The New Wild by Fred Pearce is a must-read book that challenges our thinking about nature and how to view the environment and the plants and animals who we share the Earth with.
Begin at the end with the author’s close for the last chapter:
Nature never goes back; it always moves on. Alien species, the vagabonds, are the pioneers and colonists in this constant renewal. Their invasions will not always be convenient for us, but nature will re-wild in its own way. That is the new wild. (p. 193)
Back to the front. The first of the three sections (“Alien Empires”) is a well-researched and engagingly written “look at the reality behind some of the inventions by alien species that have made headlines.” (p. xv) For example, 24 European rabbits were brought to Australia in 1859 by an English settler named Thomas Austin. They bred. Austin invited people to shoot them. Rabbits escaped. And now there are millions of them. To stop them, the government introduced the disease myxomatosis which killed off “all but a few thousand.” But, as Pearce notes, “The survivors, however, have become the basis for a population revival.”
As I read my way through this section, I could not help but think of it as a litany of human decision making gone wrong. This lead to that. Which means something had to be done. And, then, there are the consequences, which have to be dealt with. It made me want to scream: “Stop!” Just leave nature alone.”
Of course, this is impossible for us to do. We can not help ourselves. And to make sense of it all, we have to break things down into smaller pieces because it is too much effort, and the cost is too great, to take the holistic worldview and start from there.
So, a myriad of small-thinking decisions are made with the inevitable consequences, thereby bringing us to the second part (“Myths and Demons”). “The results are often comical,” Pearce notes as he examines “misplaced notions about how aliens affect the real world and how we do conservation.” (p. xv). Here, as in the books about cats I have also been reading recently, islands and the struggle between “native” and “non-native” species becomes the platform through which the world is put to right. Except that life is not that simple. What happens in the Galapagos can not be projected out to the North American continent.
The third section (“The New Wild”) “reboots our ideas about nature.” “Most of the world,” Pearce writes, “is now composed of novel mixtures of native and alien species, happily getting along together, enriching our lives, maintaining ecosystems, and recharging nature’s batteries.” (p. xv)
Pearce is an accomplished writer who marshals much information that is presented clearly except for a few times when I felt the weight of the evidence becoming too much. But this is more than made up for by his pithy remarks and wry observations.
As an animal rights advocate, I am currently working in the area of outdoor living domestic cats. They are, according to some, responsible for mental disease in people, extinction of birds, environmental pollution, and often sentenced to death as a non-native invasive species. But from reading The New Wild, my understanding of the arbitrary and caprciousness of labelling life as “native” and “invasive” is deeply problematic. For starters, it stems from the prejudicial thinking of some life forms as the “other.” Now that we live in the age of the anthropocene, and climate change and mass extinction are facts of life, we need to understand nature as a dynamic, ever-changing force. It is not a romantic, pristine past that with some jiggery pokery we can recreate like a Disney theme park.
We are all made up from things that were, at some point, native and non-native.