Great Adaptations

Morgan Phillips Arkbound (2021)

Until recently, climate-change activists advocated mitigation of rising global carbon dioxide levels — adapting to them was considered inappropriate or defeatist. Morgan Phillips disagrees. As the UK-based director of the Glacier Trust, which works with remote Nepalese mountain communities, he pragmatically supports mitigation and adaptation. He advocates that “Western civilization” be urgently but carefully “disassembled” to avoid climate catastrophe. His proposed adaptations seem mostly feasible and humane — if challenging.

When the Sahara Was Green

Martin Williams Princeton Univ. Press (2021)

On Saharan desert rock, prehistoric artists engraved or painted scenes of cattle camps and herds of giraffes and elephants. Even hippos flourished by lakes. Some 15,000–5,000 years ago, the region was green: the tropics received more solar radiation than they do now, which strengthened the monsoon and brought both summer and winter rains. This vivid historical survey by Earth scientist Martin Williams is the result of a lifetime’s work. Are humans responsible for the region’s current aridity? No, says Williams.


Michael Hannah Cambridge Univ. Press (2021)

One well-documented estimate puts the number of living species at 8.7 million, excluding bacteria and archaea. If correct, this represents less than 1% of species that have evolved and gone extinct since the first appearance of life 3.7 billion years ago, notes palaeontologist Michael Hannah in his measured, thought-provoking analysis. He says the cause of past mass extinctions is a “fraught subject” and has no doubt that humans will cause another, possibly in “as little as 240 years”, unless we stop damaging the biosphere and the atmosphere.


Parag Khanna Weidenfeld & Nicolson (2021)

“Mobility is destiny,” says entrepreneur Parag Khanna. Born in India, educated in the United States and United Kingdom, and now US-based, he has been to more than 150 countries. His timely, contentious study of mass migration observes that nearly 40% of US scientists are foreign-born, along with more than two-thirds of US tech-company employees, who come mostly from India and China. Yet he makes little attempt to analyse the complexities of migration in these cosmopolitan occupations; his index includes neither ‘research’ nor ‘science’.

The Next Apocalypse

Chris Begley Basic Books (2021)

Underwater archaeologist and survival coach Chris Begley is intrigued by apocalypses, such as the collapse of the ancient Maya culture in Central America. His intriguing book begins in Honduras, with a campfire discussion about a ‘lost city’ with an Indigenous Pech man, who believes it inhabited by gods that fled Spanish colonial invaders. However, “this is not a doomsday book”. Surviving apocalypse, he says, depends not on lone heroes and escape, but on communities rebuilding with new structures and systems.