Popular ecology has always tended towards the jeremiad. ‘I think we’re fucked,’ wrote Stephen Emmott by way of conclusion to his recent 10 Billion, while numerous BBC natural history documentaries presented by the likes of David Attenborough have more politely implied the same thing. This tone of lamentation has a venerable pedigree, being deployed by Paul Ehrlich in the 1960s in his bestselling The Population Bomb and by Fairfield Osborn in the aftermath of the Second World War in Our Plundered Planet.
Chris Thomas’s fascinating new book, Inheritors of the Earth, strikes out on a different path. Fully cognisant of arguments that we are living in a new human-driven epoch, the Anthropocene, and that its impact will amount to a sixth great extinction event in the history of life on