Earth—you know, that big round thing we live on?—is in for a rough time. We’re overdue for a catastrophe the likes of which have caused mass extinctions in the past. We don’t know if a megavolcano will darken the planet’s surface or if gamma rays might fry us like so many man-in-the-moon marigolds. We may even author our own demise by continuing to burn fossil fuels at a rate that overheats the atmosphere. Bad things will happen, and people will die. But humanity as a whole? We got this. The key is to Scatter, Adapt, and Remember.
Science writer Annalee Newitz initially set out to write a fairly gloomy analysis of our planetary destiny, but the facts she found wouldn’t support it. Traveling the world to study past mass extinctions, as well as cutting-edge urban design, Newitz found evidence at every stage of survival through adaptation and evolution. Building a foundation in prehistory, she speculates that our future may involve a combination of more underground cities, as well as space colonization. It’s heady reading, both thought-provoking and entertaining.
Among the fantastical notions Newitz uncovers are visions for bioengineered cities, where all available surface area is used to grow food, indoor lights may be powered by algae and bacteria may help filter pollutants. This could potentially lead to a greater sense of urban stewardship, as neighbors “tend their buildings together, trading recipes for making fuel the way people today trade recipes for holiday cakes.”
While much of the information here is subject to debate—even the causes of previous mass extinctions tend to be argued over by scholars—we do know it will happen again. How we choose to act on that information may slow the process, or give us a fighting chance at a legacy to be proud of. Scatter, Adapt, and Remember raises frightening issues but offers multiple reasons to remain hopeful. Read it and find your place in the matrix of solutions.