“The book is an absorbing read, but not a comfortable one. Readers who were previously unaware of the scope of humanity’s effects on the world…may find themselves shocked by its relentless exposition.”
— The Economist
“For all the angst this book may cause his Green allies, there can be no doubting his seriousness about climate change…This is a clear-eyed, heard-headed assessment of the ecological challenges facing us – and all the more bracing for it…vigorously provocative.”
– London Evening Standard
“The power of Lynas’s voice comes not just from his famously deep research…but also his authority as a campaigner.”
– Sunday Times of London
WASHINGTON (Sept. 15, 2011)—Humans are a powerful species — throughout history, we have found solutions to food shortages, wars, plagues and energy crises. But we still seem to have trouble grasping the implications our power has on our environment. THE GOD SPECIES: SAVING THE PLANET IN THE AGE OF HUMANS (National Geographic Books; ISBN 978-1-4262-0891-1; on-sale date: Oct. 4, 2011; $25), a provocative new book by environmental journalist Mark Lynas, examines the influence humans have on our planet — and what we can do to save the planet from ourselves.
The idea that today, humans have a dominant effect on the planet is not new — in the last decade, some scientists have begun using the term “Anthropocene” to describe a new geological era marked by how human influence on the planet has become the number one factor affecting Earth processes. In THE GOD SPECIES, Lynas says that we need to embrace this influence — and consciously manage it to save our planet. He looks into how humans can handle themselves during the Anthropocene by examining nine Earth processes and their limits, or “planetary boundaries,”* which, if surpassed, will cause irreversible harm to our planet and human life on it.
Many of Lynas’ ideas in THE GOD SPECIES go against what he once fought for as a campaigner and dedicated member of the environmental movement in the United Kingdom, even calling his personal experience campaigning against genetic engineering a “well-intentioned but ignorant mistake.” Lynas understands the challenges facing our planet — and is asking us to think differently about our role on Earth and our lives on the planet in his thought-provoking new book.
Throughout the book, Lynas explores the nine planetary boundaries, from environmental touchstones such as climate change and biodiversity loss to more complex areas such as ocean acidification and nitrogen pollution. He offers recommendations for what humans can do to control their impact on each boundary so as not to exceed any of their limits; the boundaries, he writes, are inextricably linked, which means that surpassing one would affect the rest. Many of his suggestions are controversial. For instance, Lynas is an advocate of nuclear fission as a way to power the planet and fight global warming, citing the tens of billions of tons of carbon dioxide have been released into the atmosphere through coal powered power plants since the mid 1970s. He also is a proponent for genetically engineered foods as a way for humans to limit their impact on the environment and feed the growing population. With each recommendation on how humans can control our effects on the planet, Lynas examines many of the social, economic and political implications.
“Since nature can no longer tame us, then we must tame ourselves. Recognizing that we are now in charge — whether for good or ill — we need to take conscious and collective decisions about how far we interfere with the planet’s natural cycles and how we manage our global-scale impacts,” Lynas says in the book’s introduction. “We must begin to take responsibility for our actions at a planetary scale. Nature no longer runs the Earth. We do. It is our choice what happens from here.”
About the Author
Mark Lynas is an environmental writer and commentator. He is the author of “Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet,” which won the Royal Society Prize for Science Books in 2008. His other book,”High Tide: News from a Warming World” was short-listed for a Guardian First Book Award. In September 2010, he was appointed the Climate Advisor to Mohamed Nasheed, President of the Republic of Maldives. He is also a Visiting Research Associate at Oxford University’s School of Geographic and Environment.
* A list of the nine planetary boundaries can be found on attached document.
Boundary 1: BIODIVERSITY
Species loss, both plant and animal, threatens to upset vital aspects of the food chain, allowing some species to proliferate without predators to pick them off. Land use, climate change, and fresh water all threaten more habitat loss and, thus, species loss. If we don’t act fast, we may anticipate a third great wave of extinction.
Boundary 2: CLIMATE CHANGE
Carbon dioxide emissions are the lynch pin for many other boundaries. They directly affect ocean acidification and land use. They are also tied directly to global warming. We are above the recommended levels now, and if they are allowed to rise further, we will witness in our lifetimes the loss of the global ice caps, increasing volatility of weather, and widespread changes in centuries-old patterns of climate.
Boundary 3: NITROGEN
Industrialized farming has relied on nitrogen fertilizer for its bounty. But runoff from these farms has polluted and killed plants and animals downstream, creating dead zones where only algae and bacteria thrive. New and better practices can be put in place to reduce runoff effectively. This boundary is interlocked with toxics, fresh water, and land use.
Boundary 4: LAND USE
It takes land to farm, to expand the footprint of cities, and even to construct green-sanctioned windmill parks. But these expansions occur at the sacrifice of wild lands. Migration pathways are disturbed. Grasslands, which filter debris and waste, are cleared, hampering the resilience of rivers, lakes, and oceans in absorbing human waste and pollution. Humans will need to protect these wild places to ensure that other boundaries, such as biodiversity, are not crossed.
Boundary 5: FRESHWATER
Without water, human development cannot thrive. With the declining sources of fresh water around the world, such as the melt from glaciers due to global warming and declining aquifers, fresh water will increasingly become a scarce and precious commodity. Biodiversity and land use also rely on fresh water as sources for health and nourishment.
Boundary 6: TOXICS
Pollution of streams and rivers as well as the many chemicals we use in industry and daily life have a profound effect on life around us. Plastics and other long-decaying products need to be kept out of our water systems to protect the life that often becomes choked or ensnared by them. We are just now seeing our waste cycle back to us in our drinking water, to the endangerment of our health.
Boundary 7: AEROSOLS
Keeping aerosols in check is essential to preserve the ozone layer. The good news here is that catalytic converters and cleaner technology — and the outright banning of some products — have brought these levels in Europe and the Americas under better control.
Boundary 8: OCEAN ACIDIFICATION
With increasing levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, the ocean’s pH balance shifts, to the detriment of its animal and plant life. Delicate and sensitive changes in the ocean’s pH balance can affect everything from the thickness of the shells of mollusks to the chemical processes regulated by tiny microorganisms that produce much of the oxygen we breathe. These microorganisms are also food for fish and mammals, so even a tiny disruption at the bottom of the ocean’s food chain can create massive disruptions to species that rely on them for food.
Boundary 9: OZONE
Aerosols, carbon dioxide, and toxics all conspire against our ozone layer, a vital shield for life in our planetary atmosphere. We must watch the ozone as a critical indicator of the health of the planet. If too much harmful radiation from the sun were to penetrate Earth’s atmosphere, it would have dire consequences for biodiversity, climate change, and land use.