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A different view of the natural world and man's place in it.
on 11 August 2017
This book flies in the face of conventional wisdom regarding general issues in conservation and for that reason it may not be well received by the author’s academic colleagues, let alone those countless individuals who work and campaign on behalf of some creature or plant life that appears to be doomed. This is not to say that the author denies the existence of global warming, or that numerous species of both animal and plant life are rapidly becoming extinct due to man’s activities, such as intensive farming and global warming. But his main thesis is that there is nothing new in this. The Earth’s climate has changed dramatically in the past and there have been major extinctions, at least five of them, long before man arrived on the scene. The presence of mankind is just one more addition to the natural process and should be accepted as such.
Once this is understood, one has to question the wisdom of trying to suppress ‘alien’ species that have ‘invaded’ new areas of the planet from their former habitat, often from necessity because of the actions of man, including those above, but also by providing transport via global trade. It is illogical, especially when the ‘native’ species are very often themselves ‘aliens’ that simply arrived in earlier migrations that usually nothing to do with the presence of humans. The author looks at the positive aspects of this: the fact that because species have been forced to spread, their diversity has increased hugely in just about every country in the world, and new species are evolving all the time.
Nevertheless the author is not complacent about the present situation and is very much in favour of trying to preserve as many of our existing species of both plants and animals as possible, if only for the practical reason that we cannot predict their importance for humans in the future. An interesting example he gives is that of a tree in California that clings to life rather precariously, but thrived so well when transported to Australia that it has become the mainstay of the southern hemisphere’s substantial forestry industry. Just as a species of plant or animal vibrant now may rapidly become extinct, who knows what rare species now may become a vital resource in the future.
While I enjoyed this refreshingly different view of the natural world, it was not an easy read. The author obviously has a huge and wide knowledge of world plants and animals and uses this to back up his statements, but the effect is often overwhelming and the point could have been got across with fewer examples. A minor criticism is the poor quality black and white illustrations, when the book cried out for colour photos. Nevertheless, this is a thought-proving book, and even if you do not agree with its thesis, you will have been forced to reconsider your own opinions.