Kirkus Reviews QR Code


Adaptation in the Age of Warming

by Amy Seidl

Pub Date: June 7th, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-8070-8598-1
Publisher: Beacon

Unlike many ecologists who fear that global warning will lead to a planetary catastrophe, Seidl (Research Scholar/Middlebury Coll.; Early Spring: An Ecologist and Her Children Wake to a Warming World, 2009) sees it as a spur to positive adaptation.

Taking her lead from Jean-Baptiste Lamarck and Charles Darwin, she writes that both men were correct: “Now in an era of warming, where organisms experience suddenly changing environments, we see…how seminal adaptation is to the evolution of life.” Seidl cites coral reefs, “the poster child for extinction in oceanic environments,” as a case in point—marine ecologists have discovered resilient reefs off the coast of Africa which appear to be successfully recovering. Exploring the effects of climate change already apparent in the behavior of birds, fish, insects and plant life, the author looks for analogous proactive transformations in human society and finds hope in the resilience of nature and in human ingenuity when it is spurred by challenge. One of the areas of cutting-edge research today is the study of the interplay between built-in genetic plasticity, which allows a species to acclimatize to novel conditions, and actual genetic mutations. This has practical relevance for ongoing research devoted to developing new seeds, and scientists are currently examining the wild varieties of 300 crops that have sustained human life throughout our existence. Seidl gives examples from her Vermont community and her family's efforts—growing their own vegetables and buying local produce, using solar panels supplemented by a wind-driven generator to power their home—to illustrate how, at the grassroots level, a transition to a green society is emerging.

Seidl's glass-half-full optimism is a welcome change from the many fatalistic prognostications of the future.