cover image Field Guide to the Patchy Anthropocene: The New Nature

Field Guide to the Patchy Anthropocene: The New Nature

Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing et al. Stanford Univ, $30 (344p) ISBN 978-1-5036-3732-0

Human-caused ecological change is enumerated in this bracing survey from the cocreators of the website Feral Atlas. The authors focus on “patches,” their term for species and ecosystems “transformed by human infrastructure” but “not under the control of human designers.” An example is the red turpentine beetle, a harmless North American species that “hitchhiked” on shipments of timber to China, where it picked up a “potent... symbiotic fungus” and became an unstoppable force of destruction, killing more than 10 million trees. Other patches include lodgepole pines that flourish in unstable sands produced by coal mines and drug-resistant bacteria that evolve in wastewater from pharmaceutical plants. The authors’ pragmatic goal is to demonstrate that the “Anthropocene” is already a lived reality for most species—that humans, who have “mov[ed] more dirt than the Ice Age glaciers,” are now the dominant force for environmental change—and thus that a “new nature” has emerged, one requiring a novel perspective to study it, in which “commodity chains” are considered as important as biomes. The book’s litany of cataclysms is shot through with a surprising hopefulness, as the authors propose a philosophy of collective well-being extending across species. It’s an unsettling but undefeated vision of a world in volatile flux. (May)