Inheritors of the Earth

How Nature Is Thriving in an Age of Extinction

[Amazon Link]

Recommended by Ronald Bailey in Reason's 2017 Gift Guide, and received from Boston College by the crack Interlibrary Loan team at the University Near Here.

The author, Chris D. Thomas, is a professor of conservation biology at the University of York over there in the United Kingdom. His thesis is refreshingly contrarian: the planet is not (or at least need not be) hurtling toward human-caused ecological doom. Yes, there are problems, but too many self-styled environmentalists have a static way-things-should-be vision based less in science than in sentiment.

Overall, his story views the past and likely future effects of humanity on the biological landscape. Our history is (of course) carnage-filled: ancient humans, the non-gathering hunting components anyway, exterminated a lot of large-mammal species worldwide in a relative eyeblink.

Extinctions are regrettable, of course, and should be (in our modern age) prevented when and where feasible. But they're also natural; implicitly (and sometimes explicitly) failing to view humans as part of nature is an ongoing misperception. Thomas points out that extinctions nearly always happen in a dynamic that increases overall biodiversity, making the resulting system more robust and resilient.

Thomas, therefore, is not to be found on the bandwagon against "invasive species". (You want an example of an invasive species, bunkie? Unless you live in a small region of East Africa, go to the bathroom and look in the mirror.) The invasive-species doomsayers have a static vision of "the way things should be", when actual nature is amazingly dynamic.

Thomas strikes me as the kind of guy you could plop down in the middle of a New Hampshire forest, and he would start rattling off the dozens of species present, where they came from, when they arrived, what's likely in store for them over the coming decades and centuries. He has an engaging and accessible style ("for a Brit"), not averse to being genuinely funny in spots.