The Fate of the Species by Fred Guterl is a bracing overview of the worst that can happen if humans do not overcome their ecological and Earth-systems illiteracy, writes Caspar Henderson.
The Stoics, a philosophical school of the ancient Greek and Roman world, developed a technique called “the premeditation of evils” which involved deliberately envisaging worst-case scenarios. One benefit of this approach,they argued, is that one replaces limitless panic and fear – which is how humans often respond to seemingly insuperable problems – with a sober analysis of exactly how badly things could go wrong.
Fred Guterl's The Fate of Our Species is precisely such a premeditation of evils and, specifically, monsters of our own creation – the potential disasters consequent upon the ways in which, through ignorance and lack of careful thought, we organize the world in ways that present existential risks. It focusses on six threats to future human existence and thriving on the planet: superviruses, the collapse of biodiversity, climate change, ecosystem degradation, and synthetic biology and other technologies gone awry.
Guterl, the executive editor of Scientific American, is no Luddite or primitivist. “Optimism,” he writes, “is an outlook, a state of mind that is partly reason and emotion, partly a product of personality. I tend toward the techno-optimistic side of the spectrum. I also think optimism is our best weapon.” In his view there's no going back on our reliance on computers and high-tech medicine, agriculture, power generation without causing vast human suffering – unless you want to contemplate reducing the world population by many billions of people. “We have climbed out on a technological limb...We are dependent upon our technology, yet our technology now presents the seeds of our destruction. It's a dilemma. I don't pretend to have a way out. We should start by being aware of the problem.” This brief, highly readable book is an excellent aid in that direction.
The Fate of Our Species: Why the Human Race May Cause its Own Extinction and How We Can Stop It.
-- By Caspar Henderson