A Canadian writer cries out against the “dark and gathering sameness” that is destroying species, languages and cultures throughout the world.
An author (The Last Great Sea, not reviewed) and former Globe and Mail reporter, Glavin explores extinction in its broadest sense: We are losing not only species (one every ten minutes), but also human diversity (one language every two weeks), and the losses are very much related. “The forests go, the cultures go,” he writes in this deeply personal book. In each chapter, he explores a different aspect of our losses; what, if anything, is being done to halt them; and why our lives are diminished in ways that go far beyond harm to the environment. Our very humanity is tied up with the diversity around us, says Glavin. Yet modern ways prompt loss everywhere. Indeed, biologists use the term “living dead” to describe the rare and vanishing. In Costa Rica, where the scarlet Macau vanished and was then “hand reared” back into existence, Glavin finds hope. But more often, he finds societal changes leading to loss: In Russia’s Far Eastern rivers, fish stocks were plundered after the collapse of order following the fall of the Soviet Union; in Norway, the cultural and economic survival of distinct peoples is threatened as environmentalists seek to halt traditional and sustainable harvesting of minke whales. Often, local lives are shaped by decisions made elsewhere, he finds. The rise of global-market economies makes it no longer tenable to maintain old livestock breeds, domesticated plant varieties and even languages. Consider: In 1900, more than 7,000 commercial varieties of apples were cultivated in North America. By 2000, nearly all were gone. The US crop today consists of Red Delicious, Golden Delicious and Granny Smith—and not much more. Traveling from Ireland to Singapore to the Himalayas, the author relays alarming stories of loss, giving a vivid sense of how extinction affects our lives.
Sad and sobering.