The noted naturalist and Pulitzer Prize–winning author again waxes eloquent on behalf of the biosphere.
In this final volume of his trilogy, Wilson (The Meaning of Human Existence, 2014, etc.) opens with a compelling proposal on how to slow current species extinction rates: set aside half of the planet (noncontiguously) as wilderness preserves free from human encroachment, a measure that the author claims would stabilize more than 80 percent of species. After all, it’s the spread of humanity that has accelerated rates of extinction by 1,000 times, and it is human activity that is the driving force of the mass extinction currently underway, a threat to biodiversity equal to the destructive power of the Chicxulub asteroid strike that wiped out 70 percent of species 65 million years ago. Wilson, the world’s leading myrmecologist, who has described roughly 450 new ant species during his career, predicts that, under current conditions, one-quarter to one-half of currently surviving species will survive to the end of the century. If the rhetoric sounds familiar, it’s because this is ground that Wilson has covered extensively in previous publications. In this latest version, the author speaks against a growing movement of Anthropocene extremists who hold that biodiversity should be judged according to its usefulness to humanity. Countering that it is humanity that now needs to act in the interests of the biosphere, Wilson delves into the plights of specific species, including rhinos, frogs, monarch butterflies, woodpeckers, and beetles. Though unquestionably well-versed in the nature of the problem, the author is fuzzy on the solution. In the final pages, he skirts the issue of how we’re to set aside 50 percent of the planet, instead making speculations about technological innovation and intensive economic growth intrinsically altering the behavior of individuals and changing the world.
Not so much a potent plan as another informed plea for humanity to act as stewards of the biosphere rather than owners.