Proud Co-Founder of Transition Town High Wycombe
Proud Member of the Low Carbon Chilterns Cooperative
Proud owner & retrofitter of Superhome 59
This website proud host of the High Wycombe Local Food Guide
Books - Authors M through Q
In this section you will find our Book Reviews of the work of Authors M through Q. The topics we cover are across the spectrum of topics including Global Warming, Peak Oil, Oil Security, Politics, Environmental issues, etc. The views expressed here are purely those of the reviewer's. These reviews are not prompted by copies direct from the Publisher.
It is our policy to be fair about each book and to point out good and bad in each review. In our opinion we believe that the informed Post-Carbon Person should make a reasonable effort to read a selection of these books based upon our recommendations. Knowledge is power.
Ted Nordhaus & Michael Shellenberger "Breakthrough"
ISBN-13: 978-0-618-65825-1. "Breakthrough - From the Death of Environmentalism to the Politics of Possibility" was published by the Houghton Mifflin Company in 2007. This was the authors' follow up to the highly controversial 2004 essay "The Death of Environmentalism". For your money you get 344 pages consisting of introduction, ten chapters, notes, bibliography, index and lengthy acknowledgements. The authors are young and are described as "managing directors" of American Environics (describing itself as "a social values research and strategy firm"). This appears to boil down to policy advice to Congressmen on new and clever ways to get environmental policies into law by disguising them as something else and far more glamorous. This is sugaring the medicine basically. This is not to say that their work is without merit but they are overly sincere for most of the book. You don't half get the feeling that some "environmentalist" stole their ice cream when they were five years of age and they have never forgotten it. This is their revenge upon the whole rotten lot. The book is by Americans for Americans. Considering that they wish to address Climate Change, which is a global issue, you might think they would have taken a slightly more internationalist approach. Indeed vast swathes of this book deal with the cultural peculiarities of the United States.
For example they believe that American citizens might more relaxed about tackling Climate Change if the US had universal free healthcare. This is all part of their theory that affluent westerners are now unresponsive to environmental messages because we have all become insecure (they describe it as "insecure affluence"). A new social contract might return a sense of security and thus, their theory goes, return people's minds to higher things. Such as saving mankind from itself. Or Americans. This work seeks to articulate a new form of politics free from the "politics of limits" that environmentalists describe. Instead the authors propose a new way of dealing with environmental issues. They must be viewed holistically within the societies that spawned them and sold to the public by wrapping them up in a rich tapestry of other social niceties. For example, you don't just pass a law to improve US automobile efficiency. Instead you agree that the Federal Government should assist with automotive worker legacy healthcare costs. In return the car companies have to improve those MPG figures. All of which leaves those of us in Europe, Japan and the rest of the world scratching our heads and asking "what the hell is wrong with Americans?" Surely the free market should dictate that good miles per gallon sells cars. Likewise, the rest of the world has universal free healthcare but we have been no better at solving global warming.
Well, it is all relative, the authors are glowing in their praise for the European Union in contrast to the Bush Jnr regime. But we wonder how they would be writing this book after eight years of Barack Obama? We even get treated to Nordhaus & Shellenberger's theory that environmentalists would be more successful if they were organised like evangelical Christians. We can't see that of being a great use to Friends of the Earth in places like Tokyo. Maybe these two should just get out more? Clearly they are listening though. They call for the ending of odious third world debt. They often use the example of Brazil. Brazil is cutting down its rainforest to pay the interest on its debt. The debt was incurred by an undemocratic military dictatorship. Why is the whole world paying for this? Quite. Drop the debt.
Many of us will find this book highly frustrating. Whilst you find yourself agreeing with their central thesis, ie, that environmentalism has run out of steam and needs to reinvent itself, you find yourself disagreeing with them about so many of their examples. They are all for a clean energy bill that "would be a vehicle for telling a powerful new story about American greatness, invention and moral purpose". Fine words, but they then round on Jared Diamond's book "Collapse" on numerous occasions because they portray the author as some kind of evil doom-monger. Diamond only points out that it is physically impossible for this planet to support every living human being with the affluence of a modern American. Just because poor people aspire to be as rich as American doesn't mean that it is possible. Nordhaus & Shellenberger's numerous criticisms of Diamond are shocking, unfair and ridiculous. The problem with all of this is that it just becomes a battle of semantics. No one is going to formulate environmentally-friendly policy unless they understand what the stakes are. Hence we need education on how we can avert catastrophe. Hence we need history books such as those by Diamond. Library shelves groan under the weight of books on just how wonderful ancient civilisations are. Knowing how we succeed is only useful when you know how we fail. Hence these sort of criticisms seem pointless.
You have to be careful to pick out the meaning behind their language. They often describe the "politics of limits" as being some sort of failure implying that we have to adopt some "unlimited" policies. What might these be? Drilling for oil in Alaska and the Antarctic? Clearly not, these guys aren't nuts. Their heart is in the right place. They must understand that we are in a century of declining resources. To approach every problem as if resources were infinite would lead to catastrophe. When these guys talk about "limits" they seem to be describing a limit on the imagination and to human freedom. This suggests that if human potential was realised to its maximum then we would all live in a hydrogen-fuelled utopia in fifty years time. However such utopias don't happen by themselves which is why, as is typical of Americans since 1960, they propose lots of new Government spending. This might be fair enough if they were to raid the coffers of the world's largest military war machine to pay for all that clean energy. They do not. They never explain where the money will come from other that to assure the reader that these investments will somehow pay for themselves. The "breakthrough" they describe is in unlimited technology as a result of unlimited spending on unlimited human ingenuity.
However this book is not so much about the technology but more about the political philosophy that has to replace environmentalism. This new form of politics takes "nature" out of the equation. It isn't about "the environment" any more. Whereas Mike Hulme asked "What does Climate Change mean?", Nordhaus & Shellenberger ask not only what it means but "Which of global warming's meanings should we elevate into a pragmatic politics?" (page 222) Whereas Hulme's "Why we Disagree About Climate Change" proved to be empty philosophising, "Breakthrough" really does deliver on the policy. For Nordhaus & Shellenberger we have to talk about our dreams rather than our nightmares. Nightmares do not encourage a cynical public to change anything about their lives. You have to sell them something better. The authors tell us that the modern environmental movement was born of affluence. Before that nobody could afford to care. However, since the birth of modern environmentalism the movement has deluded itself that if only it could open people's eyes to the degradation of the planet then we would all rise up to stop it. Those days have long gone. That isn't what motivates people anymore. They have moved on.
