Author Tags: Interview

Scientist, consultant and politician Renée Hetherington of North Saanich is a rare B.C. author published by Cambridge University Press. Born in Deep River, Ontario, in 1959, she has lived in B.C. since 1963. She gained her BA in business & economics from Simon Fraser University in 1981; followed by an MBA from the University of Western Ontario in 1985 and her interdisciplinary Ph.D. in Anthropology, Biology, Geography and Geology from University of Victoria in 2002. She ran unsuccessfully for election as a federal member of parliament for the Liberal Party in 2011, finish fourth to Green Party leader Elizabeth May in the riding of Saanich Gulf Islands.

In 2012, reviews of Living in a Dangerous Climate were available via the following websites:







The Climate Connection: Climate Change and Modern Human Evolution, co-authored with Robert G.B. Reid (London: Cambridge University Press, 2010).

Living in a Dangerous Climate: Climate Change and Human Evolution (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012).

[BCBW 2013]

Living in a Dangerous Climate: Climate Change and Human Evolution (Cambridge $28.95)
Interview (2013)

With 7 billion people on the planet and billions more expected to arrive over the next fifty years, we can innovate and change, or we can go extinct.
According to the latest annual Global Environmental Outlook report from the United Nations Environmental Programme [UNEP], world leaders have signed up for 500 international agreements in the past 50 years, thereby generating “treaty congestion.” It takes years to negotiate these treaties, then most are willfully ignored. Having examined 90 of the major environmental protection agreements in the world, UNEP has discovered:

• “Some” progress was shown in 40 goals (including expansion of protected areas, such as national parks, and efforts to reduce deforestation).
• “Little or no” progress was shown in 24 goals (including climate change, fish stocks, drought and desertification).
• “Further deterioration” was shown for eight goals (including coral reefs).
• “No data” was available for more than a dozen others.

But there is hope. Renée Hetherington’s engaging recapping of both human and earth history, Living in a Dangerous Climate: Climate Change and Human Evolution (Cambridge $28.95), explains how we got to the 21st century as a dominant species, and why we can rationally hope to exist for a few more centuries.

Written to appeal to both a general audience and an academic one, Hetherington poses poignant questions about the innovation, survival and dominance of the Homo sapiens species and provides insightful answers:
BC BookWorld: Why is innovation important?

Renée Hetherington: Looking back on Earth’s history, we have seen that when a crisis strikes, there are three options facing species: (1) move out of the affected areas; (2) innovate and change; or (3) go extinct. Humans are now the dominant species, but our options to respond to change remain the same. With 7 billion people on the planet and billions more expected to arrive over the next fifty years, we cannot migrate to somewhere new. We can innovate and change, or we can go extinct.

BW: How innovative has the Homo species been?

RH: Innovation at the species level creates variety, and there has been much variety in our past – H. habilis, H. erectus, H. ergaster, H. heidelbergensis, H. neanderthalensis, H. floresiensis. But today, there is only one remaining Homo species – Homo sapiens.

BW: What made H. sapiens innovate and survive?

RH: H. sapiens survived during previous rapid climate changes because of the three Cs: crisis, communication, and collaboration. When crises hit, humans moved into restricted territories where they could survive. They brought with them different ways, responses, cultures, and behaviours. They communicated these different ways of being with each other. Then they collaborated. Intelligence emerged, as did innovative ideas and behaviours like complex stone tools, agriculture and civilization.

BW: How did we become the most dominant of all species on the planet?

RH: Around 10,000 years ago, humans began to control and exploit plants, other animals, and nature generally. We responded to crises by increasingly controlling our environment so as to limit the amount of change with which we had to deal. We grew food, irrigated crops, stored food, heated and cooled our homes. We proliferated. Our dominance continued because our innovations kept up with the relatively minor climate and environmental changes we experienced. However, when innovations and behavioural adjustments did not keep up with a rapidly changing environment, extinction reared its dreaded head as the demise of Maya and Easter Islander civilizations attest.

BW: What is different about today?

RH: Climate change is not new, nor are species extinctions. What is new is the fact that the level of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere has escalated to levels never before experienced by H. sapiens, or observed in the scientific records that stretch over the last 800,000 years… Over the past 160 years, the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has increased by the same amount it increased over the previous 21,000 years, a period during which the Earth moved out of a glacial deep freeze and into the moderate climate of the 1800s. Yet although we are able to predict that this latest increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide will lead to future climate change, we are unable to feel its full effects here and now because it takes time for these rapid atmospheric changes to work their way through Earth’s climate system. What is different is that our current behaviour will have long-term impacts on humanity and all species on Earth. So although we can predict, we cannot yet feel the crisis – so little change is stimulated. 9781107694736

[BCBW 2013]