Scatter, Adapt, and Remember: How Humans Will Survive a Mass Extinction


Annalee Newitz, founding editor of IO9 and former EFF staffer, has a new book out today called Scatter, Adapt, and Remember: How Humans Will Survive a Mass Extinction, and it's terrific.

Scatter's premise is that the human race will face extinction-grade crises in the future, and that we can learn how to survive them by examining the strategies of species that successfully weathered previous extinction events, and cultures and tribes of humans that have managed to survive their own near-annihilation.

What follows from this is a whirlwind tour of geology, evolutionary biology, cultural anthropology and human history, as Newitz catalogs the terrifying disasters, catastrophes and genocides of geology and antiquity. From there, the book transitions into a sprightly whistle-stop tour of sustainable cities, synthetic biology, computer science, geoengineering, climate science, new materials science, urban theory, genomics, geopolitics, everything up to and including the Singularity, as Newitz lays out the technologies in our arsenal for adapting ourselves to upcoming disasters, and adapting our planet (and ultimately our solar system) to our long-term survival.

This has both the grand sweep and the fast pace of a classic OMNI theme issue, but one that's far more thoroughly grounded in real science, caveated where necessary. It's a refreshingly grand sweep for a popular science book, and if it only skims over some of its subjects, that's OK, because in the age of the Net, one need only signpost the subjects the reader might dive into on her own once she realizes their awesome potential.

This is a delight of a book, balanced on the knife-edge of disaster and delirious hope. It neither predicts our species' apotheosis nor its doom, but suggests paths to reach the former while avoiding the latter.

Scatter, Adapt, and Remember: How Humans Will Survive a Mass Extinction

Discuss

8 Responses to “Scatter, Adapt, and Remember: How Humans Will Survive a Mass Extinction”

  1. s2redux says:

    Bother with asteroid impacts, mega-volcanos and methane eruptions…humans are p’bly the extinction-grade event that humanity won’t survive.

  2. gigasquid says:

    Humans, fortunately or unfortunately, die. Chances are, even if we breed like crazy, there will not be  many people to pass on the knowledge of the extinction event. Chances are also that those who survive will eventually be just as stupid as we are now, doomed to repeat the cycle of destruction while learning zilch.

  3. Knifesmith says:

    We will obviously scatter once the God Emperor dies, and come back from the scattering with the Honored Matres close on our heels!

  4. effinayright says:

    Ain’t buyin’ it.

    “Scatter’s premise is that the human race will face
    extinction-grade crises in the future, and that we can learn how to
    survive them by examining the strategies of species that successfully
    weathered previous extinction events”

    >>stop right there. NO Species has ever had a “strategy”   for weathering previous extinction events!   None. Never.

    “, and cultures and tribes of humans
    that have managed to survive their own near-annihilation.”

    >>   Sorry, but looking at what tiny numbers of humans have done is NOT the same as as looking at what the entire human race must do.

    Where was I?

      The only place to escape to is Mars, which is utterly inhospitable to an Earthling’s lifestyle.   Escaping to other solar systems?  Good freakin’ luck!!   Does anyone understand how far quadrillions of miles are?

    Sure, a few lucky Bloomberg/Schmidt/Gates uber rich might manage to get themselves onto a Mars mission — but just consider their SHOCK when it’s pointed out to them that they must WORK or DIE!  

    Their work will consist of attempting to “terraform” Mars.  Good luck. Can anyone tell me why the billions left on earth will assist the Snotty Richie Riches to keep them alive, while Earth goes down the drain?

    Best to file this under “Shallow Sci-fi masquerading as Deep Thought”)

    • Jeff Scherr says:

      Best to file this under “Shallow Sci-fi masquerading as Deep Thought”)

      You’re referring to your comment I trust.

    • PhasmaFelis says:

      You’re nitpicking like crazy.

      “stop right there. NO Species has ever had a “strategy”   for weathering previous extinction events!   None. Never.”

      Strategy = whatever circumstances allowed them to survive. It’s figurative, obviously. Studying their figurative strategy helps us devise our literal strategy.

      “Sorry, but looking at what tiny numbers of humans have done is NOT the same as as looking at what the entire human race must do.”

      If the human race is reduced to a tiny number, then they are in fact exactly the same. This has probably happened before–see the Toba bottleneck. It equally applies to a tiny group that has no way of knowing if others have survived.

      “The only place to escape to is Mars, which is utterly inhospitable to an Earthling’s lifestyle.   Escaping to other solar systems?  Good freakin’ luck!!   Does anyone understand how far quadrillions of miles are?”

      Who said anything about escaping? That’s your strawman.

  5. David Govett says:

    If things get bad enough, we’ll scan our minds and sequence our individual genomes, epigenomes, bacteriomes, and  all the other -omes.
    Our quantum cyberspace avatars will guard them until it becomes safe to reconstitute us in a safe environment.
    Or our avatars may toss the info and populate the galaxy themselves.

  6. Peer Bentzen says:

    The book itself gets off nicely by costing more as ebook than as an ordinary  energy guzzling paper edition!

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