A Natural History of the Future by Rob Dunn

5 out of 5 stars

A copy of this was provided free of charge from the publisher in return for an honest review.

We have accumulated the knowledge and power to be able to shape the very surface of this planet to our will. We have changed almost every square kilometre of the land surface either directly or affected it in some way or another.

We are masters of this planet, or at least we like to think we are.

Our rate of expansion has been immense. Around 50,000 years ago there were a few thousand humans and now we are about to go past eight billion. We have had such an effect on the planet that we have created our own epoch, the Anthropocene. We make up just over 30% of the entire biomass of the planet and consume its resources at ever rapid rates.

The way that things are changing with the havoc that we are causing means that lots of species are suffering from declines in numbers, sometimes drastically and in some cases going extinct. As these life forms disappear, that has a huge knock-on effect as everything is interconnected. And as it turns out not even we human beings can adapt at the pace that we are changing the planet. Places that we have once been able to live in are now becoming uninhabitable and there is the worrying rise of variability; where there is not a steady change in a particular direction, rather there are extremes that are much more difficult to cope with.

Using various examples he explains how our enormous footprint on the planet is affecting everything in ways that we cannot foresee, how species are being isolated and are changing and also how the simple use of a wildlife corridor can have great benefits. As humanity has moved around the planet we have taken our crops with us and adapted them to the new locale so we have brought with us numerous pathogens. Most of them have been harmless until now, but Dunn gives several examples where this is changing.

He explores how our current monoculture of food production may cause problems, what we need is diversity now to be able to cope with the dramatic changes that are starting to happen. The lack of diversity in the species will also cause problems and he goes into some detail on our dependence on the microbes that live in and on us and mostly keep us healthy and how a simple medical procedure is having an effect of the way that these are passed on between mother and child.

Even though this could be pretty gloomy at times and occasionally terrifying, I thought that it was excellent overall. Dunn knows his subject well and more importantly manages to get across all the salient points in a clear and concise manner. I felt that I was learning something on almost every page. He doesn’t go into much detail on how we can fix these problems, though to be fair that is an entire book in its own right. Rather he wants to present the problems and hope that we can work together to solve them. Essential reading I think.

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  1. Liz Dexter

    FIVE OUT OF FIVE?! Wow, this must be essential! Too gloomy and upsetting or just enough hope?

    • Paul

      It is Liz, though it might be a bit grim!

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