"Whenever we make changes in our surroundings, we can too easily shortchange ourselves, by cutting ourselves off from some of the sights and sounds, the shapes or textures, or other information from a place that have helped mold our understanding and are now necessary for us to thrive. Overdevelopment and urban sprawl can damage our own lives as much as they damage our cities and countryside." - Tony Hiss, The Experience of Place.
Those words, a reflection of Tony Hiss' previous work writing about our place in the world, is a fitting introduction to his newest book, Rescuing the Planet. An optimistic look at potential ways to shift the discussion away from merely destruction and hopelessness to one of change and hope. We've watched the overdevelopment, and urban sprawl take hold, not to mention the environmental disasters that loom large around the planet and in our minds. The daily reminder that we've perhaps already gone too far. Every hint of natural disaster somehow linked back to the climate. It can be difficult for many of us to find the answer to what we can do.
Tony Hiss' book tries to find a path forward for many of us in ways that perhaps we haven't even considered. Carbon emissions garner the lion's share of attention alongside corporate greed. Hiss doesn't neglect these items but instead focuses more closely on nature and how our connection to, and space within it, needs to be healed. E.O. Wilson, and his Half-Earth Project, are one way that this is being done. A continued focus on growing protected lands around the world to allow for biodiversity to not only stabilize but thrive. Hiss spends much of his time speaking of how we as a species have only recently begun to understand how interconnected the planet truly is. Weather patterns starting in one corner of the earth, impacting those halfway around the world. Or consider Hiss' deep dive into how deforestation in the boreal forest, whether man-made or through large-scale fires, can lead to imbalances in wolf populations because elk and caribou behaviour changes with the fauna changing, more open land and less area to hide.
I'll pause for a moment and also recommend Merlin Sheldrake's book Entangled Life on how we are still trying to figure out how the world works and how seemingly innocuous Funghi may be interconnected throughout the planet. A brilliant and eye-opening book on how much we don't understand about the earth.
Hiss seconds this notion recognizing that we have catalogued roughly 2 million species to date but understand that the actual number is likely north of 10 million based on statistical inference. Therefore, the need to protect more lands is vital to maintaining this biodiversity and work being done specifically on climate change.
Another project referenced is the work being done to protect the lands along the Appalachian Trail. Tens of thousands of people walk along parts of the Trail every year with its beautiful landscapes, incredible hiking trails, and ability to connect to nature despite being close to cities in certain areas. The project aims to expand the protected lands beyond the trail as a barrier to any encroaching industry or development. This is something that could happen anywhere as hiking trails become more popular. Why not protect all of the lands around trails and create formal parks around them?
The appetite to do this in economically prosperous countries is obviously greatest, and so it will continue to be essential to work with developing countries to do the same. To recognize that their own biodiversity is far richer than the products coming out of the ground or converted into pastured land. Cities as well can work to grow their green footprint. Many buildings in certain cities now come with green space on the roof to allow birds and insects to live. Forward thing architects are even building the exteriors of some buildings with greenery to help beautify the cities but also do their small part in carbon capture.
This book is part environmental, part science education on biodiversity and what is going on globally. I'd recommend it to anyone interested in the natural sciences and those interested in better understanding how the world is connected. Entangled Life is another recommendation, but I'd also throw in Richard Powers' novel The Overstory. A fictional tale that weaves in beautiful references to the world around us and the connection that forest and nature have with humanity.
"People aren't the apex species they think they are. Other creatures - bigger, smaller, slower, faster, older, younger, more powerful - call the shots, make the air, and eat sunlight. Without them, nothing." - The Overstory.
For additional information, you can check out E.O. Wilson's project, The Half-Earth Project as well.