Scatter, Adapt, and Remember: How Humans Will Survive a Mass Extinction

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Which -- again, just like humans. But here's what humans have that sharks and algae don't. We are able to learn from the past, including the deep geological past of our planet. For example, scientists now know that most of the previous mass extinctions on the planet were caused by climate change.

Scatter, Adapt, and Remember: How Humans Will Survive a Mass Extinction (Paperback)

Volcanoes or asteroids ripped the planet apart, sure. But the real damage came from the way these events loaded the atmosphere with carbon and other poisons. Sometimes it caused an ice age. Other times, the oceans went acidic and the climate got so hot that lots of species died out. Unlike sharks, humans are in a position to understand the dangers that await us.

And, even better, we can do something about it.


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Already many governments are funding programs to develop alternative fuels that don't load the environment with carbon. But humans are also polluting the environment in unprecedented ways. We're driving many life forms extinct. Plus, we're getting more efficient at killing each other every year. Do we really deserve to survive? It's easy to get judgey when we're talking about the future of humanity.

People who hate the death penalty will cheerfully say that the entire species should be consigned to extinction because we are such bloodthirsty, carbon-barfing creeps. But if you think that humans are the first creatures to destroy the planet's atmosphere, you are suffering from a species-level delusion of grandeur. Newitz remains stubbornly hopeful. Home About Contacts and Submissions.

Comments Latest Popular. Moving Announcement! December 22nd, Random Posts. Being self sufficient should never become a lost art. This section also discusses the underground cities in Turkey, which is what captured my interest in this book in the first place; Fascinating stuff. And part five is about all the diverse ways we can save our planet and ourselves from mass extinctions. The author did an excellent job discussing scientific and engineering subject so that anybody can understand. View 2 comments.

May 13, Brian Clegg rated it really liked it. So I thought that I would find this book, with its subtitle How Humans will survive a mass extinction somewhat unappetising — but I was wrong. The Earth has gone through a number of mass extinctions, where a fair percentage of living species have been killed off.

Scatter, Adapt, and Remember: How Humans Will Survive a Mass Extinction by Annalee Newitz

The most famous is the one that mostly took out the dinosaurs around 65 million years ago, but there have been others and, Annalee Newitz points out, if we want to see the long term survival of the human race, we need to be able to make it through one, should it turn up, whether caused by climate change, pandemics, a supervolcano or an asteroid. What Newitz does surprisingly well here is weave together what are really around four different books, all in one compact volume. We start of with palaeontology, looking back over previous mass extinctions, getting a better understanding of what happened, what survived and how it survived.

From here we segue into human pre-history and history, drawing lessons from the plight of the Neanderthal and the impact of plague and other pandemics. The segue here is into the shakiest part of the book where it dabbles in futurology. This broadly divides into relatively short term survival approaches and longer term diaspora into space.


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One of the reasons this is the weakest part of the book is that Newitz offers us castle-in-the-air solutions with no obvious way and certainly no hint of how to get there from where we are now. I was, though, pleasantly surprised by this book, particularly the first half. This is genuinely interesting and thought provoking, up to and including the Octavia Butler section. And though it goes a little downhill after that, it never fails to be readable and interesting — just a little far fetched.

So congratulations to Newitz on taking the rare long view — and in having optimism for our ability to survive what the universe can throw at us. Review first published on www. Apr 16, First Second Books added it Shelves: gina. All the most fun parts of mass extinctions throughout history — dinosaurs!

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Jul 05, Jaylia3 rated it it was amazing. Love post-apocalypse fiction? After talking with scientists, engineers, philosophers, historians, technicians and--as she puts it--sundry brainiacs, Annalee Newitz has a few suggestions. Since I inexplicably love novels, movies, and TV shows set in post Love post-apocalypse fiction?

Since I inexplicably love novels, movies, and TV shows set in post-apocalyptic times I found her book utterly fascinating. Scatter, Adapt, and Remember covers a vast territory of time, from the earliest days of life on Earth until a million years in the future. The first section, A History of Mass Extinctions, describes times when life was almost snuffed out completely, only to reemerge adapted for new conditions.

Oxygen was poisonous to the life forms of early Earth and most of them died off when it began to fill the atmosphere, but the change set our planet on a trajectory that gave rise to the world as we know it. Lessons From Survivors draws its conclusions from many different life forms that have survived mass death, not just humans.

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Sections titled How to Build a Death-Proof City, which suggests possibilities like underground communities, urban agriculture, and bioplastic buildings, and The Million Year View, which has space colonies among its ideas, conclude the book. Jul 31, Gendou rated it it was ok Shelves: non-fiction , futurism. This book reads a little bit like a High School essay. It has lose structure and less of a thesis than a message of hope in the face of calamity, written in an immature, less-than-serious tone.

Annalee Newitz makes mass extinction is fun! Topics range from mass extinctions of the past, to the present anthropogenic man-made mass extinction, to the future of humanity on other worlds. Sometimes, the author's fun-girl tone was inappropriate, like making jokes about the end of human life. Other times This book reads a little bit like a High School essay.

