Elegiac views of the Anthropocene, an age of decline in everything but the consumption of plastics.
There have been many recent books on the environmental terrors of the present era, from Elizabeth Kolbert's Sixth Extinction to Gaia Vince's Adventures in the Anthropocene and Barry Lopez's Horizon. Farrier (English Literature/Univ. of Edinburgh; Anthropocene Poetics: Deep Time, Sacrifice Zones, and Extinction, 2019, etc.) adds a side note to these more urgent and compelling books with a fruitful premise: It's up to us, to some degree or another, to determine what we'll leave in the fossil record, and those future fossils will in turn "record whether we carried on heedlessly despite the dangers…or whether we cared enough to change our course." Though the great British ecologist James Lovelock has lately expressed doubt that our kind is smart enough to fix the mess we've caused, Farrier takes a more generous view. On the matter of plastics, for instance, he doesn't dispute that at first, they seemed a wonderful thing, a substitute for so much else that was fragile or scarce. However, as the author puts it, if the world's factories were producing 2 million metric tons of plastic in 1950, "by 2015, it was four hundred million," and not only that, but "it is likely that every single piece of plastic ever produced and not incinerated still exists somewhere in some form." Elsewhere, Farrier looks at the structure of landfills, the nature of cities, the alarming decline in the quantity not just of terrestrial species and their members, but also those of microbiota, the collapse of coral reefs—a collapse that can be bandaged but not undone by, yes, plastic poultices—and the eerie silences that surround a world in collapse even amid all the noise humans make. The feel of the text is matter-of-fact melancholic, a too-little, too-late somberness. If those other books (and others besides them) have already reported most of the data, the author captures a moment that finds us standing on the brink.
There's not much new here, but Farrier sounds a convincing argument all the same.
Despite its sobering theme, Mr Farrier’s prose glitters. His journey takes in marvels . . . Wonder rather than anger is his default response in contemplating humanity’s legacy . . . His central idea, that language and storytelling might be the most enduring of human traces, is beautifully expressed . . . ‘The challenge is to learn . . . to examine our present,’ he writes, ‘by the eerie light cast by the onrushing future.’ His subtle, elegant book rises to that challenge.” The Economist
“There is a way of writing about the natural world in which intensity of description stands in for perception. Everything has the same gleam and tang, as if glazed in aspic . . . The more radical and vital writing comes from those who can more easily imagine their own diminishment. Farrier is not of the school of aspic. He’s good at pulling books off the shelf as a connection arises, confident with facts and technical detail, video installations and folklore. He leaves us to form our own questions while loosely gathering together material that addresses the scale, extent and lasting impact of what we do to the world.” Lavinia Greenlaw, London Review of Books
"Fascinating peek into the deep future! Our distant ancestors left beautiful stone objects. What will we leave? Surprising answers!" Margaret Atwood, via Twitter
“Radical and refreshing . . . [Farrier] invites everyone to join the conversation as part of a collective humanity . . . Farrier’s writing is engaging and multi-dimensional, leaving space to interpret, think, and feelthe power of narrative. His book makes the important argument that if we are unable to see, fathom, or make meaning of the long-term future, we risk ignoring our lasting impact as active characters, as shapers of this large, human story.” Rachel Rueckert, Columbia Journal
“In what endures after thousands of years, we can see something of the unspoken values of a people. And that’s precisely what Footprints reveals to us . . . [Farrier’s] science is clear and well-written . . . A powerful and fascinating approach to the great crisis of our time.” Theodore Richard, The New York Journal of Books
"[Footprints] asks what our civilisation will leave behind in the future fossil record. It is an oddly hopeful exploration of deep time and a world doing just fine without us." New Scientist
“[A] literary work of quiet grace . . . A moving work, and a call to think beyond our own lives to the persistence of the damage we are doing today . . . Maybe those future generations will somehow find a copy of this book, preserved against all odds when our bridges have fallen but the plastic from our soda bottles still mars the seas. If so, and if they can read it, they will know: Some of us wanted to try to be better.” John Schwartz, Undark
"Deeply moving." John R. Platt, The Revelator, Nine New Environmental Books You Need to Read this Month
“[Farrier's] in-the-moment descriptions are precise and vital, but he renders them uniquely evocative and haunting by paralleling current dilemmas with ancient myths, Greek tragedies, literature, and art . . . Farrier sees Earth as a vast library, and encourages us to recognize and think deeply about the indelible stories of destruction and catastrophic loss we’re adding to the planet’s archive.” Donna Seaman, Booklist (starred review)
"Blending science, literature, and art, this work leads readers to imagine time, backward and forward; writing in a remarkably fluid style, Farrier is as adept at retelling ancient myth as he is at explaining little-known science . . . Compelling . . . Sometimes unsettling in its findings but always cleverly conceived and beautifully expressed." Robert Eagan, Library Journal (starred review)
“Elegiac views of the Anthropocene...the author captures a moment that finds us standing on the brink.” Kirkus
“Darkly, exquisitely, oh-so-carefully, David Farrier lays out the future we can see from here: the ice singing its own dissolution, the plastic without a memory that will last for eternity, the deepest ocean and the highest air which will remember our carbon traces millions of years to come. Farrier is an exacting dissector of human culture and natural history; his book is a brilliant and surprising beautiful requiem for what we have lost, but also, crucially, what we might save from the wreckage.” Philip Hoare, author of Risingtidefallingstar
“What have we done, what are we doing, and in what sort of state are we leaving our home? David Farrier’s natural history of the junkyard Anthropocene is devastating in its answers to these questions. Since the prognosis is not good, this deep-time almanac reads as a precocious elegy. It is a mind-bender that will make you cry like any new born baby. Farrier has terrifyingly and superbly mapped the darkness.” Tim Dee, author of A Year on the Wing
"A signal book, and a profoundly significant one, of warnings and prophecies, of explorations and discoveries. With wry, persuasive intelligence it surveys the landscapes and cityscapes, the art and the literature, of this pivotal moment in the Anthropocene. From ocean to icecap, outfalls to landfill, it seeks answers to the defining question of our times: ‘How can we be better ancestors?'" Gavin Francis, author of Shapeshifters: A Journey Through the Changing Human Body