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The Dominant Animal: Human Evolution and the…

The Dominant Animal: Human Evolution and the Environment

by Paul R. Ehrlich

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It was ok, but on the whole lacked focus. The title suggested something else than the book delivered. It delivered a warning about the ecological state of the planet, but it delivered its message in a very circuitous way starting with genetic mechanisms and then going on ten different tangents which all corresponded to the topic, but weren’t at all well integrated.

The book examines how humans became the dominant animal, and brought the Earth to the state it is in. The picture is not pretty- the planet is overpopulated, its resources depleted and the level of human life is already unsustainable. Without population control and radical change in people’s eating habits (letting go of beef), as well as treating genetic and environmental experimentation with extreme caution, humans will not be able live and develop peacefully. Wars will break out to fight over resources and food. This all is not news, and most of it is well known, even though almost nothing seems to be done about it. The Ehlrichs examine different solutions (from solar energy to ecological corridors) and call for systematic, institutionalized, global solutions. In their analysis, they concentrate mostly on the United States, and its consumption frenzy, and mention China as a future consumption moloch, yet they miss the fact that China is already well advanced in global consumption and is well advanced in ecologically destroying ways in such places as Africa.

There were a few things in the book that caught my attention. One was about difficulties and traps of genetic selection. It is apparently very difficult to select for just one characteristic only. For example, in experiments in which fruit flies were DDT resistant, they also displayed a different pupation pattern- their maggots preferred the edges of the feeding medium, and not the center as other, non DDT resistant, specimens did. Likewise, the sickle shaped blood cell mutation comes together with spleen enlargement and susceptibility to pneumonia. It may be due to the fact that genes are positioned close together, or that one gene controls more than one function, so when the gene mutates, it influences more than one characteristic. Interestingly enough, there also seems to be a connection between the ability to make stone tools and the ability to speak. It turns out that the same kind of neuromuscular coordination required for stone tool manufacture is also essential to the ability of our tongues to go through the intricate movements required to produce speech. So it seems that they may be both connected to the same mutation, even though it’s unknown when and if they both arose at the same time.

Another interesting thing was about the state of the oceans. I have heard about jellyfish plagues close to the beaches in many places all over the world recently, and never consciously attributed it to changing ecology of the sea. It turns out that with the overfishing and the absence of big predators, water heating and acidification, sea and ocean waters have become more favourable to the proliferation of algae, bacteria, and jellyfish, which has been dubbed as ‘the rise of slime”.

The giant dust storms that were powerful enough to cross the Pacific Ocean from China to the United States a couple of years ago, are caused by desertification of vast areas of land overgrazed by goats whose hair is used to produce cashmere.

The end conclusion is that nothing humans do is without an impact on the whole state of the planet, and we should very energetically start salvaging what we still can ( )
  Niecierpek | Oct 24, 2009 |
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"Over millions of years and through countless genetic twists and turns, humanity has evolved into the dominant animal. We have populated the globe, reshaped most landscapes, eradicated myriad populations and species of other organisms, and even transformed the oceans and climate." "The vast environmental changes we have produced and the intricate cultures we have created are now shaping evolution. From the complex workings of our genes to what we eat and how we govern ourselves, we are changing our world and our world is changing us. We are creating our future. But what kind of future will it be?" "Renowned scientists and thinkers Paul R. Ehrlich and Anne H. Ehrlich tackle that fundamental question in this exploration of evolution, environment, and culture. The Dominant Animal is a scientific field trip across time and space, from the microscopic to the global. The Ehrlichs weave together the theories of Darwin, empirical studies of fruit flies, lizards, and disease, the fossil record, the psychology of perception and belief systems, the nature of the human genome, and the power of culture and environment into a single illuminating thread."--Jacket.… (more)

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