Another dispatch from the Anthropocene, the geological age in which humans dominate at the expense of all other lifeforms.
Humankind, writes astrobiologist Grinspoon (Lonely Planets: The Natural Philosophy of Alien Life, 2003, etc.), has been busily making a “new planet” for decades. “We didn’t ask for this,” he avers, though of course we did in our demand for inexpensive, mass-produced goods, cheap gas, and climate-controlled comfort. Now, he writes, the task is to accept that we live in a new world and get good at surviving it: “our obligation now is to move beyond just lamenting the job we’ve done as reluctant, incompetent planet-shapers. We have to face the fact that we’ve become a planetary force, and figure out how to be a better one.” That’s not as stirring as the old whole-earth mantra, "We are as gods and might as well get good at it,” but it’ll do. Grinspoon examines some of what might come next as we leverage knowledge, technology, and other artifacts of our big brains to think our way out of some of the mess—geoengineering, for example, with a checklist that includes “planting lots of trees,” as well as “ocean fertilization, algae farms, genetic engineering, and artificial photosynthesis.” More than that, there’s the business of getting machines to do our thinking for us, in the hope that Asimov’s rules of robotics hold true and the smart machines don’t decide that the world is better off without us. If not machine intelligence writ large, then, Grinspoon ventures, “much faster and more connected machines augmenting and acting in concert with much more widely connected humans.” The book often feels like an overblown Wired article, but there’s plenty of food for thought on the boundaries of hopeful futurism and catastrophism, with the author urging the view that apocalypse is not necessarily a foregone conclusion.
A scattershot approach to an admittedly diffuse set of problems but of broad interest and with a refreshing chaser of optimism.