"What is needed today is a politics that seeks authority not from Nature or Science but from a compelling vision of the future that is appropriate for the world we live in and the crises we face." (page 142) Nordhaus & Shellenberger tell us that we seriously need to start talking about climate change adaptation now as a means of engaging the public. Traditional environmentalists ignore this as a distraction from cutting emissions but the authors may have a point. Maybe we should come clean and admit that whatever happens now Global Warming WILL HAPPEN. If we engage the public with the process of getting ready they may move onto the wider picture too. "Properly preparing for disasters, and responding to them effectively, enhances one's self-image and sense of control." (page 223) What doesn't work is the story environmentalists tell to scare people into action. That only "provokes fatalism, paralysis and/or individualistic thoughts of adaptation, not empowerment, hope, creativity and collective action." (page 222) "We need a story that offers immediate, perceptible impacts that can be observed and directly addressed in the present, not the future." Could this be where Peak Oil fits in? Nordhaus & Shellenberger never mention Peak Oil at all. Our vision for how we tackle such problems must not make people feel guilty. Amen. These guys have hit the nail on the head. THIS is how you change the world. Recommended.
Donnachadh McCarthy "Saving the Planet without costing the Earth"
|ISBN 1-904132-39-1. "Saving the Planet without costing the Earth - 500 simple steps to a greener lifestyle" by Donnachadh McCarthy was published in Fusion Press in 2004. This review is of the paperback edition which has 237 pages including an introduction, ten chapters, resources, acknowledgements. Curiously, even though chapter ten is entirely about the author the last page of the book also has a one page summary of Donnachadh's life. In fact you can read all about in again in his 2008 "Easy Eco-Auditing" books (reviewed here). We suggest you read chapter ten first as it is a good snapshot of just how accomplished Donnachadh is. He makes it all sound so easy - the true renaissance man. It seems he is good at everything he has ever done. Rising from ballet professional (at a comparatively late age) to become part of the senior executive for the UK's Liberal Democrat party. He has pioneered domestic renewable energy on his London home and when I met him in late 2010 he was enthusiastically looking for a phrase to describe HIS "carbon negative" home. On the face of it we have every reason to applaud him. |
Sadly his books don't quite hit the spot. Although "Easy Eco Auditing" was a good guide about starting an eco-auditing business it proved exceptionally weak on the justification as to WHY so many of his recommendations had any worth. Our immediate impression of "Saving the Planet..." was simply that it looked starkly out of place in a post-carbon literary world now dominated by the concepts of the ecological and carbon footprinting. Donnachadh's style was to largely shoot from the hip and go with what feels right. "Saving the Planet.." actually covers some of the basic justifications missing from the later book. Given this we felt we should be a bit kinder this time around even if it was our natural reaction to groan internally at the very title of this book (we will return to THAT later).
There is a story about the author about which he is very fond. He tells the same story twice - once in both books. He got his own rubbish outgoings down to such a small amount that he was able to dispose of it in public refuse bins. When the Council delivered him a wheelie bin he rejected it and wheeled it off his property. He tells this story with relish but it left us asking "Why?". If your Council has allocated you a free wheelie bin then damn well take it. Us it as a rabbit hutch or water butt or something. This anecdote tells us something about the author... Bloody-minded? Eccentric? You choose. He will press a dogmatic point beyond the zone where it ceases to make any sense. This is not a good starting point for anyone writing a book with the words "saving the planet" in the title. Rejecting a wheelie bin is no badge of pride. Not for all the ordinary souls out there looking for a new Moses to lead them out of the wilderness of consumerism.
This planet is not under threat. This sort of language is well known to alienate the public and has no real meaning to THEM. As a large lump of rock hurtling around the Sun the planet is pretty immune to the puny efforts of man to destroy it. Instead, mankind is highly vulnerable to his own suicide attempts. Life, on the other hand, is extremely resourceful. Even if we wiped out most life on Earth you need only a few minutes of geological time before life would flourish again - minus US. It may be the arrogance of man that we casually talk about the planet as if it is US. It is not.
Let's move onto the sub-title which commits the second cardinal sin of talking about a "greener lifestyle". I was in a toy shop with post-carbon girl the other day when I heard an advert for an "indoor boomerang". Now there is a thing! Two words that should never be used together: "indoor" and "boomerang". Donnachadh has demonstrated another good example: "green" and "lifestyle". The coming post-carbon world is not a lifestyle. It will not be coloured green. It is the way things will be - the pigeon-hole isn't useful. You have a choice about your lifestyle. We are dealing with things about which we have no choice. It pains us to say it because we are a mere peon in comparison to Donnachadh. He writes books and has been on TV for goodness sake! He is a god and we are not worthy. I would give my right arm to be Donnachadh. But if I were, I simply could NOT use everything I had learnt, to write a book like THIS.
Open to the first page of the Introduction (page "ix") and then cast you eye down to line four "Imagine a world where... we were free from the diseases and cancers caused by toxic pollution". The word "toxic" is one he uses a lot. It looks as if everything we do in our modern life produces "mountains of waste" and it is all "toxic". The entire output of the modern world seems dangerously poisonous in Donnachadh's world. This is strikingly paranoid world view when the truth is that we all live vastly longer than the Irish grandparents Donnachadh describes on page "x". We may all take the work of Bjorn Lomborg and his Skeptical Environmentalism with a bucket of salt, but if there is one fair point that he makes over and over again; we have never had it so good. The benefits for a minority of us on this planet have outweighed the costs. We have over-populated the planet not because it is toxic but because it is NOT toxic. I doubt whether that situation will continue. We are at the limits of that growth. Continuing to push the costs of our short term extravagance upon the shoulders of poor is not sustainable let alone ethical. However, enough said, the modern world isn't toxic. Far from it. It is dangerously clean and healthy for most of the people reading this book. This is not our problem. HOW we THINK is the problem.
