Sparing Nature: The Conflict between Human Population Growth and Earth's Biodiversity

Sparing Nature: The Conflict between Human Population Growth and Earth's Biodiversity

Sparing Nature: The Conflict between Human Population Growth and Earth's Biodiversity

Sparing Nature: The Conflict between Human Population Growth and Earth's Biodiversity

Synopsis

The author of "The Riddled Chain" maintains that mankind's explosive population growth has led to the mass extinction of countless species in the Earth's plant and animal communities. 23 figures.

Excerpt

After finally ushering my last book into press in 2000, I soon felt another book formulating itself in my mind. I enjoyed writing The Riddled Chain, although the topic of its final chapter—the relevance of evolutionary research to contemporary environmental concerns—was not covered as fully as I would have liked. But there were so many good books on humans and the current extinction crisis that I thought such a project would not be worth my while. Then I discovered a “missing link,” albeit not of the kind paleoanthropologists usually like to find. This one was the gap in the literature regarding any connection between human population growth and biodiversity losses.

The discovery came while I was teaching a course called Human Ecological Adaptations, covering the environmental context of our lineage over the past few million years. As we covered the past ten thousand years, which we refer to as the “present,” the course focused on two major trends: the explosive growth of the human population and the ongoing mass extinction of plants and animals. My first surprise was that a frightening number of my students were unaware of either trend, despite constant exposure to the varied media that explore them in depth. So perhaps one more book would help send out the message.

Nevertheless, I've always taught that the two global trends are related. A number of my students wanted to research this relationship further for their term papers, and I used to instruct them that there was a wealth of literature on the topic. As it turned out, I was wrong. There are many books on the biodiversity crisis, but at best they touch on human population growth for a few paragraphs. Likewise, despite a wealth of literature on human demography, its relationship to the extinction of other life-forms has barely been mentioned.

At first, the lack of literature led me to doubt the connection between the . . .

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