A field biologist with camera in hand travels around the planet to discover the factors that lead to the survival of balanced ecosystems.
Wills (Emeritus Biological Sciences/Univ. of California, San Diego; The Darwinian Tourist: Viewing the World Through Evolutionary Eyes, 2010, etc.) chronicles visits to sites in California, Guyana, Brazil, the Pacific and southeast Asia, some relatively pristine, some threatened, some recovering nicely from the effects of human damage. He sees the balancing of pressures on thriving ecosystems as a “green equilibrium.” These pressures are constantly changing, and the greater the genetic and ecological diversity within the ecosystem’s population, the greater the likelihood that some members will adapt to the changes and survive. The author argues that human beings not only shape ecosystems, but are shaped by them. Thus, he writes, while we have pushed the green equilibrium out of balance in many places, making them unsustainable and threatening our own existence, the evolution of our species has given us “pretty good brains,” with the ability to understand the problems we have created and the power to solve them. Wills is both a skilled storyteller and a talented photographer, and he provides an eye-opening account of the long history of human migrations out of Africa and into Europe, Asia, Australia and the Americas. He gives readers the big picture as well as the striking small details that stay in the mind, and he ends on a high note: We can quantify our impact on the environment; what is beyond quantifying is the sheer joy of making it better.
For general readers, an essentially optimistic view of earth’s ecological problems and the role humans have played in creating them and can play in solving them.