Donnachadh describes himself in this Introduction as an "environmental campaigner" (page xii). He is very much old-skool and seemingly out of step with the 21st Century. We live a world of Transition Towns, feed-in-tariffs, pro-nuclear Guardian columns and Mark Lynas describing the Green movement as a bunch of lying zealots. So much has changed and is changing about the environmental movement. It is now somewhere between the "anti-everything" movement of the 1970's and the pro-future ideas of the breakthrough theorists. Voices like Donnachadh's are now increasingly isolated. He actually prided himself in writing about how much development he STOPPED in London to save green spaces. Yes mate but what did you build? Books like this are written for an increasingly narrow band of suburbanites who want lots of small answers to stop them having to deal with the unbelievable truth. So you get 500 green-platitudes. We live in an era where we have to reach out and touch the heart, soul and mind of every many, woman and child. If you were to write THAT anthem then it wouldn't be THIS book. To be fair, I don't think the author meant it to be but, if so, then why the wacky title?
We wish that we could write that anthem. It might well be wittily entitled "500 Green Platitudes that will save nothing - and now for something completely different that will really change everything". It's a work in progress. Maybe Donnachadh will help us with it. Seriously. He writes a good book - if you were Tom and Barbara Good from the 1970's sitcom "The Good Life". Send it in a time machine back to THEN and let us move on.
So what exactly is my beef with this book? Well, you may well cut and paste in much of what I wrote about "Easy Eco Auditing" but that wouldn't all apply here. As mentioned earlier this is a better book in so many ways. If the publishing house had wished to put it out as a guide to thrift then it may have worked so much better. If you want lots of ways to save money then this is actually a lot of fun. But saving the planet? Firstly there is a lot of repetition in the 500 (508 to be accurate). It could have been boiled down to 300. Of these we can break them down into three groups: the good, the bizarre and the damn obvious. Take a case in point on page 20: green-platitude number 18 "if you want to buy new books, CDs, DVDs and videos try your local second-hand stores". Pray tell how do you buy new stuff from a secondhand shop? Now we will be the first to admit that most of our consumer culture is in for a mighty big shock but simply telling people to abandon the High Street isn't reasonable no matter how right it is. This shows a fundamental misunderstanding of how our society works. It is an area where Rob Hopkins or Richard Heinberg are very strong. These guys get under the skin of what makes us do what we do and how we can evolve beyond machines that shop. If you really do want to write a book about "saving the planet" these days you really need to know a lot more about how our civilisation ticks and be prepared to say something a bit more radical.
On page 35 Donnachadh lays into our water infrastructure describing it as "horrendously inefficient". However, compare this against the advice of the Centre for Alternative Technology who advise people against fitting sophisticated water recycling system because such small-scale use can never be as efficient as large-scale water purification. If we stopped pumping water Donnachadh claims we could shut down up to five nuclear power stations. However this claim (page 36) is not backed by any citation. It is scary to think people would buy this book and NOT feel utterly insulted by nonsense like this. We are all for recycling rainwater to water the garden or flush the loo but please check your facts.
Fast forward to page 124 with green platitude number 271 "buy only GM-free foods" in order to reduce the "risks to the future of our environment". What risks? Are we to assume that every reader will simply agree with such a statement because they are a bunch of unthinking emotional greenies? GM foods are a complicated area - a great scientific success bogged down by narrow commercial interests. A technology that could save starving people has been put to work to drum up sales of pesticides and to ensure that farmers the world over, are now forever in debt to agrichemical companies. That is not a sustainable economy. Exactly which "environment" is Donnachadh saving? Can we save the farmers too? Interestingly enough he makes up for this green platitude with the wisdom that is number 272: "buy locally produced food". When he is right he is right - even if you get the feeling he may have no idea why. And we could go on and on about the author's need to make sweeping generalisations about the "serious environmental problems" of the fur trade (this is an ethical issue really) or the toxicity of nail polish (it hasn't killed anyone yet). So let us stop right there and reflect.
At the end of the day you get what you pay for. If you honestly think you can save this big ball of rock with 500 "simple steps" then you will probably turn each page like an excited schoolgirl. For the rest of us (being somewhat less sanguine about the human race's motivations) we will keep looking. As for the author there is always hope. We were cheered to learn that he had urged the then leader of the Liberal Democrats in 2003 "to take a lead on identifying our dependence upon Middle Eastern and Asian oil". Donnachadh stood up in front of largest wartime peace rally ever held in Britain (that year) against the impending Iraqi invasion. He told those assembled that we were all to blame for oil wars through our use of fossil fuels. The half-a-million people who listened to him didn't laugh. They cheered in agreement. Donnachadh managed to takes us from sublime moments like THAT (page 226) to the ridiculous concept of his readers' "new environmental lifestyle" (page 227) in one breath. In can be infuriating and beautiful at the same time. An author we love to hate. Brilliant but puzzling. There is more to saving a planet than this.
Chris Martenson "The Crash Course"
|Review coming soon.|
Donnachadh McCarthy "Easy Eco Auditing"
ISBN 978-1-85675-293-0. "Easy Eco Auditing - How to make your home and workplace planet-friendly" was written by Donnachadh McCarthy. Published by Octopus publishing in 2008. This paperback has 304 pages which includes an introduction eleven chapters, Appendices, Resources, Eco-audit form, example home eco-audit report, Index and Acknowledgements. I first met the author in person before I had any idea of his fame. I certainly had no idea that he had published two books and had such a glittering writing career. If you wish to know anything about him then it is all here. Pretty much a potted history of his life over the last twenty years. And to think he used to be a freelance ballet dancer. So I brought his two books second-hand off Amazon. Donnachadh is a nice enough chap in person but I think the term "planet-friendly" jars a little. It wouldn't have been my choice. It isn't difficult to get to hate those tired old clichés about "saving the planet" but this author falls for it on every page. This planet friendly cliché may be partly offset on page 33 (pardon the pun) by his pro-carbon-offsetting stance.
