Colin Tudge

British writer

Colin Hiram Tudge (born 22 April 1943) is a British science writer and broadcaster. A biologist by training, he is the author of numerous works on food, agriculture, genetics, and species diversity.

Quotes edit

The Time Before History: 5 Million Years of Human Impact (1995) edit

All quotes from the American trade paperback edition, published in 1997 by Simon & Schuster (Touchstone edition), ISBN 0-684-83052-3, 1st printing
The original British edition is titled The Day Before Yesterday

  • A knowledge of our own history is a significant part of culture and, at present, that knowledge is absurdly curtailed.
    • Chapter 1 “Prologue: A Proper History of Humankind” (p. 12)
  • I find that as my knowledge grows, so my appreciation deepens.
    • Chapter 1 “Prologue: A Proper History of Humankind” (p. 15)
  • We cannot claim to take the environment seriously until we acknowledge that a million years is a proper unit of political time. That is the general lesson of history.
    • Chapter 1 “Prologue: A Proper History of Humankind” (p. 20)
  • Every society has cause to know that the beneficence of the Earth cannot be taken for granted.
    • Chapter 2 “How the World Works” (p. 27)
  • This intricate picture has not been easy to put together. It has required a succession of insights over three centuries, each one demanding a huge leap of imagination, and the Earth scientists, though little recognized, have been among the most imaginative of all. But because the insights did require such imagination, each has met with incredulity. No scientists have been more comprehensively scorned than those who have sought to explain how the world behaves. Time after time, however, the most extraordinary ideas have turned out to be right, and the conservative notions have proved inadequate.
    • Chapter 2 “How the World Works” (p. 31)
  • The crucial notion that the world has not always been the way it is now.
    • Chapter 2 “How the World Works” (p. 32)
  • In practice, the attempt to relate the evidence on the ground directly to the Noachian Flood was more or less abandoned after the 1820s.
    • Chapter 2 “How the World Works” (p. 33)
  • The point is simply to realize that the Earth does indeed behave in extraordinary ways—and incredulity is no defense.
    • Chapter 2 “How the World Works” (p. 66)
  • The effect of natural selection over time is to change the composition of the gene pool.
    • Chapter 3 “The Dance Through Time” (p. 92)
  • Nature is endlessly inventive, yet endlessly reinvents.
    • Chapter 4 “Fellow Creatures” (p. 156)
  • In particular, to suggest that the creature which is measurably superior in any particular respect is ipso facto morally superior is bad science (since it is not in the brief of science to make such judgments) and also bad moral philosophy (since this is merely a variation on the deeply suspect theme of “might makes right”).
    • Chapter 6 “What’s So Special About Us?” (p. 236)
  • In short, we are innately bad at introspection.
    • Chapter 6 “What’s So Special About Us?” (p. 245)
  • Natural selection is not concerned with dignity—only with reproductive success.
    • Chapter 7 “The End of Eden: Farming” (p. 272)
  • Nature’s rules are universal, and nature has no taste.
    • Chapter 9 “The Next Million Years” (p. 316)
  • The agricultural systems of the world are not actually designed to feed people....If the prime concern of the human species was to feed people, then we would do things very differently.
    • Chapter 9 “The Next Million Years” (p. 325; ellipsis represents a brief elision of examples)
  • The party really is over....The attitude that has been so appropriate this past 10,000 years, and has allowed the most exploitative-experimental people to rise inexorably if fitfully to the top, has simply ceased to be appropriate. Yet our economies are geared to the exploitative-experimental approach, and so are our political systems. So all of a sudden, or so it seems, our political and economic institutions and philosophies are out of synch with the biological and physical realities of the planet. It might be unrealistic to devise new systems that are radically different, with a radically different motivation; but if we do not do this, then we cannot seriously contemplate long-term survival. Surely it cannot be the case that the only “realistic” course is to head pell-mell for disaster? Is that what the level-headed, sober-suited people are arguing? Our position seems not merely precarious, but ludicrous.
    • Chapter 9 “The Next Million Years” (p. 342; ellipsis represents a brief elision of examples)

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