review by Jono Neiger
“We have bought into some dangerous mythology about how nature works.”
“Please judge the species I describe by what they do or don’t do and not by the label attached to them.”
“Mainstream conservationists are right that we need a rewilding of the Earth, but they are wrong if they imagine that we can achieve that by going backward. We need a New Wild…””
The New Wild is the latest book by Fred Pearce, a science writer and environmental journalist who writes on science, the environment, and development. He has written a wide range of books including The Land Grabbers: The Fight Over Who Owns the Earth, and The Climate Files: The Battle for the Truth About Global Warming, among numerous others. He is currently the environmental consultant for the New Scientist magazine and a regular contributor to numerous newspapers and publications.
Whatever you think of the native-invasive issue, you might want to read Pearce’s exploration of it. From the science of species dispersal to the research and conservation community’s response and efforts to stop the spread of these newcomers, his writing is very accessible and straightforward.
Pearce’s narrative is that of a journalist trying to understand the issue. He is clearly one who was sold on the invasive species hype and is sharing his unfolding process of discovery with us. As he delves into the well-known stories of invaders such as those on remote islands, he finds that there is often more to the story than the headlines and intensive rhetoric that most of the public hears. A more nuanced picture emerges; that of species introduced by humans often taking advantage of the disturbed environments left by said humans—species that are often part of the repair and regeneration of ecosystems.
From this exploration of specific high visibility examples, Pearce goes on to a look at current conservation approaches and the efforts at species’ removal (often failures), that cost millions of dollars, and in many cases, leave the ecosystem even more depleted. Pearce reviews potential solutions to the ecosystem problems and efforts; solutions that recognize we live on a planet filled with “novel” ecosystems of species mixes that are new and often just as complex and evolving as earlier species mixes.
The book ends with a call to reboot conservation and relook at our relationship to these new and rewilding places filled with naturalized species; to bring our communities, our societies into alignment with repairing damaged ecosystems. Some conservationists are looking at more active interventions in the face of climate change and some species’ inability to move fast enough to keep up with the changes afoot.
In all of this, Pearce comes across as a reasoned and informed voice from his time researching and writing about environmental and development issues. The story has an optimism for the potential of the “new wild”, a landscape where nature has the ability to claw back its own space and renew its own path of evolution and discovery. There are many cases already where we’ve seen this happening such as forest species adapting to garlic mustard root chemicals and black ducks feeding on zebra mussels on the St. Lawrence River. The New Wild represents a call for recognizing that we humans can’t conceive of the timeframes of ecosystems and the complexity of wild nature.
“Nature as a dynamic force will be reborn” (p. 181)
In the growing collection of books and articles questioning our ideas around invasive speces, The New Wild is probably the best for someone without extensive science background, and who has eyes open with a desire to truly understand the issue with all its complexity and ambiguity. Other books such as Where Do Camels Belong?, Rambunctious Garden, Beyond the War On Invasive Species and the textbook Invasion Biology by Mark Davis are good reads and worth the efforts. But The New Wild is complete in its ability to tell the story while delving into the science, politics, and history of the issue to deepen our understanding.