Whereas many greens vent their spleen again carbon offsetting Donnachadh sets a more reasonable tone. He writes “the fact remains that well-run carbon-offsetting schemes have a positive role to play in moving us towards a low-carbon economy.” Indeed he manages to devote over a page (34 through 35) to the “reasons to carbon offset”. He goes as far as agreeing with exactly the point made on this web site going back to 2007 and it is this “this voluntary tax on carbon emissions” doesn’t “disappear in general taxation”. It enshrines the “polluter pays” principle. In our view most of the people paying this voluntary tax are the sort of people who are already doing more than their little bit at home anyway. This philosophy though somewhat falls down when Donnachadh reveals on page 45 that “some of my clients still use private jets”. I like the use of the word “still” in this context. Surely everyone used to use them? This tells us much about his clientele. It also explains the sections where the author explains how he needs to keep his cool with people who seem unwilling to change. You would certainly need a very calm nerve trying to "green" anyone who thinks that it is OK to fly around in a private jet. When the author isn't trying to save the planet there is some evidence that he may be aware of the fate of mankind when he writes on page 53 of "coming to terms with the death of the oil economy." Wow, powerful stuff.
We certainly enjoyed the author's many anecdotes about life in the fast lane of eco-auditing. He tells of the time he found a home where they were flushing the toilets with hot water. Freaky. There are many similar horror stories like that along the way. It certainly makes it sound like his is a really worthwhile job. However, speaking as a fellow Superhomer, I found it amazing that anyone could really not manage to find this sort of stuff out for themselves. It all seemed rather self- evident. Surely it only takes commonsense? But here we betray our own philosophy and this may not be a very useful guide. Clearly MOST people are completely clueless. At this point we have to introduce a phrase that makes us shudder here at PCL - "green lifestyle coach". This phrase combines together everything that is so wrong about eco-auditing. I would happily retort that it isn't about being green, it isn't a lifestyle and you sure-as-hell don't need a coach. If you are learning something difficult like tennis or football you might need a coach. But to figure out how much loft insulation you have requires a few grey cells and some commonsense. If people really are as stupid as this book makes out then there really is no help for us. We can't send a lifestyle coach around to everyone's home just to check what lightbulbs they have. In essence, this is the fundamental flaw in Donnachadh's work. However well meaning and noble the work is it will be forever nailing jelly to a wall. We give him more credit for his Books and TV work. The eco-auditing thing is a pinprick on an elephant. It won't drive mass change. Our second major beef with this work concerns the lack of concern with scientific verification. Several recent carbon footprinting books have gone into some pretty deep math's to try an untangle whether disposable nappies are better than Terry's squares, whether hot air drying is better than paper towels, or whether ceramic reusable mugs are better than disposable paper cups. However Donnachadh has none of that. He fires from the hip. Screw the math's. Hence we get real gems like (page 109) suggesting that in the works kitchen that the sugar packets be replaced by sugar shakers filled with "organic fair-trade sugar". Really? On what evidence? And don't get us started on the entire of chapter 5 "Nature: working on the wild side" which is 14 pages of junk that deserves no place in a serious book like this. Then chapter 6 "Cleaning and maintenance" takes a similar course. It may well play out nicely to fans of the Ecologist magazine and that peculiar form of paranoia but was it necessary in a book like this? It is full of ill-defined and quite unscientific phrases like "non-toxic cosmetics" or "natural furniture polishes" versus "chemical-based products". It is borderline gibberish.
These seemingly never-ending criticisms to one side I have to admit this isn't a bad book. I am just the wrong audience. If you really were born yesterday or have taken complete leave of your senses then you will be paying for the services of an eco-auditor. It is a nice-living for someone. Who would buy a book like this though? I thought it might give me a few clues about our own post-carbon-living universe. In truth we learnt practically nothing that we didn't already know. However, if we were ever to set up in the Eco Consulting line of work this may well be a good guide on running the audit-side of the business. There is nothing parted quicker than a fool and his money. Clearly this is Donnachadh's forte and who can blame him? If I ever bump into him again I will buy him a drink. Good job. Apart from two duff chapters with no scientific merit this is a solid body of work for anyone wishing to learn the basic of the audit process. And that is its primary strength. Look upon it as a business how-to guide rather than any form of DIY book. People - you really can audit you own lives through a simple bit of research and commonsense.
Patricia A. McAnany & Norman Yoffee "Questioning Collapse"
ISNB 978-0-521-73366-3. "Questioning Collapse - Human Resilience, Ecological Vulnerability and the Aftermath of Empire" edited by Patricia A. McAnany & Norman Yoffee was published by Cambridge University Press in 2010. The paperback is 374 pages long including a list of figures, list of contributors, preface, acknowledgements, introduction, fourteen chapters in four sections and an index. The title somewhat gives the game away as this is billed as the answer to Jared Diamond's 1997 work "Guns, Germs and Steel" and his 2005 opus "Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed". We have not read the former as it is a work of history of little relevance to today's globalised economy on the brink of its carbon constrained future. However, the second work has been read and was reviewed here. In "Collapse" Diamond walked us through the anthropological history of multiple cultures, from ancient times to modern days, and reviews how depletion of natural resource contributed to those societies' collapse. This clearly is of interest to us at post-carbon living. Indeed that book is now quite celebrated to the point that it now appears on the syllabus to several University courses as well as being required-reading for the modern ecologist. However, all is not well in the halls of academia. On page 4 we read "Diamond is probably the best-known writer of anthropology even though he is not an anthropologist!" Zing.
The fifteen authors who contributed to "Questioning Collapse" are not happy at all. It seems Diamond has stepped on way too many toes on his way to the top and the "proper" anthropologists are fuming. It may well be that they have a point but we are slightly ham-strung in that, despite the name of this book, much of it doesn't address Jared Diamond's 2005 book. This can be quite confusing as it looks as if many of the authors treat the two books (separated by eight years) as if they are the same thing. For example you would be forgiven to think that chapters 4 (China) and 11 (Australia) solely addresses Diamond's "Collapse". They don't because China and Australia are only dealt with in the modern context by Diamond in his later work. All these history lessons are irrelevant. Thus we sadly must dispense with large sections of "Questioning Collapse". Unless you have read both Diamond's books then there is often little point buying this book. Still, there is sufficient material for us to have a stab at reviewing it. It may well be that what we discover tells us a great deal about the intellectual honesty of the authors who contributed to this.
