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Sparing Nature

The Conflict between Human Population Growth and Earth's Biodiversity

Jeffrey K. McKee

Publication Year: 2003

 Are humans too good at adapting to the earth’s natural environment? Every day, there is a net gain of more than 200,000 people on the planet—that’s 146 a minute. Has our explosive population growth led to the mass extinction of countless species in the earth’s plant and animal communities?

Jeffrey K. McKee contends yes. The more people there are, the more we push aside wild plants and animals. In Sparing Nature, he explores the cause-and-effect relationship between these two trends, demonstrating that nature is too sparing to accommodate both a richly diverse living world and a rapidly expanding number of people. The author probes the past to find that humans and their ancestors have had negative impacts on species biodiversity for nearly two million years, and that extinction rates have accelerated since the origins of agriculture. Today entire ecosystems are in peril due to the relentless growth of the human population. McKee gives a guided tour of the interconnections within the living world to reveal the meaning and value of biodiversity, making the maze of technical research and scientific debates accessible to the general reader. Because it is clear that conservation cannot be left to the whims of changing human priorities, McKee takes the unabashedly neo-Malthusian position that the most effective measure to save earth’s biodiversity is to slow the growth of human populations. By conscientiously becoming more responsible about our reproductive habits and our impact on other living beings, we can ensure that nature’s services will make our lives not only supportable, but also sustainable for this century and beyond.

Published by: Rutgers University Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. i-vi


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pp. vii

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pp. ix-xiv

After finally ushering my last book into press in 2000, I soon felt another book formulating itself in my mind. I enjoyed writing The Riddled Chain, although the topic of its final chapter—the relevance of evolutionary research to contemporary environmental concerns...

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Chapter 1 Sparing Nature

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pp. 1-17

ALONG a scenic stretch of the Olentangy River, in central Ohio, is a rock jutting out of the water where I like to sit and think. I often refer to this rock and its surroundings as my “office.” As the water rushes past me I can enjoy observing a wide variety of plants and animals while I cogitate about life’s origins and destiny...

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Chapter 2 The Scattered Seeds

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pp. 18-37

CHANGE is an integral part of nature. Laws of physics may stay constant, but the only persistent law of biology is that of change. The world we live in is considerably different from what it was about 100,000 years ago, when our species took its modern form. Much of that change has been guided by our own hands...

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Chapter 3 The Human Wedge

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pp. 38-63

THE warm and wet tropics are a cauldron of biodiversity, so it is little surprise that the ancestry of humans can be traced to the tropical lands of Africa. The vast majority of our primate cousins, such as monkeys and apes, now live in the tropics. Such was the case sometime between six and three million years ago...

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Chapter 4 Genesis of a Crisis

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pp. 64-85

FORAGING was the human occupation for most of the time our species has spent here on earth. Growing our own food is a relatively recent innovation. Before that, generation after generation of our ancestors gathered fruits, nuts, and grains for the bulk of their sustenance, and wood for their fires...

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Chapter 5 Germs of Existence

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pp. 86-111

NOT far from the Chinese fossil site of Zhoukoudian, where we have found the earliest evidence of our ancestors’ spreading into temperate regions, is the modern city of Beijing. It is a sprawling city with an overwhelming number of people—well over fourteen million at the start...

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Chapter 6 The Great Restrictive Law

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pp. 112-132

WHENEVER I go back to South Africa for excavations and research at the fossil sites in the Makapansgat Valley, my thoughts range beyond the changes the world has seen over the past three million years. Much of note has happened since the bones of our distant ancestors...

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Chapter 7 Good to the Last Drop

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pp. 133-149

WHERE there is water there is life. Water comprises about two-thirds of our human bodily composition, and accordingly is important in every facet of our daily survival. Most of our world is covered with water, hence the abundance of life on earth. Species are more diverse...

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Chapter 8 Biodiversity in Action

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pp. 150-169

PRIOR to the current wave of extinctions that is engulfing our planet, the living world has seen five mass extinctions. Despite the precarious imbalance that resulted, life on earth recovered and got back to previous levels of biodiversity, albeit slowly. In some ways this was good...

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Chapter 9 Epilogue: The Keystone Species with a Choice

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pp. 170-184

EACH weekday morning, before I get down to the day’s writing and research, there is a fairly normal routine to follow. By the time I get cleaned up, dressed, have a chat with my wife, eat breakfast, dress my two boys and get them off to school...


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pp. 185-198


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pp. 199-210

About the Author

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pp. 211

E-ISBN-13: 9780813558776
E-ISBN-10: 0813558778

Page Count: 224
Illustrations: 23
Publication Year: 2003