Source: Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust
Small books can sometimes make big impressions - one such for me was The Theory of Island Biogeography by Robert MacArthur and Edward Wilson (1967). When I first encountered it as an undergrad, the math scared me off. It took a reading of David Quammen's Song of the Dodo to make me want to go back and give it the reading it deserved.
A more recent contribution to this same lineage of ideas that helps us to understand the full impact that we have had on the world is The End of the Wild by Stephen M. Meyer. The End of the Wild has been described as a wake up call. In it, Meyer argues that the race to save biodiversity is over.
“The broad path for biological evolution is now set for the next several million years. And in this sense the extinction crisis – the race to save the composition, structure, and organization of biodiversity as it exists today – is over, and we have lost.”
In a nutshell, Meyer argues that nothing – not national or international laws, global bio-reserves, local sustainability schemes or “wild lands” – will change the course that has been set. That is, the loss of half of the earth’s species by the end of the century and a homogenation of what’s left, comprised of only those species that thrive in human-dominated environments.
Despite this negative outlook, Mayer makes a strong argument for why we need to continue to protect and manage biodiversity. In his view, the end of the wild is not the worst possible outcome. Doing nothing, i.e. benign neglect, would lead to a collapse of biodiversity and the emergence of a human-selected biosphere that might not be human-friendly. The surviving ecosystems would not be merely simplified but impoverished to the point that they could fail to provide the ecosystem services essential to human survival.
Meyer argues for four strategies for addressing this crisis:
- Come to terms with what we have wrought - recognize that the end of the wild is primarily about people and our cultural norms, values, priorities and choices. It is not primarily about the environment.
- Invest in research that will allow us to "apply the cold light of a necropsy" to understanding the collapsing processes of natural selection - Meyer suggests a massive and sustained effort over the next two decades to map the earth's biota.
- Protect the landscape to safeguard evolutionary processes and pathways and preserve ecosystem processes and functions.
- Recognize the need for intensive management of the wild to emulate natural processes that have been weakened or lost.
Meyer's is a bleak but realistic outlook. With a human population that could reach 10 billion within some of our lifetimes, there is no opportunity for us to take the global environment back to where it started. As much as it pains me to admit it, I believe he is right in concluding that restoration and hands on management will be required.
This book is really short (97 small pages) and more of an essay - but a concise and well written essay.