This vague, magical speculation about a science-fiction future clashes with the science-fact history, and left me feeling uncomfortable. Fantasies like building living cities using synthetic biology, Geo-engineering to fight climate change, and adapting humans for life in space are far less interesting to me than, say, the realistic goal of detecting and diverting near-Earth asteroids. But even the chapter on near-Earth asteroids left most of the science out. There is a Sagan-like theme of mankind going into space which is also, sadly lacking.

She mentions space elevators but doesn't go into any detail. I really was hoping to read more about that. Also, the cover of the book seems to show a house on the moon.

Where was the chapter about moon colonies?! Come on, Annalee! If you want to listen to a girl with sexy hair ramble about what she read in science news lately, read this book. If you're looking for real science, look elsewhere. May 06, John rated it really liked it Shelves: history , general-nonfiction , science.

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How Humanity Will Survive Mass Extinctions and Other Calamities Humanity has the potential of surviving calamities as dire as the next mass extinction. Hers is a lively, rather engaging, look at mass extinctions and other notorious agents of mass mortality like famines and di How Humanity Will Survive Mass Extinctions and Other Calamities Humanity has the potential of surviving calamities as dire as the next mass extinction.

However, it is an examination that some may view as superficial with regards to its depth, in stark comparison with, for example, some of the best science writing from the likes of David Quammen, Carl Zimmer, and invertebrate paleobiologist Peter Ward — who was interviewed for this book — that delves deeper into the science behind disease pandemics and mass extinctions.

As much as I enjoyed reading her chapter devoted to the terminal Ordovician mass extinction "Two Ways To Go Extinct" , as a former invertebrate paleobiologist I wish she had mentioned the Great Ordovician Diversification Event that occurred for much of the Ordovician, yielding substantial - and far more rapid - increases in metazoan multicellular animal taxonomic diversity on a scale far greater than the so-called "Cambrian Explosion"; a discussion of this might have emphasized why the terminal Ordovician mass extinction should be viewed, along with the terminal Permian mass extinction, as the worst in the history of life on Earth.

Moreover, there is no substantial discussion on how the biosphere recovers from mass extinctions as devastating as the terminal Ordovician, terminal Permian and terminal Cretaceous extinctions - which would have been appropriate for this book - especially when paleobiologists and ecologists have been statistically analyzing the fossil record in studying the timing and severity of mass extinctions and the recovery times for restoring Earth's biodiversity to pre-mass extinction levels for decades.

Nor do I concur with her less than favorable assessment of the "Out of Africa" theory for spreading modern Homo sapiens across the globe in favor of the earlier multiregional theory suggesting that Homo sapiens evolved separately - but simultaneously - in Europe and Asia in the chapter "Meeting the Neanderthals", when mitochondrial DNA evidence still strongly supports the "Out of Africa" theory, according to what I have seen at websites like those of the American Museum of Natural History and the University of California, Berkeley's "Understanding Evolution".

Relying solely on anthropologist and science blogger John Hawks' genetic evidence in support of the multiregional theory should not have led Newitz to conclude that it may be a better scientific alternative than the currently accepted "Out of Africa" theory. These are not the only instances where Newitz strays from the high journalistic standards practiced consistently by the likes of Natalie Angier, Cornelia Dean, David Quammen, Jonathan Weiner and Carl Zimmer, but they are among the most notable insofar that she tends to voice her own opinions instead of relying upon the words of scientists or in failing to emphasize scientific consensus in support of both the asteroid impact theory for the terminal Cretaceous mass extinction and the "Out of Africa" theory for Homo sapiens' dispersal around the globe.

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Nor does the author acknowledge the overwhelming paleobiological and molecular genetic data in support of the "Out of Africa" theory accounting for Homo sapiens' dispersal around the globe. IMHO these are two of several glaring defects in this book which reduces its importance as a good work of popular scientific literature devoted to the themes alluded to in its title. Apr 08, Wendy rated it really liked it Shelves: non-fiction.

When U. Instead, her research led her to believe the opposite: that "humanity has a lot more than a fighting chance at making it for another million years. What does humanity's future When U. What does humanity's future look like? You might be surprised: Newitz, who is based in California, thinks it looks like Saskatoon. The Saskatchewan city "has survived despite its hard climate, and people there have found ways to incorporate the latest scientific advances into their agriculture and urban design without overspending," she writes in the introduction to the book's Canadian edition.

Scatter, Adapt and Remember is not a manual; it will not help you duck and cover or stock your survival shelter.

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Rather, Newitz takes a page from Alan Weisman's book, The World Without Us -- which conjured the changes coming to a depopulated world -- and imagines instead how Homo sapiens can survive whatever attempts to depopulate us, be it nuclear war, plague, asteroid, or some other curse we have not imagined or invented. Newitz begins with a review of the history of mass extinctions on Earth -- from the Proterozoic microbes of 2.

The book is at its driest here, a sort of super-condensed Brief History of Everything, with a special focus on dying. By the middle of the book we're considering the lessons previous mass extinctions -- and their survivors -- have taught, the lessons of the book's title: scatter, to escape adversity as best you can; adapt as the world around you changes, and remember: pass on the knowledge of how to survive. It's worth enduring the rather arid history lesson at the beginning to get to Parts 4 and 5, where Newitz is at her most speculative.

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