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Book review

I haven’t done a book review before so thought I’d give it a crack. I’ve just read The New Wild: Why Invasive Species Will Be Nature’s Salvation by UK writer Fred Pearce. Very challenging.

The New Wild

Occasionally you wake from a dream unsure of details but carrying a vaguely disturbed feeling which lingers for the rest of the day. This is how The New Wild left me. And it was caused by the over-riding message in the book being completely at odds with my natural feelings; akin to being told that dropping cigarette butts out the car window is actually a good thing.

It is not cigarettes that we are being asked to accept by Pearce but the many nasty introduced life forms that are not natural wherever we live. Essentially the book’s thesis is that introduced species are not “bad” and should be accepted as new members of our ecosystems. Although some will cause havoc (eg rats in New Zealand), many will strengthen the ecosystems that we humans are battering so brutally. We can’t recreate the “old wild” and should accept and even applaud the very different “new wild”.

Many, many (too many?) examples, studies and stories are included by Pearce to illustrate the case he is making. And yet his arguments are still very elusive to me. Ironically, it feels as if scientific studies are being referenced to build an impression, a feeling, in the absence of a clearly laid out argument. And this is fine to a point because ultimately decisions concerning our environment come down to culture and emotion – there is no right or wrong answer. But it didn’t help my uneasiness.

I also felt uneasy that my country’s struggling native flora and fauna was being classed as “losers” and could be sacrificed to the future. Pearce calls for us to back the winners, those global species which can help ecosystems to fight against the ravages of humanity. It’s not exactly defined how species qualify as winners. Are rats a winner in NZ? Should we accept them? How do they help our ecosystems?

The answers to these questions escape me and I come away from reading The New Wild with far more questions than I went in with. But while Pearce doesn’t present a clear argument to support his ideas, in a funny way you find yourself doing this for him. It challenges your current thinking. If I can accept chaffinches as honorary natives (and I do), then why not the evil shiprat or Tradescantia (wandering willie)? And if I can’t accept them then what can I do about it?

Although I criticised the book at length for its repetitive use of examples in the first hundred pages,waiting for Pearce to make his point, in the end I put it in the “good read” section of my bookshelf for the challenge it gave me. And then wondered should I start pulling the Tradescantia in my garden…  or just make a cup of tea and relax.