Some day, you know, those survivalist “nuts” are going to be right. Some day, everything is going to fall apart, just as it has from century to century for various civilizations, almost constantly for different types of plants and animals and at least five times for life on Earth itself. Personally, I’m betting on nothing that awful happening in my remaining lifetime, but my anxiety for my children and granchildren is growing. Happily, journalist Annalee Newitz has written a book that, while piling on one disaster scenario after another, also manages to be cheerily optimistic that somebody will survive pretty much anything. Most everyone else might die, but a few will carry on, so, we win!
Scatter, Adapt and Remember: How Humans Will Survive a Mass Extinction draws its optimism partly from Newitz’s Jewish heritage. She sees parallels in the way Jews have survived repeated persecutions to the ways humanity as a whole has survived plagues, earthquakes, climate change and the all the other mass killers out there. The thing is, of course, sometimes, it was only a few Jews who survived, or a few homo sapiens.
Newitz does an impressive job of researching such popular Halloweens as nuclear winter, melting ice caps and giant meteors, as well as the scientific efforts already underway to counter them. She even describes plans for building cities underground to protect us from the next supernova in our little part of the galaxy. Her upbeat tone in the face of mass deaths feels a bit odd at times, but it’s also the point of the book: Yes, there are many grave threats to the long-term survival of our species, but, also yes, there are ways we can avoid obliteration — although that might mean turning ourselves into non-biological beings in order to escape the planet.
It’s not the science, though, that worries me. It’s the economics and the politics. With the new EPA regulations, we have scientists and politicians offering relatively simple — if not painless — responses to climate change, but the effort to block the regs is already emerging. How are we ever going to build the global political will to protect ourselves against more distant problems that involve greater sacrifices of money and, perhaps, individual freedom? Or, if Newitz is right about few survivors in certain situations, who will they be and how will they be chosen? Will they be the 1 percent of rhetorical fame? How could that be politically tolerable?
If you have answers, please post them below.