Cover image for Human nature : a blueprint for managing the earth--by people, for people
Human nature : a blueprint for managing the earth--by people, for people
Trefil, James, 1938-
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Times Books/Henry Holt, [2004]

Physical Description:
xiv, 249 pages ; 25 cm
General Note:
Includes index.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
GF21 .T74 2004 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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A radical approach to the environment which argues that by harnessing the power of science for human benefit, we can have a healthier planet As a prizewinning theoretical physicist and an outspoken advocate for scientific literacy, James Trefil has long been the public's guide to a better understanding of the world. In this provocative book, Trefil looks squarely at our environmental future and finds-contrary to popular wisdom-reason to celebrate.For too long, Trefil argues, humans have treated nature as something separate from themselves-pristine wilderness to be saved or material resources to be exploited. What we need instead is a scientific approach to the environment that embraces the human transformation of nature for our benefit. In Human Nature , Trefil exposes the benefits of genetically modified species, uncovers vital facts about droughts and global warming, and points to examples of environmental management where catering to humans reaps greater rewards than sheltering other species. By taking advantage of explosive advances in the sciences, we can fruitfully manage the planet, if we rise to the challenge.Like Rachel Carson's Silent Spring and Paul Ehrlich's Population Bomb, Human Nature promises to fundamentally alter the way we perceive our relationship to the Earth-but with optimism rather than alarm.

Author Notes

James Trefil is the Clarence J. Robinson Professor of Physics at George Mason University

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

With several lively and informal works of popular science to his credit (Sharks Have No Bones; Are We Unique?), Trefil is certainly qualified to tackle the controversial, timely topic of how humans ought to affect the planet they live on. He argues that from the dawn of an agricultural society, man has always engineered nature to suit his needs. And because we're the only form of life with the ability to move mountains (as much literally as metaphorically), there's no rational reason not to manage the environment mainly for the benefit of man an aggressive, unapologetic inversion of an Earth First philosophy. With the advent of 21st-century scientific breakthroughs particularly the mapping of DNA and forays into genetic manipulation this rather radically reasoned book declares that a bold new world of "overcoming the limits imposed by nature" awaits. It's a vision of planetary terraforming imbued with bravura and optimism (Trefil declares that alarm over global warming is a nearsighted cousin to the millennium hysteria around Y2K). The author's hubristic, occasionally cranky dismissal of the environmental movement as mere "pop ecology" is sure to have greens seeing red. But readers who think of the wilderness primarily as a place to spend the weekend will be reassured by his vision of the power of science, rather than restrained stewardship, as mankind's best bet for saving the planet. (May) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

In his latest book, science writer Trefil (The Nature of Science) succinctly states his thesis: "The global ecosystem should be managed for the benefit, broadly conceived, of human beings." To many ardent environmentalists, this simple principle might seem like anathema. After all, haven't the actions of self-interested human beings led to some of the most egregious abuses of nature? Wouldn't it be better, instead, to leave nature alone? Trefil dismisses such thinking as "pop ecology" rooted in the myth of a lost Eden, and he further asserts that homo sapiens have engaged in the business of ecosystem management since the dawn of agriculture. Now, with modern technology, such as genetically modified foods, there is unprecedented potential for maximizing nature's bounty. Further, he argues for commonsense approaches to such hot-button issues as global warming and species extinctions. A physicist by trade, Trefil unabashedly ventures into other disciplines, and while some of his arguments can be subject to legitimate criticism, his focus remains utterly pragmatic throughout. Some readers will recoil at his bottom-line, cost/benefit approach to environmental stewardship, but he in no way suggests that human beings have a license to pillage the planet. Instead, in an argument worthy of continued discussion, Trefil stresses a practical, responsible approach that could serve people and sustain a livable environment.-Gregg Sapp, Science Lib., SUNY at Albany (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



From Human Nature: The knowledge that scientists have been assembling over the past couple of decades will return human beings to nature, not as participants--as our ancestors were when they invented agriculture and began to domesticate plants and animals--but, profoundly, as managers. Like it or not, ready or not, we have become the caretakers of this planet. In fact, the best way to think of our future relationship to our planet is to think of the relationship between a gardener and a garden. No gardener wantonly destroys his or her plants, but every gardener pulls out weeds. A garden is managed to meet the needs of the gardener, and in just the same way, we are acquiring the ability to manage our planet, to shape it as we will, for our benefit. This is a message of enormous hope. The Earth is not a fragile, hopeless place, forever at the mercy of some guy with a chain saw. It is a complex, resilient system, one that we can manage and nurture. Excerpted from Human Nature: A Blueprint for Managing the Earth--By People, for People by James Trefil All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

Table of Contents

Prefacep. xi
I. The First Stepp. 1
1. Where Do We Fit In?p. 3
2. Nature and Natural Selectionp. 23
3. Leaving Nature Behindp. 37
II. The Myths of Pop Ecologyp. 51
4. Lost Edenp. 53
5. The Myth of Stabilityp. 65
6. The Myth of the Pristine Wildernessp. 79
7. The Myth That We Are Poisoning the Earthp. 93
8. The Question of Extinctionp. 111
9. The Greenhouse Effect and Global Warmingp. 125
III. The New Environmental Toolboxp. 147
10. Genomicsp. 149
11. Genetic Modificationp. 161
12. The Emergence of Complexityp. 177
13. Experimental Ecosystemsp. 189
IV. The Second Stepp. 203
14. A Matter of Choicesp. 205
15. The Managed Planetp. 221
Indexp. 235