The Third Chimpanzee – Jared Diamond

I have just finished reading this, and I am depressed. Firstly because I would like to have written the book; it is written in an easily read but convincing style, leavened with the self-deprecating humour that I think is necessary in a scientist. We read this book with the understanding that Jared Diamond is a brilliant man, but we can imagine discussing interesting topics with him over a drink, if we ever got to meet him.

What is much more depressing is the fact that the subject matter, the rise to its current global domination of our species, makes it difficult to see how our future, based on an understanding of our past, can be anything other than disastrous. Prof. Diamond’s simple but brilliant plan is to demonstrate the folly of our ways to us by holding up a mirror and showing us our previous failures. He then asks the question, will we learn from our mistakes? He doesn’t answer that question, but he hopes that we will. I hope so too, but the evidence in favour is not overwhelming.

The most interesting point that he makes is that humankind has never lived in harmony with nature. There has never been a Golden Age when we lived in harmony with our surroundings, we have never learned to live within our means. In his later book Collapse, he deals with the consequences for many civilisations around the world throughout history, who collapsed because they either outgrew the resources that supplied them, or they destroyed those resources in ignorance, or they were overtaken by some climatic change that destroyed the fragile ecosystem that they depended on.

The expansion of humanity across the globe, from the earliest days has resulted in mass extinctions wherever mankind alighted, particularly when we moved to areas where the fauna had no real predators and there was no instinct to flee when a Man/Woman hove into view. The result was the extinction of most edible large species in many parts of the globe. The flightless birds of New Zealand, the large mammals of North America, the dodo, the mammoth, etc., etc.,

The fact that we are facing huge levels of species extinction still, and will continue to do so for decades to come, demonstrates that we have little clue, or instinct, for integrating with our surroundings. We have a long, long way to go , to understand how the ecosystems of our planet work, and how we can begin to live alongside those systems, without destroying them.

I commend this book to you.


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