Michael Mehta Webster is an expert in ecology, conservation, philanthropy, and non-profit management expert and a Professor of Practice in the Department of Environmental Studies at New York University. He has also led efforts to connect cutting-edge science to protecting species and ecosystems in the wild as the Executive Director of the Coral Reef Alliance, a Program Officer at the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, and an academic scientist at Cornell University and Oregon State University. Webster earned a Ph.D. in Zoology at Oregon State University, and a B.S. in Zoology from the University of Wisconsin.
As temperatures rise to unsustainable heights and ecosystems buckle under the weight of climate change, it’s increasingly easy to succumb to paralysis. But, if we look at the world through a different lens, as Michael Mehta Webster suggests, we might find that when it comes to the earth’s durability there’s a lot to be optimistic about. Webster’s groundbreaking debut, The Rescue Effect (Timber Press, Oct 11, 2022), offers a powerful antidote to eco-anxiety—recasting the narrative of ecological decline as a continual process of adaptation and resilience.
In The Rescue Effect, Webster reveals that the natural world has a series of systems—rescue effects—that automatically activate to help organisms when their environment changes, “like a thermostat turning the air conditioning on when a room gets too warm, the rescue effect automatically turns on when a population is stressed or declining.” Through these systems, nature can independently save endangered species from extinction. These rescue effects are revealed in compelling stories of species that are adapting to the changing world—including tigers in the jungles of India, cichlid fish in the great rift lakes of Africa, and mountain pygmy-possums in the snowy mountaintops of southeastern Australia.
The Six Rescue Effects
- Demographic Rescue: When new individuals immigrate to a small population of organisms to provide a numerical boost that prevents them from going extinct.
- Reproductive Rescue: When the reproduction and survival rates of the group of organisms increase in uncrowded conditions, which increases the population size.
- Genetic Rescue: When immigrants bring new genetic diversity to a small population, helping it overcome genetic disorders.
- Phenotypic Rescue: When an organism adjusts its physiology, outward appearance, or behavior to cope successfully with changing environmental conditions.
- Geographic Rescue: When a species successfully relocates to a new geographic location after environmental changes render its old location unsuitable.
- Evolutionary Rescue: When organisms evolve, through survival of the fittest, to be able to persist under newly stressful conditions.
This does not mean humans can be passive. At the center of each story, people play a significant role—they must work in concert with nature to reverse climate change and save our planet. Webster combines rigorous research and gripping storytelling in The Rescue Effect, encouraging us all to confront our greatest challenge and find hope in nature itself.