A smoothly told, plausible 360-degree scan of the evolutionary horizon, from the deep past into the far future.
In order to take a stab at what changes we may expect for the next 500 million years, this playful examination of various evolutionary scenarios first looks back to what we already know about the evolution of life on Earth, concentrating on major observable trends. Ward (The End of Evolution, 1994, etc.) zeros in on extinctions and survivors: What survived the great Permian and Cretaceous extinctions? Are we in the process of a great extinction at the moment, and if so, what is its nature? Will humans inexorably be another species lost to change? Ward thinks not. We are too canny and cantankerous a species to crash and burn, he argues. More important, we have learned to manipulate some of the forces of evolution. It is not a question of whether there will be a human presence in the distant future—and by distant Ward is talking about the time when we have to contend with a dying sun. Rather, what will the “further domesticated vassals of humanity” be like, especially under the difficult climactic, epidemiological, and technological circumstances we will be providing? Will Earth be a planet of weeds? And will the animals that survive be those we think of as equivalents of weeds: flies, rats, fleas, ticks, starlings? Yes, affirms Ward, who enjoys a waggish sense of humor, for they are survivors like us. As the landscape is further fragmented and literally consumed, speciation will slow to a crawl; Earthlings will be a small and rank company. Meanwhile, for simple reasons of biology, humans won’t be getting any smarter, but behavioral problems like depression, addiction, impulsive, compulsive, and cognitive disorders will be setting up shop in many more households.
Then again, maybe not. Ward paints an intriguing picture, but it’s still only one possible roll of the evolutionary dice.