Our prime criticism is that all but one of the authors clearly haven't read Diamond's "Collapse". We find this shocking. The evidence we have is that all but one of the authors completely ignores Diamond's five-point framework where Diamond postulates that a society's collapse depends upon such factors as environmental damage, climate change, hostile neighbours, trading partners and response to environmental problems. Only on page 279 in Drexel G Woodson's essay on Haiti, is this framework acknowledged. Even there it is dismissed as a "complication". These points are far from "complications" - they are the entire thrust of Diamond's book. How can these authors seek to criticise Diamond when they don't address the points he raises? In fact this book constructs a straw man argument for the burning. The straw man is an unrecognisable version of Diamond's "Collapse". It has none of the subtlety or the caveats that Diamond worked so hard to inject into his grand sweep of history. His work is thoroughly researched and, although flawed, it deserves a slightly more grown up response than this.
Several of the authors take issue with Diamond's definition of "collapse". On page 177 Norman Yoffee tells us that "we can't find any such collapse in Mesopotamia". This is interesting because Mesopotamia is NOT a subject anywhere in Diamond's "Collapse" whilst Yoffee himself goes on to tell us on page 180 that "Of course, there were various "collapses" in Mesopotamian states" - a point he repeats again on page 182: "there were several". So there were collapses in ancient times but only as WE define them not as Diamond does? So what is going on here? Professional jealousy? Are the fifteen authors just a little miffed that Diamond is now famous and making shows for the National Geographic channel whilst they are blowing the dust off ancient texts in some god-forsaken library? It would seem so. It was nice to see that one of the editors, Norman Yoffee, noted this may well be how the work would be perceived. This from page 176 & 177: "Readers may think, oh, here's a picky Mesopotamia specialist who spends is time pouring over clay tablets [...] telling us that Professor Diamond, who sees the Big Picture, missed a few things when he wrote about Mesopotamia". Well, we hate to agree with you Norman but that is exactly how this looks. Drexel G. Woodson adds on page 272: "Diamond bashing by social scientists who know the societies that Diamond covers better than he does is a vainglorious exercise. General readers may think that those social scientists are jealous of Diamond's fame. In any case, bashing Diamond serves no constructive purpose in an intellectual market place where book sales trump quality of ideas." Owe! He goes on to bash Diamond all the same. And Diamond's crime?; "the pitfalls of privileging grand theory as "the" way to encompass social scientific knowledge about and understanding of some facet of the human spectacle." This appears to tell us that "grand theories" suck (at least in the detail-obsessed minds of the social scientists).
Some of the authors' views are worse than others. This is a genuinely mixed bag. Several chapters offer quite a meaningful critique. Here we should single out Terry Hunt and Carl Lipo for their work on Easter Island, and Michael Wilcox for his fresh insight into the fates of indigenous North American Indians. However these treasures are few and far between. The worst section is definitely Christopher Taylor's lamentable chapter on Rwanda that provides no new contradictory evidence whatsoever to offset Diamond's "neo-Malthusian" views. Diamond described the ethnic hatred that lead up to the genocide quite adequately. Taylor's first-hand description of the inner workings of the society add nothing to Diamond's description. Again, we have to ask if Taylor ever read Diamond's "Collapse" or whether his anthropology chums sold him the straw man caricature?
Likewise most of the authors here take issue with Jared Diamond's use of the word "choice" as in "choosing to collapse". Diamond actually takes the last quarter of his book to explain how societies do NOT "choose" to collapse even if that is the outcome of their actions. This section of the Diamond book is clearly not one his many critics appear to have read. We can level this criticism specifically at J. R. McNeill who, on page 356 waxes lyrical about how the Greenland Norse culture lasted 450 years and how this is vastly longer than modern North American culture. He ignores the fact that this very point was made several times by Diamond in "Collapse". Once again we can only conclude that McNeill didn't actually read Diamond's book. These mistakes are occasionally offset by the likes of David Cahill (who wrote the enlightening section on the end of the Incas even though this culture is never mentioned in Diamond's "Collapse" - only the Aztec are) who wrote this on page 210: "The remarkable success of Diamond's Guns, Germs and Steel in both public domain and within academe is little short of unique. [...] Diamonds' "bestsellerdom" across the academic-public divide has few nonfiction parallels... It is well written, engaging, even absorbing; whatever its demerits it is a wonderful guide on how to write for a range of audiences, without ever really [...] "dumbing down"." So it seems that the social scientists like how Diamond writes and the way he has popularised the subject. However they disagree with him about almost every detail in his version of history!
There is just one detail they do not disagree upon though. Despite "Diamond bashing" for 364 pages we are treated to a well constructed summary by (surprisingly) J.R. McNeill. Although he obviously fell for the straw man version of Diamond's "Collapse" (that doesn't exist) he goes on to present the exact same conclusions to Diamond's. His argument is that, despite getting all the details wrong, the "grand theory" remains correct because the modern globalised world is unlike the past. We are in an undiscovered country. Hence this on page 364 & 365: "Fossil fuels [...] represent an enormous subsidy, [...] from a distant time, the carboniferous era. They make it possible for 6.5 billion people to eat. Fossil fuels are the fertilizer of modern agriculture. They pump up groundwater and power tractors. They serve as feedstocks for pesticides and herbicides. They make nitrogenous fertilizers practical. And they power the vehicles that move crops to kitchens. They sustain us. But they also make us unsustainable. First and most obviously, they exist in limited supply. [...] A time will come when all that is left is too difficult to extract at reasonable cost. [...] Second, fossil fuels make our global society unsustainable because of climate change... [...] Diamond is right to be concerned by that." So, despite disagreeing about the historical examples it changes nothing. We can't recommend this book unless you are a fan of history. However it still managed to be enlightening, even for us.
