Book Review: Scatter, Adapt, and Remember (Washington Post)
Some years ago, in preparation for a college semester in Costa Rica, I secured a copy of John Lofty Wiseman’s “SAS Survival Handbook.” After assembling a survival kit inside an Altoids tin, I studied how to evade a volcanic gas ball or trap a monkey. Should I be forced to ditch my plane in the Gulf of Mexico, I felt confident that I could obtain freshwater by sucking on fish eyes.
Such skills, however, may be practical only if fish remain in the oceans and monkeys in the trees. MacGyvers in the 21st century — or the 31st for that matter — will face a suite of existential challenges that cannot be remedied with nylon fishing line. A warmer Earth could unleash continent-wide droughts and wars over water supplies. Or a new plague could sweep through our cities and kill millions. Or else an asteroid could slam into Pittsburgh, sparking fires that transform the landscape into charcoal.
Although these doomsday scenarios may sound like fantasy, only the solutions to them are. In “Scatter, Adapt, and Remember,” Annalee Newitz presents a sort of prophylaxis for the apocalypse. As the founding editor of io9, a Gawker Media blog about science and futurism, Newitz is a techno-optimist, convinced that we humans can outwit just about everything our solar system throws at us in the coming millennia. “How can I say that with so much certainty?” she asks. “Because the world has been almost completely destroyed at least half a dozen times already in Earth’s 4.5-billion-year history, and every single time there have been survivors.” She’s probably right.