The Next Species by Michael Tennesen
This is a very disappointing book. The subtitle is a really interesting question, “The Future of Evolution in the Aftermath of Man”, and he sketches some of the fascinating issues: when will humans become extinct, or lose dominance on Earth? What ways might that happen, and what will it mean for the planet? What species wait in the wings, and what might we expect to evolve in a post-human ecology?
Unfortunately, there is little substance in the book. Much of it is taken up with familiar recounts of past extinctions, as well as the current human created mass extinction. This goes to show that extinction happens and humans surely will die off, maybe soon. But we know that. E.g, Ackerman, Kolbert, and others.
He also sketches human evolution, noting that there once were many branches of humanity, and that homo sapiens continues to evolve, and could morph into new species of humans. This discussion is marred by shallow and simplistic recounts of the quite limited science. He makes a lot of assertions, e.g., about the linguistic capabilities of Neanderthals, and about ancient ecosystems, which are based on hypothesis more than evidence.
Tennesen restates the now familiar case that human created ecological changes, not limited to climate change, are remaking the Earth and its biosphere in a geological blink of an eye. It is difficult to predict what will happen in the coming century, but there is a serious possiblility of devastating die outs, including humans.
But, as he says, evolution will certainly continue. Whatever life survives will spread and radiate new species to exploit the world as it remains. Can we say anything more than that? Maybe. But Tennesen does not say much about that in this book.
- Michael Tennesen, The Next Species: The Future of Evolution in the Aftermath of Man, New York, Simon & Schuster, 2015.