The Human Age
The World Shaped by Us
Diane Ackerman
(W. W. Norton)
  • A common sightseeing tour in Japan is a kojo moe, a day's visit to industrial landscapes. One of the favorites is Kawasaki, "an industrial hub rich in rust, contaminated water, and polluted air."
  • In Australia, Tasmanian devils are coming down with cancer, koalas with the venereal disease chlamydia, and the hairy-nosed wombat is dying off because their foodstuffs --- "native spear, tussock, and poa grasses" --- are being consumed by cows.
  • Global warming is highly beneficial to the trumpeter swan. Once almost extinct, they now have "longer summers to feed and raise their young."
  • Likewise, the orca revel in warmer waters. By opening the Northwest Passage, global warming has allowed them to widen their range to catch their favorite foods: belugas and narwhals.
  • Many a natural habitat is disappearing, so wild animals are becoming immigrants; that is, moving to the cities --- coyotes to Chicago, moose to towns in Alaska, mountain lions to places like Butte, Billings, Helena, and Poison(!) Montana. Alligators in Florida now "create an extra water hazard" in various golf courses.
  • According to the Department of Energy, if you set aside a portion of the ocean the size of "half the size of Maine and grow just kelp, you can produce enough biofuel to replace oil in the U. S." No fertilizer, no fresh water needed.
  • Pets can be genetically engineered with firefly or jellyfish protein so they glow in the dark. Already created: "fluorescent green cats, mice, fish, monkeys and dogs." What's that dull glow in your basement? Oh that's my fluorescent red alley cat, hunting my luminous blue-green field mice just in from the lab.

Ms. Ackerman says she came to this study wide open, to be sure not to prejudge the facts. She proves in this book that if you want to protect the earth you should not be living in Bisbee or Butte or Bozeman, but in New York City where everything is neatly packed, transportation is general, apartments are stacked vertically, and cars are so expensive that they're not worth having --- much less driving about.

One of the wry stories here concerns bats during WWII. The U. S. Air Force collected thousands of "free-tailed" bats from Bracken Caves and got them fitted with little bombs. No kidding. The plan was to drop them from airplanes over Japan; they would nest the roofs of paper shacks in Tokyo and environs and one day they would all explode and turn the city into a burning inferno. But in some drab Texas air force base a few escaped ahead of B-Day (Bat-Day) and and set the whole encampment afire so the plan had to be scrapped.

Ms. Ackerman is an agile writer, and has enough going on here to keep her and the reader going for a few hours.

--- Richard Saturday
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