What Would Nature Do: A Guide for Our Uncertain Times

Ruth Defries. Columbia Univ., $26.95 (256p) ISBN 978-0-231-19942-1
Environmental geographer Defries (The Big Ratchet) presents a disappointing treatise on what humans could learn from how the Earth’s ecosystems maintain balance. Adopting an off-puttingly scolding tone, she writes that such problems as climate change, public health crises, and global market upsets are “the by-products of an energy-guzzling civilization,” and can be tackled using “time-tested tactics” from nature, such as diversification and self-correction. She makes a good case for her contention that humans should learn from nature, and to that end explains how a rejected Cold War–era proposal for a decentralized military communication network, modeled on the “loopy” vein structure of plant leaves, later became a model for the internet. Elsewhere, she analyzes “Smokey Bear’s Blunder”: the National Park Service’s misbegotten policy, symbolized by the mascot, of trying to prevent all forest fires, before it was understood that small wildfires help to clear deadwood and “limit damage” from larger blazes. Unfortunately, her anecdotes are marred by a sermonizing tone. (“Continue your experiments... but do so with humility. Expect that your limited knowledge, human foibles, or more likely both will thwart your efforts.”) Readers in search of a strong discussion of environmental issues should look elsewhere. (Dec.)
Reviewed on : 09/14/2020
Release date: 01/01/2021
Genre: Nonfiction
Open Ebook - 978-0-231-55310-0
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