30 December 2021

Footprints: In search of future fossils, by David Farrier

Posted by Callan Bentley

David Farrier is an English professor at the University of Edinburgh. He can write! He is interested in how humanity’s existence will be recorded in the geologic record – what will be our species’ most enduring traces? Footprints is a record of his explorations of that theme – in Scotland, China, Finland, and Australia, he explores key sites and meets with key people. From the to the nuclear waste repository at Onkalo to the Great Barrier Reef to the strata exposed at low tide near Dunbar, Farrier keenly pokes about and muses about our place in the grand sweep of geologic time. Informed by a systems-fluent environmental ethos, Farrier writes in a tone that is calm and contemplative, but with a bit of whimsey thrown in. We’ve long known that our lives our ephemeral phenomena; Farrier extends this to our species and imagines the post-human world: the aspects of its condition that we have wrought, and those that have occurred despite our efforts. It’s a fascinating mix, adequately explored and well described.

One of the neatest chapters was a thought exercise about the future of a plastic bottle. It reminded me favorably of the chapter in Michael Welland’s Sand wherein he describes the deep-time journey of a grain of sand. It would make a great stand-alone reading assignment for an undergraduate class in environmental geology or oceanography.

There were two small factual errors in the edition I read, but nothing that critically undermines the book’s mission. I’ve emailed the author about them, so hopefully they will be fixed in future editions.

Geologic time is lucky to have enticed Farrier’s attention. He writes well about it, and I hope it’s not too much to hope for more geo-focused volumes from his pen in the years to come.