By Hannah White @hannah_wht
The opening sentences of many ecology papers have now become a cliché, a declaration of biodiversity loss from climate change/habitat fragmentation/urbanisation (delete as appropriate). The effects of these are huge, not only to biodiversity but to aspects of the environment such as water availability and ocean acidification. Humans are having to adapt to and offset these changes that have been brought about during the Anthropocene (the geological epoch we are currently living in which humans have significantly altered the atmospheric, geological, hydrological and biospheric composition and processing of the planet).
Gaia Vince’s book ‘Adventures in the Anthropocene’ is an account of her travels around the globe documenting how local communities have had to adapt to new environmental changes. The enthusiasm, innovation and sheer grit of people is genuinely incredible. Although long term solutions to climate change and its consequences will have to happen at the national and even global scale, Vince talks to local people to see what they are doing within their community, sometimes to just carry on being able to live where they and their families have done for generations. Some memorable stories include Norphel, known as ‘The Glacierman’, an engineer who has built artificial glaciers to provide irrigation systems to poor farmers in his native region of Ladakh, a climate change-ravaged high altitude desert, a Caribbean man who has built his own island from waste headed for landfill which is now growing papaya and coconut trees and Mahabir, an amazing Nepalese man who has brought greenhouses and solar panel-charged wifi connecting his isolated Himalayan village to the rest of the world.
These are just a few of the numerous uplifting stories that Vince reports. This topic can so easily be full of doom and gloom but this book shows that there are glimmers of hope. That isn’t to say that she glosses over the devastating realities of the Anthropocene. We learn of the progressive president of the Maldives pro-active in defending his countries’ citizens as the ocean slowly engulfs the islands and also in publicising the effects of climate change and ways to deal with them globally; he has been referred to as ‘the real hero’ of international climate discussions in Copenhagen, prompting the only agreements in an otherwise unsuccessful meeting. But he was ousted in early 2012 as president and has now been replaced by the brother of a former dictator with different priorities.
The book also made me question what is really important and necessary to people. What is the trade-off in building a hydroelectric dam in Laos providing electricity to communities living on the Mekong when it will affect the only migration route of fish in the dry season – the primary food source of these communities?
Vince has managed to write a fast-paced book which is simultaneously thought-provoking, harrowing and inspiring. She covers numerous ecosystems, highlighting the devastating effects of the Anthropocene through shocking global statistics and then talking to people about how they are dealing with this within their local communities. Although this may seem like a disjoint of scales, she has bought real life stories to the forefront, ones you would never hear about in the media and has written an interesting yet informative read because of this which I would recommend to ecologists and non-ecologists alike.
Adventures in the Anthropocene: A Journey to the Heart of the Planet We Made by Gaia Vince is published by Vintage, part of Penguin Random House