
  • Embracing diversity to balance risk
  • The law of dependence
  • Humpty Dumpty and the robotic sex bees
  • Living with evolution
  • Not the end of nature
  • Conclusion: No longer among the living.
Review by Booklist Reviews

On average, animal species survive on earth for about two-million years. But a combination of climate change, environmental meddling, and human hubris will assuredly slash the longevity of many. Biologist Dunn declares, We are reshaping nature at unprecedented scales. This involves the widespread use of pesticides, herbicides, and antibiotics and the destruction of some species, especially insects and birds. Expect nature to push back, perhaps in unimaginable ways. In forecasting future ecology, Dunn enlists biological laws to predict what likely lies ahead for life on our planet, including us. Among these principles are natural selection, ecological niche (every species has its place), and cognitive buffering (big-brained animals can locate food and moderate harsh climate effects). Dunn engagingly explains biogeography, inventive intelligence, and speedy evolutionary reaction to changing conditions. Many kinds of creatures are spotlighted in his discussion, including chemical-eating crust microbes, clever crows, and disease-carrying mosquitoes. One of two roads will lead to an increasingly warm and worrisome future. The better path requires conserving or at least mimicking natural ecosystems. The other will inevitably lead to mass extinction. Copyright 2021 Booklist Reviews.

Review by PW Annex Reviews

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. (Nov.) Copyright 2021 Publishers Weekly Annex.

Review by Publisher Summary 1

"Biologist Rob Dun grew up listening to stories of the Mississippi River, how it flooded his grandfather's town of Greenville, swallowing up the townsfolk and leaving behind a muddy wasteland. Years later, Dunn discovered the cause of the great deluge. The Army Corps of Engineers had tried to straighten the river, cutting off its meandering oxbows in order to allow for the easy passage of boats. They had tried to bend nature to their own design. But as Dunn argues in A Natural History of the Future, nature has its own set of rules, and no amount of human tampering can rewrite them. We might think that we can meet the challenges of global warming by manipulating nature with our technology--and even that we can live without non-human life--but as Dunn shows, we can't. We not only rely on the natural world for food, but we need its microbes to carry out the most basic bodily functions. The rules of life, Dunn explains, are all-encompassing, governing where species are likely to abound, the inevitable arms race between humans and our predators, and even our own ignorance about nature. Collectively, these rules shed light on the future of life and our destiny, revealing where our visions for cities, roads, schools, and society at large run afoul of nature's inescapable dictates. The future we have been planning is one in which we try to hold back life. As Dunn argues, we cannot: Surviving or reversing climate change and other ecological catastrophes isn't just a question of reducing our carbon footprint with clean technologies or protecting ecosystems. It's not about "fixes." It's about working with nature, and so learning to live by the rules that entails. Drawing on topics as diverse as how microbes acquired during birth affect our health and what species might inhabit the crust of the Earth, Dunn reveals the surprising complexities of the natural world and the interconnectedness of life itself. Along the way, he offers plenty of simple lessons in how we can, individually and collectively, through environmental policy, make the lifestyle changes necessary to ensure our own species' survival. At once hopeful and practical, A Natural History of the Future offers a vision of our future in which humans and the natural world coexist symbiotically"--

Review by Publisher Summary 2

An ecologist and author argues that humans are not overlords who can bend the planet to our will, but rather are organisms that are at its mercy, exemplified through antibiotic resistance and the power of natural selection to create biodiversity.

Review by Publisher Summary 3

"An arresting vision of this relentless natural world"—New York Times Book ReviewA leading ecologist argues that if humankind is to survive on a fragile planet, we must understand and obey its iron lawsOur species has amassed unprecedented knowledge of nature, which we have tried to use to seize control of life and bend the planet to our will. In?A Natural History of the Future, biologist Rob Dunn argues that such efforts are futile. We may see ourselves as life’s overlords, but we are instead at its mercy. In the evolution of antibiotic resistance, the power of natural selection to create biodiversity, and even the surprising life of the London Underground, Dunn finds laws of life that no human activity can annul. When we create artificial islands of crops, dump toxic waste, or build communities, we provide new materials for old laws to shape. Life’s future flourishing is not in question. Ours is.As ambitious as Edward Wilson’s Sociobiology and as timely as Elizabeth Kolbert’s The Sixth Extinction, A Natural History of the Future sets a new standard for understanding the diversity and destiny of life itself.