The Unnatural World | David Biello

Summary of: The Unnatural World: The Race to Remake Civilization in Earth’s Newest Age
By: David Biello


In ‘The Unnatural World: The Race to Remake Civilization in Earth’s Newest Age,’ David Biello takes readers on a journey through the Anthropocene – an era marked by humanity’s significant and world-changing impact on the environment. The book explores various themes, including historical events and breakthroughs that have shaped the Anthropocene, the massive changes to the Earth’s ecosystems driven by human behavior, and the challenges humanity must confront to address climate change and preserve biodiversity. Weaving in tales of our planet’s history and the story of humankind’s incredible ability to innovate, Biello presents both a cautionary and hopeful reflection on the power of human agency.

Seeing Earth from Space

When astronauts saw the Earth from space, it sparked an environmental movement and a new perspective. This shift in thinking led to the realization that humanity is a world-changing force of nature, capable of altering everything including the climate, sea, land, rocks, and life itself. We are the first conscious species to change the environment and must take responsibility for our actions. With the path forward unclear and stakes incredibly high, we must now decide how to act responsibly and address the changes we have created.

Monitoring Earth’s Changes

As humanity’s impact on the planet becomes increasingly evident, the need to monitor and conserve ecosystems is more pressing than ever. Conservationists use innovative technology such as drones and satellite images to study forests, track growth, clearings, and fires. These images provide a new perspective on the world and the changes that are taking place. However, the carbon dioxide we release into the atmosphere is affecting Earth for centuries, and our species remains the prime suspect in the sixth mass extinction in Earth’s history. As we adapt to these changes, we must determine what we are dealing with in the present moment and take action to protect the planet.

The Ambivalent Relationship with Wildlife

The Anthropocene, a new era of human impact, has led to the sixth mass extinction and humans are inevitably rewriting the future of the planet by disrupting multiple ecosystems and the climate. This era’s commencement is debatable, but it has caused biological homogeneity, and mass extinctions mark the era thus far. The extinction of massive graptolites 440 million years ago due to ice age provides vital information while species that humans like and need are flourishing and replacing those that existed before civilization. However, countless other species have ceased to exist, and scientists are still trying to figure out what happened to some extinct species. The Anthropocene’s hallmark would be an ambivalent relationship with wildlife as humans debate whether they can consciously achieve better outcomes than the mass extinctions that mark the era thus far.

Bringing Back the Dead

Scientists are searching for ways to revive extinct species through gene engineering, but the process is labor-intensive and costly. Some experts are utilizing DNA repositories like the Frozen Ark to guard against extinction. Other scientists are tinkering with existing species to make them more functional and resistant to diseases. Some even envision bringing back lost relatives like Neanderthals. However, the concept of de-extinction raises questions about humanity’s role in controlling evolution and the creation of novel ecosystems. Despite the challenges, the idea of bringing extinct species back to life offers hope for a better environmental future.

Carbon Capture and Climate Change

The Anthropocene era brings two major challenges: climate change and the CO2 emissions that cause it. Human industrial activities accelerate the rate of carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere. Researchers are investigating various carbon capture methods, such as growing more plankton or enhancing technology that pulls carbon from the air or rocks. The most popular option for carbon capture, however, may potentially encourage the continued burning of fossil fuels. Although proposed solutions to carbon capture often provoke political backlash, they may be an essential part of the shift towards stewardship that this new age demands.

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