The Earth in Human Hands, Shaping Our Planet’s Future
Astrobiology is a niche area of Earth sciences and it is in this context which this book considers the Anthropocene. Although at first I wondered if this would be a little contrived, as David sets out to convince you, thinking with a planetary science hat on about many topical Earth science issues is more important and relevant than most people think. He presents the Anthropocene as a result of our planetary system rather than a direct consequence of human actions. However, I have to admit that until part-way through, when politics and social science were brought into the mix alongside geology, the title felt a little bewildering.
I read this book with a background (perhaps obviously) in geology and an interest in anthropogenic impacts on the Earth. The first few chapters were mainly familiar material for me - but unexpected anecdotes and the introduction of some unexpected concepts made for entertaining reading. There was some juxtaposition between relatively advanced scientific vocabulary and explanations of fairly basic geological concepts and I think someone with little knowledge of Earth sciences could struggle.
The book considers some of the philosophical questions related to our role as caretakers of the planet as a whole rather than considering individual Earth science systems such as weather. Instead of jumping to extreme conclusions, Grinspon argues why astrobiology supports favouring stability over innovation and that we are ‘perhaps engineering Earth only in the way that your infant is engineering your home media system by sticking cookies in the DVD slot’.
However the book stops short of suggesting answers to many of the questions which are posed to the reader and instead presents novel, space-research-related ways in which to approach problems and allows you to draw your own conclusions. As the author reminds us – ‘The difference between us and the dinosaurs is that they didn't have a space programme.
I enjoyed reading this book. What sets it apart from some titles on similar topics is the less 'authoritative' tone; perhaps a more appropriate and enjoyable reading experience for those with a background in the subject. Rather than read like a university set text, it has more character and encourages you to think about a wide range of topical Earth science issues – everything from the implications of contacting aliens to whether we should consider the use of fossil fuels as akin to slavery.
Reviewed by Dawn Brooks
THE EARTH IN HUMAN HANDS, SHAPING OUR PLANET’S FUTURE by DAVID GRINSPOON, 2016. Published by Grand Central Publishing 522pp (hbk) ISBN: 978145558912852800 List Price: $28.00 USD. W: grandcentralpublishing.com