Peter North "Local Money"
ISBN 978 1 900322 52 2. "Local Money - How to make it happen in your community" was written by Peter North et al and published by Green Books in 2010. For your money (£Sterling of course) you get 240 pages including obligatory foreword by Rob Hopkins, an introduction, four parts of seventeen chapters, references, resources and index. One important strand of this work is Rob's "Cheerful Disclaimer" which he walks through on the third page of his four page foreword. It is one core principle of Transition that supersedes all others. It can be roughly translated as: we don't know exactly how to do this, it is work in progress, we will make mistakes on our journey to find out what truly works. This fundamental principle is often forgotten by Transitioners who insist that there is a "Transition way" of doing something, or that they can justify their method of working because it follows "transition principles". In truth, if it doesn't work, then try something else. It is a point Peter North returns to several times in the book. Clearly not all experiments in alternative money have worked. Some have been almost disastrous (Argentina) whilst some have run out of steam (Lewes).
We learn from these mistakes and from successes. Anyone who doesn't make mistakes makes nothing. It would also be a mistake to think that this book is solely about Transition Towns and local currencies. Far from it. North covers LETS, time banking, Ithaca hours, Argentina's barter networks, European regional currencies, BerkShares and, finally, multiple Transition Local Currencies (of course). Prior to writing this review we did read an earlier review that pointed out that this list in not exhaustive. There have been other experiments with alternatives to money systems that North doesn't cover. Take for example, the alternative Banking system offered by the likes of Zopa where you lend your money and it is borrowed directly by a needy borrower. It would be a wrong to think that it begins and ends with the likes of the Brixton pound!
It is a common transition-belief that our local economies are somehow a "leaky bucket" where transnational corporations suck money out into the pockets of remote shareholders. The ideal of a local currency is that it can only be spent locally as a form of loyalty scheme. This money cannot be sucked out of the economy hence it bounces about generating local wealth. Of course this is largely illusory. Leaky buckets eventually empty. Our local economies are not a vacuum of money because it continually pours in. This argument pertains to profits. Hence it is largely an issue of ownership - local versus national and international monopolies. But this is often just semantics - an issue of overwhelming importance to global justice and poverty-eradication campaigners. But not core to our problem. The wealth of a local economy depends upon the volume of currency and the speed at which travels through that local economy. Localism is aimed at reduction in carbon footprints and improving the durability of local communities in a changing world. A thriving local economy can work with a national currency. These are not mutually exclusive. The wealthy shareholders who benefit from these "local" profits just spend that money somewhere else in the economy. They are just as likely to spend it in their own local community. The money doesn't disappear. The only way to destroy money is to have a financial collapse where there is not enough confidence for new loans to be requested. Since we have no permanent money supply then the volume of money is utterly reliant upon the manufacturing of new debt. Debt is serviced through interest payments. These have to be met through a perpetually growing economy. This is incompatible with a finite planet so must stop. This system cannot stop. It has no steady state. It can only collapse. Hence our money system is not sustainable and will not see us through into a post-carbon economy nor a low-carbon world. Until an alternative form of MONEY SUPPLY becomes available then our communities are not durable against the threat of collapse. All new forms of money, be they local currency or barter systems, must be able to create new money. Transition currencies do not yet do this. It is a self-evident point that North fails to deliver.
Localism requires us all to think small. Small is the opposite of the current globalised paradigm. The reasons why BIG has been so successful over small has been the economies of scale that BIG gives us. If we accept the advantages of small then we have to accept that is an entirely different economic model. Local is probably going to be more expensive and offer less choice. However, it will be more interesting, robust and resilient. It will be low carbon and bolster the community. Hence this is a desirable alternative model - but it isn't an easy sell. Nor is it easy to explain. Peter largely ignores the macroeconomics of this discussion. He completely ignores monetary reform. Although this is a critical issue in addressing economic growth versus sustainable steady state money systems Peter refers to it only obliquely. In a brief mention of the "Money as Debt" film he refers to it as "conspiratorial". Anyone familiar with this movie (and its successor) will know that it is NOT "conspiratorial" at all. (If you wish to read about conspiracy then check out the books of Ellen Hodgson Brown or Michael Rowbotham.) It does point out that it has not been in the interest of powerful banking elites for the system to be challenged. This is not a conspiracy. It is a systemic fault. The lack of objective discussion about macroeconomic reform leaves one corner-stone off the house. A stranger to the topic would find this book unappealing as the big picture is missing.
We really don't know what the future of money is. Most of the small scale local experiments in alternative currencies have been ideologically driven - particularly the one at Stroud as covered in this book. These have clear social objectives and are unlikely to travel very well. The more successful experiments have involved currencies that freely exchangeable and covering a wide area through a network of traditional banking bodies. It is for good reason that the United States is the world's biggest economy with the most widely acceptable international currency - the Dollar. The Eurozone has been trying to catch up ever since. It is largely a matter of perspective as to the desirability of transnational or national currencies. Local currencies used to be commonplace in an era of local trading. When trading become national and international the local currencies became obsolete as they could not service this new modus operandi. Indeed, as the author points out, the very reason why so many experiments in local currency struggle is that the local businesses, who are expected to use the currency, can't pay their suppliers in a local currency. Until such time as trade become local then local currencies remain a cultural phenomena. They exist and perpetuate through the character of the community. Hence we need different communities and different economics before we have different currencies. Lots of different changes will have to happen at the same time to evolve this system rather than one panacea or revolution. Not every community is a Lewes-style "latte town" full of little locally owned shops, farmers' markets and cooperative vegetable box schemes. Most communities are clone-towns. Until they find their local soul will there be a local change to the money system.
North points out on page 18 that "in our imaginary local economy of the future, more of the food a community needs is grown locally and sold in locally owned shops, cooperatives and markets. More of the electricity is generated locally, and delivered by community-owned local power companies." So it would seem that the cart should be firmly placed behind the horse. Attempts at local currencies in a globalised world get it the other way around. Of course we have to try and it is good preparation but it would be nuts to imagine that creating hundreds of local currencies will make a localised economy happen. A lot of other stuff has to happen. Money is just a medium of exchange. Most Transition Initiatives will never grow to the successful level of sophistication to invest in a local currency experiment. The few who do will find that they need to do it across a large region like the German experiments. Secondly they will need to trade the money through a regular High Street Banking Network. Hence you need local banking before you have local money. Since all our local banks got sucked up into the globalised money system this will have to be undone. We need to go back and do our homework. What sort of economics will sustain the post-carbon world? Currently we are guessing.
