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THE END by Marq de Villiers

THE END

Natural Disasters, Manmade Catastrophes, and the Future of Human Survival

By Marq de Villiers

Pub Date: Dec. 1st, 2008
ISBN: 978-0-312-36569-1
Publisher: Dunne/St. Martin's

Veteran travel writer de Villiers (Timbuktu, 2007, etc) explores our planet’s destructive tendencies, and it’s a thriller.

Volcanic eruption, cosmic destruction, earthquake, tidal wave, tornado, hurricane and disease are all analyzed with academic pragmatism and occasional reassurance. However, such niceties fall short in light of the evidence he offers that we could soon face a global catastrophe that would make the December 2004 tsunami look trivial. If we’re living in a relatively rare era between ice ages called an “interglacial period,” which is characteristically marked by a preceding global warming, then our reckless destruction of the environment might make the next 100,000 years or so more uncomfortable, but it’s hardly going to alter the inevitable. Besides, a wayward meteor or SARS might kill us first. De Villiers is not all gloom and doom. Experts since the dawn of communication have been predicting apocalypse, he writes, but in fact disasters of extinction are unpredictable and rare. Population may well be the more pressing issue. If humans, particularly in developing nations, continue to reproduce at the current pace, we will simply run out of space and resources, while exponentially improving the conditions for disaster. Overforestation worsens flooding; overcrowding breeds disease; overdevelopment near tectonic shift sites invites calamity by earthquake. In modern times, places like Tokyo, Sumbara and Yellowstone are recognized as vulnerable, yet populations choose to play down the risk until calamities like New Orleans’s breached levees force the issue. While it may remain a tenuous argument that human behavior has strengthened natural disasters, it has exacerbated the ensuing devastation—and recent U.S. leadership certainly hasn’t helped the situation. The answer, if there is one, lies in a combination of education, prevention and planning. Innovations such as electric cars and nuclear power, with a hearty dose of sex ed, might make all the difference, de Villiers concludes, but the time to act is now.

Humbling, invigorating analysis.