Friday, January 22, 2016

Half-Earth by Edward O. Wilson

Publisher description: Half-Earth proposes an achievable plan to save our imperiled biosphere: devote half the surface of the Earth to nature. In order to stave off the mass extinction of species, including our own, we must move swiftly to preserve the biodiversity of our planet, says Edward O. Wilson in his most impassioned book to date. Half-Earth argues that the situation facing us is too large to be solved piecemeal and proposes a solution commensurate with the magnitude of the problem: dedicate fully half the surface of the Earth to nature. If we are to undertake such an ambitious endeavor, we first must understand just what the biosphere is, why it's essential to our survival, and the manifold threats now facing it. 
Edward O. Wilson knows his subject backwards and forwards, and his passion is admirable. This short work covers a lot of ground, meandering about on a large variety of topics. 

Although I agree wholeheartedly with the author’s suggestion to set aside half the planet for nature and am also passionate about the biosphere, I found the book a bit preachy and dull in parts. It was kind of like reading a really long sermon. The text was also a bit repetitive, in the way of people trying to convince others to understand their passion. I found some of the chapter transitions very abrupt. Much of the information in Half-Earth was not new to me; I'd heard or read a lot of it before. As so many environmental works are, it was also downright depressing to read.

On the plus side, Wilson quoted Victorian poet Gerard Manley Hopkins, one of my favorites, who noticed man’s movement away from the natural world over a hundred years ago. Occasional sentences jumped out at me and made me think, like “Keep in mind that every surviving species (including us) is therefore a champion in a club of champions. We are all best of the best, descendants of species that have never turned wrong in the maze, never lost. Not yet.” (p. 117 of the digital advance reader copy) 

Depressing as they are, I feel it is important to read books like this one if we are ever to change the way humans treat the rest of the biosphere. Half-Earth proposes a bold idea and would be a good book for discussion. Short as it is, it would also be a good starter book for someone not already well-read on the subject.

Half-Earth is scheduled to be published March 7. I read a digital advance reader copy.

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