Tamzin Pinkerton & Rob Hopkins "Local Food"
ISBN 978 1 900322 43 0. "Local Food - How to make it happen in your community" was written by Tamzin Pinkerton and Rob Hopkins. Published by Green Books in 2009. 216 pages long including References, Resources and Index. Well it had to happen - finally a really useful book about Transition. Not to say that there was anything wrong with Transition Timeline or the Transition Handbook but "Local Food" is the best stab yet at showing Transition in working practice. This is the real deal - littered with examples from around the globe we get full coverage of everything from "The Great Reskilling" through to School Projects and "Community Supported Agriculture". Whereas the earlier books looked largely at the reasons for change and the theory of Transition, "Local Food" really deals with the meat and potatoes (pardon the pun) of HOW DO WE TRANSITION? It is a question we have all been asked "But what does Transition actually DO!?" Well, here is the answer. We only hope that this is the first of many such practical example books.
Now if a spot of gardening really isn't your thing don't worry. This is not a gardening book. It is more of a 'legs-up' explaining each type of local food project and how to get it started. Clearly it takes a lot of hard work and a little bit of money. But enthusiasm seems to count for a lot too. Some of the projects are really simple - like selling organic veg at a primary school, but they do scale all the way up to full grown farms and supply chain businesses. There is something here for everyone. So if you are asked for a project brief by your Council or funding agency then please plagiarise this book shamelessly. It is eye-opening just how many projects are up and running but also how sophisticated some have become. Many predate Transition and have since been absorbed by the Transition phenomena or are now closely linked to them. One thing I have to say is that book is completely focussed on Peak Oil with little real impact analysis of Climate Change. As we know this will have temporary positive effect in the UK with longer growing seasons which suggests no great urgency for change here.
One of the high points comes on page 16 with a suggested model for local food distribution: 2.5% of food should be from your own garden, 5% from your neighbourhood, 17.5% from local sources, 35% from within 100 miles, 20% from the UK, 15% from Europe leaving 5% from abroad. Hopefully this dispels the myth that Transition is some crazy self-sufficiency cult. It is all about redressing the balance more in favour of the local to build resilience. Highly recommended if you love food and feel the need to do something. Academic reading for the rest of us.
Randy Olson "Don't be such a Scientist"
ISBN 978-1-59726-563-8. "Don't be such a Scientist - Talking Substance in an Age of Style" by Randy Olson was published by Island Press in 2009. This paperback has 206 pages consisting of introduction, five chapters, three appendices, notes, acknowledgements and index. It is noteworthy to mention that Island Press is a non-profit organisation dedicated to environmental problems. The author is a bit of an egg-head, by his own admission, with multiple degrees and a Ph.D. from Harvard in marine biology. He took the extraordinary step, early in his thirties, to abandon his tenureship to pursue a second career in Hollywood as a film-maker. There is no denying his credentials to write at length about the communication of science. However his work does focus largely on film-making and there-in lies one of many significant faults. Likewise another significant fault is the author aiming this book only at scientists. His objective was to make them understand that science is deathly dull and that no one is remotely interested in the facts any more. If scientists believe that a simple repetition of facts will get them anywhere, outside of academic circles, then they are sorely mistaken. Olson observes that this is understood by about a third of scientists. Another third of the scientists, he has come into contact with, are vaguely interested in his ideas, whereas the remainder virulently reject any idea that science needs better communication.
The case in point, that Olson quotes, is Carl Sagan who did more than any man to popularise science to the masses but whom was vilified by his peers. To many in the science establishment the very idea of popularising and communicating science to anyone, in a manner that may make it better understood, is anti-science heresy. So this is a book where science takes a cold, hard look into its own navel and finds itself pretty wanting. This tells us a great deal about the failings of science and is a pointer as to what went so terribly wrong at the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia in 2009 that lead to the so-called "Climategate" scandal. This seems to have fallen too late for Olson to use the example but it isn't all clear that he considers Climate Change as an area of interest. Mostly this book covers Darwinian Evolution versus "intelligent design" which is a phenomena peculiar to the United States of America alone. Olson has made a movie both about Evolution and Climate Change but neither are ones you will ever have heard of. On the face of it Olson does have so much to offer the science community in this time of dire need. However he fails to deliver any kind of roadmap and he makes it clear that this was never his intention in writing this book. Although you can admire him for being frank it is very unsatisfying. A little like buying a cook-book and being told by the author that it isn't his intention to teach anyone how to cook. The readers should just go away and experiment with the recipes to develop their own technique. So you can't use this work in a prescriptive sense.
This will come as a great disappointment to the vast swathes of humanity who are probably not scientists but who have bought this book in the hope of seeing some glimmer of inspiration. We have seen glimmers before, from the writings of Rob Hopkins to the findings of Futerra Sustainability Communications, from the research of the Institute for Public Policy Research to the Hartwell Paper - there is a growing movement from the early 2010's indicating that the way we have communicated Climate Change to the public, for the last thirty years, is not only utterly redundant but is also dangerous. The biggest enemies of Climate Change action today are no longer a narrow band of Climate Change-deniers and their industry-backed brethren. No, it is US - the Climate Change Activists. Take a case in point - the devastating counter-productive "No Pressure" mini-movie-advert for the 10:10:10 campaign. They thought that blowing up anyone inactive on cutting carbon emissions would be very funny. Nobody agreed. No doubt that practically none of those film-makers were scientists. This is where Olson's work is wide-of-the-mark. It isn't that he is wrong in any way, it is that he is right but aiming at the wrong audience. In many respects the scientists are the least of our problems right now. The biggest are a million amateurs out there who don't have a clue about the damage they are doing simply by campaigning the wrong way on issues of energy security and climate change.
