Brenda Cooper

Reading Recommendation: Half-Earth: Our Planet’s Fight for Life

E. O. Wilson’s Half Earth: Our Planet’s Fight for Life is one of the best books I’ve read on the future of Earth.

He states the problem clearly….after beginning with an apt description of what we (mankind) are like and then stating that we have little time to spend on the wrong trajectory, he says:

“Meanwhile, we thrash about, appallingly led, with no particular goal in mind than economic growth, unfettered consumption, good health, and personal happiness. The impact on the rest of the biosphere is everywhere negative, the environment becoming unstable and less pleasant, our long-term future less certain.”

Yet even though Wilson pulls no punches throughout the book (which is frightening on many levels), he is hopeful. He sets a huge goal. He means exactly what is in the title. Set aside half of Earth (landmass) for biodiversity. Leave it alone. Let it recover and grow. This is the moonshot solution for biodiversity.

It’s not impossible.

Unlike many authors with roots in the environmental wHalf Earth Coverorld, Wilson embraces technology and progress. He sees innovation as enhancing our ability to save the world. In short, in the future, we will know more about the other beings inhabiting the biosphere beside us, we will be able to monitor and understand them better, and we will have tools to build an economy that is not based heavily on the destruction of natural resources. He clearly understands the connected future we are moving into and the positives and challenges of the increasing rate of change. In chapter 16, he writes:

“The collective human mind, hyperconnected and digitized, will flow through the entirely of the life we have inherited far more quickly than was possible before. We will then understand the full meaning of extinction, and we will come to regret deeply every species humanity will have carelessly thrown away.”

In many ways, this is a futurist’s book about the ongoing loss of biodiversity. That doesn’t mean we need to (or can!) wait for the future before we act. Rather, we must do more of the conservation we are already doing. Much more.

We also need to spend a lot more time and resources on practical field science – I did not for example, realize how many species we haven’t even discovered yet (there is a great case made for this in the book).  I felt like I learned something, which is a reader cookie for me if I’m going to spend hours on a science book.  Note that it pairs well with The Sixth Extinction, which I read and recommended already, but which I intend to re-read this month.

I highly recommend that everyone read Half-Earth: Our Planet’s Fight for Life. It is readable – Wilson wrote this book for all of us to understand. His style is accessible and conversational.

Even if you think you understand the problem, and the solutions, the book should be owned by us all for the beautiful descriptions of the best places in the world that fill the center of book, in chapter 15. It reads like poetry. I listened to parts of it three times (chapter 15 and the last few chapters).  Yes, it’s a research book for my current novel, and I’m getting to use it as part of my MFA, but more importantly, it’s a very good book.