The Fate of the Species: Why the Human Race May Cause Its Own Extinction and How We Can Stop It

The Fate of the Species: Why the Human Race May Cause Its Own Extinction and How We Can Stop It

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by Fred Guterl

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The revelatory account of the biggest threats we face as a species--and what we can do to save ourselves.See more details below


The revelatory account of the biggest threats we face as a species--and what we can do to save ourselves.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Thanks to the sheer size of the human population and our increasing reliance upon technology, there are now more opportunities than ever for the human race to inadvertently cause its own extinction. Guterl, executive editor of Scientific American, offers a tour of “what-ifs”: a civilization-dooming supervirus, a disastrous paradigm shift caused by climate change, a catastrophic failure of the computer systems that regulate infrastructure and the world economy. There have been at least five mass extinctions in Earth’s history, and Guterl warns that there could be another. Grounding his speculation firmly in cutting-edge science, Guterl details the lives and work of a number of scientists who have developed computer systems for NASA, engineered lethal viruses using easily accessible lab equipment, or created security software to detect and neutralize increasingly sophisticated computer viruses. Despite its engaging prose, the book suffers from uneven content, occasionally falling into Hollywood fear factory clichés. However, with its enormous scope, the book functions as an introduction to contemporary immunology, computer science, climatology, and more. While Guterl’s pessimism is not for the faint of heart, it turns out to be remarkably entertaining to ponder the ways that the human race might wipe itself out. Agent: Sydelle Kramer, Susan Rabiner Agency. (June)
Library Journal
Guterl (executive editor, Scientific American) presents a look at the myriad ways humans and human technology could create disasters that might cause our own extinction. By starting with nonthreatening examples of scientific research (e.g., reversing the process of algae accumulation in ponds or developing artificial intelligence for Mars rovers), Guterl guides readers to more complex ideas chapter by chapter, such as disappearing lakes and oceans as well as the threat of cyberattacks. Each chapter covers a different area where human invention has backfired: superviruses, local species extinction, climate change, ecosystem fluctuations, biotechnology, and computers and other machines. VERDICT A good update to older books that have covered the same topic such as Edward O. Wilson's The Future of Life or Richard E. Leakey's The Sixth Extinction, this title also provides a solid overview of many polarizing issues, urging a balance of nature and technology to solve the problems humans have created. For readers invested in the future of the planet.—Margaret Henderson, Virginia Commonwealth Univ. Lib., Richmond
Kirkus Reviews
A fine scientific explanation of our abuse of the natural world that, despite the subtitle, does not explain how to stop it. Scientific American executive editor Guterl begins by discussing mass extinction, a process that has occurred half-a-dozen times over life's 2.5-billion-year history, eliminating up to 90 percent of species. The survivors thrived, and the current mass extinction (already in progress) may not eliminate the human species, but the consequences will be dismal. With frequent detours into discussions of terrorism, the author describes the science behind a dozen potential disasters provoked by a combination of sheer human numbers and technological advances. Deadly plagues are inevitable as microbes jump back and forth between animals and humans; if these natural mutations don't produce a superbug, genetic engineering (perhaps by a clever terrorist) might do the same. Guterl portrays global warming, now under way, with vivid specifics on rising sea levels, melting ice caps, vanishing fresh water and increasingly unstable weather. Widespread famine predicted by doomsayers isn't yet happening, but food prices are rising. The obligatory hopeful finale mentions eliminating carbon-based fuels, doing without energy-consuming conveniences and living in harmony with nature--though the author admits these measures are unlikely to be undertaken. Dramatic advances in genetically engineered plants and animals, atmospheric coolants, small-scale local, energy-efficient agriculture and massive carbon-sequestration will work when they arrive--but none have arrived yet. Aside from too many lurid terrorist scenarios, this is an intelligent account of the mess we are making of the planet; the unsettling conclusion: that humans may survive because we are resilient, not because we can fix matters.

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Bloomsbury USA
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