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The iguaca parrots no longer sing

The End of Eden – Wild Nature in the Age of Climate Breakdown
Forfatter: Adam Welz
Forlag: Bloomsbury, (USA)
THE CLIMATE CRISIS / This book makes all other climate literature seem dangerously anthropocentric. We obviously haven't been very good at monitoring the earthly paradise.


A comment that often comes up in everyday conversations about the climate is "the earth will do just fine, it's us humans who get to pay for it". Apparently, it is a reminder that much, perhaps everything, is at stake for us humans. At the same time, this everyday scientific cliché offers an apparently well-informed and reassuring thought, based on a large perspective, if not from the point of view of the stars, then starting from deep time and geological time scales of millions of years. Climate & Environmentthe changes are a temporary crisis for humans, brought about by ourselves.

In a million years it will all be forgotten, sure enough, that sounds true! But how safe is it really? And isn't forgetting part of the problem? And what does it mean that "the earth will recover"? It's not about Venus, Mars or Pluto, it's about the living earth and thus everything that lives on it. Whether we side with those who maximize the crisis and talk about the extinction of humanity, or with those who minimize the crisis and say that we will be fine, the question of whether other species will survive is a blind spot – a blindness that includes everyone but ourselves.

The cover of environmental writer Adam Welz's book The End of Eden is cleverly illustrated with a painting of the Garden of Eden where many of the animals and plants have been cut out, leaving white silhouettes. How else should we illustrate an absence? When Welz in the subtitle and the book as a whole emphasizes the material moisture meter shows you the nature wanted, it is precisely to emphasize that it is not man's organized production systems, agriculture and breeding, that applies this time, but the nature we grew out of, the earthly paradise mythology told us was given to us by higher powers, to enjoy off – but also to watch over.

To survive man

Obviously, we have not been very good at overseeing the earthly paradise, and the damage that man has caused goes back to our distant ancestors, really back to the taming of fire among pre-humans. Stone Age man used fire to ignite large areas to aid in the hunt, and this had some good, but perhaps far more bad consequences. The hunt – with or without fire – was above all dangerously effective.

Anyone who wants to get involved naturothe long history of rape, can read some of the books of recent years, such as Bronswimmer's ecocideA Short History of the Mass Extinction of Species or Dawson's EA Radical History. The new thing about Welz's book is that it clearly describes the consequences of the fire we use in our time, fossil fuels, on wild animals and plants.

If we look at overviews of the reasons why animals and plants die out, climate change comes in third place, after landscape use and extraction.

If we look at overviews of the reasons why animals and plants die out, climate change comes in third place, after landscape use and extraction (legal plus illegal hunting and fishing, as well as legal plus illegal gathering and logging). But do we really know how the climate affects it, and how much damage new climate conditions do? What makes Welz's book extremely important and interesting is that, through selected examples, he shows us the intricate relationships at play. The survivability of plants and animals is disrupted by heat, drought, shifts in seasons, diseases and parasites, and blocked migration routes.

200 000 saiga-antelope

The examples are almost like crime mysteries, with Welz recounting mass deaths and disappearances through the biologists' "investigation", while unpacking the deep history of each species over tens of thousands, sometimes millions, of years.

One of the most striking is a case in which a herd of over 200 saiga antelope perished in just a few hours in May 000. This remarkable animal that once roamed from the steppes of Asia to the British Isles, and today lives in Mongolia and Kazakhstan – has a mule with distinctive nostrils, which are excellent for regulating temperature in hot and cold weather. It turns out that a period of unusually humid climate caused a bacteria in the saiga's mucous membranes to multiply unhindered and spread like a poison in the animal's body. A symbiotic and otherwise harmless microbe became dangerous due to unusual weather which in turn has its origin in climate change that can be traced back to our cars, planes and power plants that use fossil fuels. No clear perpetrator or action killed the 2015 saigaone, but we humans were just as fully involved.

Vulnerable heat tolerance

Nature changes all the time, but in our time it changes too much and too quickly for many forms of life to adapt, Welz points out. An obvious and clear problem is heat tolerance, because microbes, plants and animals, including humans, live in temperature niches.

We all have strategies for cold and heat, but if the temperature becomes too extreme, we succumb.

We all have strategies for cold and heat, but if the temperature becomes too extreme, we succumb. If it gets too hot, you either have to adapt, move or die. Plants cannot move, and the ability to adapt often develops extremely slowly. The Joshua trees in California are a good example: they store water in the trunk, but small trees have less water stores, and thus they succumb. An estimated 80 percent of the trees in Joshua Tree National Park will die out during our century, and growth is minimal.

For many birds, desert animals and reptiles, the solution is to sit in the shade when it gets too hot, but the time they have to spend hiding from the sun is time they should have spent gathering food for themselves and their offspring. Extreme weather caused by climate change can destroy vulnerable niches, such as when a hurricane wiped out all the old trees used as nests by the last iguaca parrots in Puerto Rico. A few survive in captivity, but they no longer sing as before: as Welz writes, a singing tradition that was handed down from generation to generation for a million years has been interrupted forever. Through such observations, he also evokes a sense of how precious and irreplaceable each is animalhe eats

A precious balance

The causes of species loss Welz' describes can be traced all the way back to climate change, but the connections are often staggeringly complex. The nature conservationists' measures are often even more intricate, whether it is vaccinating birds, growing plants in greenhouses or meticulously mapping and improving migration routes for both birds, animals and plants.

Welz moves across all continents, at sea and in the mountains. This round trip gives us glimpses of how we are on the way to losing the stable earth that was a gift from the Holocene, the stable period after the last ice age 10 years ago. Instability is the foremost characteristic of the Anthropocene, the epoch of man – and instability is also unfavorable to man, as well as to all other forms of life that seek adaptation.

Ecology's basic insight that everything is connected also means that everything affects each other: that fine-tuned patterns can unravel – processes we have only seen the beginning of and have no idea the extent of. The earth, the living earth, is not doing well.

As Welz points out, perhaps humans will do better than wild animals and plants, since we are generalists and can adapt. But all that is rare, fragile, exquisitely adapted, all animals and plants that depend on a precious balance, are systematically threatened by the new instability.

If we want to do something about this, we must work intensively to mitigate the causes while at the same time mapping and countering the effects. Welz's book gives us a unique overview of what is at stake , rd#boere most when the climate changes.

Anders Dunk
Anders Dunker
Philosopher. Regular literary critic in Ny Tid. Translator.

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