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Pleistocene Park

Seeking no one’s help and asking nobody’s permission, Russian geophysicist Sergey Zimov and his son Nikita are gathering any large wooly beast they can get their hands on, and transporting them, by whatever low budget means they can contrive, to the most remote corner of Siberia. They call their project Pleistocene Park. The goal: restore the Ice Age “mammoth steppe” ecosystem and avoid a catastrophic feedback loop leading to runaway global warming. Sergey would know: fifteen years ago he published in the journal Science showing that frozen arctic soils contain twice as much carbon as the earth’s atmosphere. These soils are now starting to melt.

While Zimov’s brilliance and charisma have won him friends and supporters, his oversized ego, lack of diplomacy, and cranky iconoclasm make him a challenge to work with. Nikita, Sergey’s son, is the last man standing to deal with his father’s idiosyncrasies and carry forward his vision.

Nature doesn’t cooperate, equipment breaks, bureaucrats meddle, animals run away, there is never enough money, and constant media coverage nets them unsolicited advice from around the globe, but no concrete support. After years of backbreaking labor and risking their lives on shoestring expeditions to bring animals to Pleistocene Park, it remains an extremely funky operation, dominated by swarming mosquitoes and mud pits rather than vast thundering herds.

The clock is ticking. Impacts of climate change – hurricanes, wildfires, heat waves and floods – are being felt sooner than anticipated. Sergey and Nikita find alarming evidence that permafrost is reaching its tipping point now, rather than in thirty years as they predicted. On a global scale, progress addressing the root cause of climate change – anthropogenic carbon emissions – is as elusive as ever.

Can two Russian scientists stave off a worst case scenario of global environmental catastrophe and reshape humanity’s relationship with the natural world?