Into a man-made world

As a consequence of climate change, pollution and depletion of natural reserves, we have entered into an epoch in which man dominates nature. Like it or not, there is no way back to the pristine nature.

Nobel laureate Paul Crutzen coined the word Anthropocene for the era dominated by man following the Holocene.

Science journalist and broadcaster Gaia Vince quit her job at Nature for a two-year trip which took her from the Himalayas to Patagonia and from Africa’s savannahs to the drowning Maldives. In the resulting book Adventures in the Anthropocene, she combines first-hand reporting with the oversight she has from her years at Nature’s science desk. The result is a gripping and confronting yet mostly optimistic portrait of our world in transition. After all the warnings we’ve heard about plastic in the seas and the importance of limiting global warming, Vince steps over the threshold into a changed world, acknowledging the world has changed way too much to ever justify any hope of returning to the world that once was. We have exiled ourselves from paradise. Now we’ve got to deal with it.

She describes this new world with wit and eye for detail, saying “I’ve heard wild parrots in Australia who have learned to speak from pet parrots that have escaped captivity, call to people from the trees with human voices; and seen coconut crabs in Indonesia crawl the beach wearing shells made of cans or yoghurt cartons.”

Vince shows how the last hunter-gatherer communities are driven from their land and into an alcohol-ridden misery in reserves by foreign investors and how the South American rainforests are sacrificed for timber and cocaine. She describes how former tribal wars have escalated into full-fledged terror thanks the easy import of automated weapons. Paradise is lost, and so will be the coral reefs, much of the rainforest, hundreds of animal and plant species, vital glaciers and low-lying islands and deltas.

Vince casts aside the reservations of most conservationists and embraces techniques as geo-engineering (spraying salt particles in the atmosphere), nuclear energy (with thorium reactors to get rid of plutonium stockpiles) and genetically modified crops.

She ends her book with an epilogue dated in 2100 when her son Kipp looks back at the 21st century. It offers a compact view on the changes Vince foresees. How mankind copes with the shortage of fossil fertilisers and how we come to see climate refugees as brothers in need instead of unwanted foreigners remains unclear. It’s perhaps her underlying optimism that humanity is most resourceful and adaptive in face of threats.

Gaia Vince, Adventures into the Anthropocene, a journey to the heart of the planet we made, Chatto & Windus, London 2104, 436 blz. € 21, –

–> Watch Vince in action at Varkala beach, India.

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