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Inheritors of the Earth: How Nature is Thriving in an Age of Extinction

Popular ScienceNature WritingComing SoonSPECIAL OFFER

By: Chris D Thomas(Author)

300 pages, b/w photos, b/w illustrations

Penguin Books

1 customer review
Paperback | 2018 | #239789 | ISBN-13: 9780141982311
Available for pre-order: Due Jun 2018 Details
Pre-pub offer: £7.99 £9.99 (Save £2.00) $11/€9 approx
Hardback | Jul 2017 | #234717 | ISBN-13: 9780241240755
Availability: In stock
NHBS Price: £19.99 $28/€23 approx

About this book

NHBS acknowledges that the author's views put forward in this book run counter to the views of many conservationists, but we strongly believe that well-argued and factual contributions to the debate should not be silenced and are more important than the potential controversy they raise. See our interview with the author here.

From the publisher:
"It's accepted wisdom today that human beings have irrevocably damaged the natural world. Throughout history we've introduced species and infectious diseases to foreign shores; hunted slow-moving (and slower-reproducing) mammals to extinction; and polluted previously pristine tracts of land. Now we are in the midst of the planet's sixth mass extinction event – for which we are the main culprit.

Yet as distinguished ecologist Chris D. Thomas argues, this gloomy narrative obscures a more hopeful truth. In Inheritors of the Earth, he tells the remarkable story of how nature is fighting back. He complicates the standard picture of today's ecological reality, revealing that we are actually witnessing the first stages of a new mass acceleration of ecological and evolutionary diversity. Urbanization and the mass cultivation of agriculture have created new places for enterprising animals and plants to live, and human modification of ecosystems has stimulated evolutionary change in virtually every population of every living species. Most remarkably, he shows, our actions may well have raised the rate at which new species are formed to the highest level ever in the history of our planet.

Drawing on the success stories of diverse species, from the chocolate colored comma butterfly in York to the scarlet-beaked, turkey-sized New Zealand takahe, Thomas overturns the accepted story of declining biodiversity on Earth. In so doing, he questions why we are so reluctant to embrace new forms of life, as well as why we see human activities as fundamentally unnatural. Ultimately, he suggests that if life on Earth can recover from the asteroid that killed off the dinosaurs, it can survive the onslaughts, however violent, of a technological age.

Combining a naturalist's eye for wildlife with an ecologist's wide lens, Inheritors of the Earth offers an authoritative account of the Anthropocene present and future, a challenge to conventional views of almost everything we do that relates to our interaction with the environment, and an illuminating reexamination of the relationship between humanity and the natural world."

"[...] Thomas is undoubtedly right in challenging us to think about the gains as well as the losses which humans have caused across the globe. He is also right to place humans very much at the centre of nature, rather than separate from it, and to highlight the opportunities and evolutionary potential of the Anthropocene. There will, however, be many who disagree with his line of reasoning for conservation and biodiversity management: he has a relaxed view, for example, on the need to control alien species, and sees hybridisation as a critical element in how biodiversity needs to respond to a changing world. He also asks us to accept that we are ‘as one’ with nature and to think of the world as an ‘Anthropocene Park, with ourselves both as custodians
and inmates’.

It is at this point that I wish there had been a greater discussion of values. We are asked to consider whether our efforts will have made much difference in a few hundred years, whether our descendants will be bothered if the world has been altered, and whether we can maximise the benefits that our descendants derive from the natural world. These are sound questions. Whether they would lead us to make the right decisions I am not so sure. No matter, Thomas has produced a thought-provoking book that challenges us to reevaluate the way in which we think about conservation and biodiversity management."
– Andrew Watkinson, British Wildlife 28(6), August 2017

"With a perspective that stretches many epochs into the past and forward to the year One Million A.D., Thomas reframes Earth's current ecological upheaval as a time of great creation as well as great loss. Without minimizing or excusing the damage humans have done to the planet, Inheritors of the Earth opens our eyes to the splendid and fascinating ways nature is adapting and evolving to the world we have made. He urges us to take our cue from the majestic dynamism of nature and work with other species as they change and move, rather than fighting an impossible battle to freeze the planet in time. All change is not bad. I thought I was an optimist. Thomas is the real ecological optimist."
– Emma Marris, author of Rambunctious Garden

"A decent and humane tale about the threat and promise of biodiversity change"
– James Lovelock, author of The Revenge of Gaia and A Rough Ride to the Future

"Chris Thomas takes the million-year view of today's human-dominated world. The result is a thoughtful, provocative, and improbably hopeful book"
– Elizabeth Kolbert, author of The Sixth Extinction and Field Notes from a Catastrophe

"A provocative book that challenges us to look positively at our human changes to the natural world and reimagine conservation in the Anthropocene"
– Gaia Vince, author of Adventures in the Anthropocene

Reviews (1)

Overly optimistic?
By Angela 17 Nov 2017 Unconfirmed Purchase Written for Hardback

It is a thought-provoking book. He considers humans to be part of the natural world which we are, but does that include the things we do or use? Do other species flood the world with plastic and other non-degradable substances? Have other species caused the extinction of hundreds if not thousands of different species?

So whoopie-dooh, Thomas now has comma butterflies on his smallholding near York, so the world is safe, right. There will be winners and losers in any period of history, but since the introduction of pesticides, the scale is approaching that of a global catastrophe. He may have commas in York, which is good news, they are a lovely butterfly but we've lost 75% of insect biomass in the past 20 years and the creatures that feed on them. Does the introduction of harlequin ladybirds, which appears to be causing the loss of several other types of ladybird, sound like increasing biodiversity?

There are some glimmers of optimism and he highlights how some species are coping by changing their foodplants, evolution favours the most adaptable species, but the reality is that there is more reason for pessimism at least in the short term as we directly or indirectly affect the futures of so many animals and plants by our selfish and rapacious overuse of resources, our disregard to other life forms in the use of fertilisers and pesticides and the pollution we cause, without mentioning things like overpopulation. We can do things about some of these to help struggling species but I suspect his book will be used by those who think otherwise, to justify their selfishness.

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Chris D. Thomas is an ecologist and evolutionary biologist at the University of York and a Fellow of the Royal Society. He has received the Scientific Medal of the Zoological Society of London, the President's Medal of the British Ecological Society, the Marsh Award for Conservation Biology, and the Marsh Award for Climate Change Research. This is his first book.

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