Olson's book consists of some theory and some anecdotes about his time in Hollywood. It might as well be a rather dull autobiography. Clearly he thinks he is pretty cool. His general smugness comes smiling though. This is a shame as in early sections of the book we thought it held real promise. We liked the story he told about the "Less Than One" Campaign aimed to expand the only 1% of the US coastal water that are protected by law. This was an ill-conceived media project that died a quick death because the organisers just couldn't see that the masses do not connect with a piece of data. The author's own "Shifting the Baseline" project on ocean biodiversity was far more successful simply because it appealed in a way that was "cool" and went more for the public's gut reaction rather than their heads. Politicians understand this in their sloganeering but Climate Change scientists and campaigners do not. Step up Jim Hansen, step up 350.org, step the 10:10 campaign and so many others who are doomed to fail. Their brief successes only coming from the support of a narrow minority of the already-converted. I read this book from cover to cover yet didn't fold down the corner of a single page to retrieve a single memorable quote. It simply is so forgettable. We desperately need more than some cool Hollywood anecdotes and the author's ego to solve this problem. We need to recognise that this goes way beyond science now. We need vision, but you won't find it here.
Pat Murphy "Plan C"
ISBN 978-0-86571-607-0. "Plan C - Community Survival Strategies for Peak Oil and Climate Change" by Pat Murphy of 'Community Solutions'. Published in 2008 by New Society Publishers. 'Community Solutions' is famous for bringing us the "How Cuba Survived Peak Oil" documentary that has proven so influential for the Transition Network. From this you would expect this to be something a little like Rob Hopkins "Transition Handbook". However the reader is in for a big surprise. Just flick to the dedication and you will see the name Noam Chomsky. Don't get us wrong - we are great fans of Chomsky's work but this does give you a firm steer on the direction this book takes. Unlike the Hopkins work this takes a more controversial course that almost guarantees it a minority audience in the US. Even worse it is like the work of Amory Lovins in that it is utterly North America-centric. Those of us outside of the US can only shake our heads in disbelief as to how wasteful North American culture is. They easily waste twice as much food and energy as the next most developed nations on Earth. Hence if the US Population just led a life similar to those in Europe, Asia or Japan then this would be a massive contribution to reduction in Global CO2 emissions. Sadly this tells us almost nothing if you are a reader in Europe or Japan! Murphy takes the reader through his analysis of American Empire and dominance my military might. He shows utter disdain for his own country's foreign polices and for the role of the Corporate Media in misleading his country. For him the blame is clear - Corporations make us consume & undermine community. Murphy's solution is for Americans to turn away from the Corporations and create their own local alternatives within their own communities. If it was this simple we would whole-heartedly recommend this book. However things are a little more complicated. His use of the words "Plan C" implies criticism of the Lester Brown's "Plan B" and Murphy launches into a tirade against all forms of technology. For him the message is clear - all technology is bad because it makes Americans consume more Oil. However he supplies no justification for this either scientific, empirical, social or economic. It is opinion based upon a few stats that show our technology grows in efficiency yet we consume more oil. However he misses the alternative argument that shows that it is our growth in affluence, wealth and population that increase GHG emissions. The fact is we generate more units of wealth with less and less energy - however the growth in money outstrips the growth in efficiency leading to economic growth sucking in Oil. If our technology had not improved our society would have hit peak oil, peak soil, peak money and peak food a decade ago. Technology bought us time and is not the enemy. Hence his lack of analysis could present a destructive misdirection in some of the readership. Technology needs to be appropriate and small scale. It cannot give us the same level of food and energy we have in the industrialised countries today - but it sure will preserve a basic level of existence far beyond that of the cave dweller. Despite all this rhetoric Murphy then goes on to describe an alternative transport scheme called "smart jitney" which is nothing more than a large network of taxis working "on demand" where people share the cab ride. This will work, he says, through the use of mobile phones and computer technology. The irony of this escapes him. For Murphy the "C" in his Plan is more to do with personal "curtailment" than Community. For him the man in the street seems to be the problem not the solution. Whereas Hopkins makes a point of discussing the psychology of change Murphy chooses to lecture his fellow American for choosing Hummers over the Toyota Prius. Despite the Peak Oil agenda he also implores his fellow citizens to ignore international news events. As such he is dangerously close to an isolationist point of view whereas the American Public needs to be vastly more world-aware. The criticisms of this book are multiple and distract from what is, otherwise, a great book. The future for all of us will be a little of Plan "C" and a little of Plan "B". Recommended for American readers only and only with the caveat that you read Lester Brown's "Plan" B as well. Disappointing.
Hugh Montgomery "The Genie in the Bottle"
ISBN 978 0 9557156 0 0. Written by Hugh Montgomery, illustrated by Matt Murphy and published by Genie Publishing in 2007. What a great idea! Throw together some corporate sponsorship into a project to teach 7 to 11 year olds about Global Warming - and what they can do about it. Get a whole committee together of teachers, scientists, artists and designers to create a slick and professional pack of teaching aids to be made available to every child in Britain. Their intent was to "educate, encourage, enthuse and empower children". There are lesson plans, a short film, slides and a web site. But then.... This book could have been everything you would wish for but the result was a terribly "old-school" environmentalism book designed to scare seven shades of shit our of small children and give them nightmares. Sometimes a good graphic novel can become a cult symbol. Just think of the influence that Raymond Briggs bought about with his books? Remember "Fungus the Bogeyman", remember "The Snowman", remember "When the Wind Blows"? The Graphic Novel came of age and children could learn about the most fantastic fantasy to the most horrid nightmare. You really can make this sort of thing work. The Genie is off by a wide mark.
So what is this all about? Well, you get a 44 page softback book in large A4-ish format which contains a children's story about Climate Change. The story has a grandfather telling his grandson the story of planet earth from its creation through to its demise from run-away climate change. On each page the boys asks if mankind acted to change the course of events. At each step the old man has to disappoint the child. Unrealistically the boy keeps saying "Oh dear". The artwork is ruinously grim - the stuff nightmares are made of - utterly devoid of charm. The foot of each page has a small section on the "reality" of the science (although nothing here that an average skeptic couldn't easily shrug off - it is hardly compelling) and there is a section on what children and adults can do to reduce their carbon footprints. However the latter is often just a platitude or throw-away remark. Pretty standard fare. Towards the rear of the book - just as you are starting to wish for a happy ending - the book takes a nose-dive into a bottomless pit of dark cynicism where it turns on politicians with venom and contempt. Its conclusion? It is all caused by one big word: "GREED". One might prefer "The Age of Stupid" to this Marxism-today-style rant. It is completely inappropriate for children of any age-group. You laugh at the hideous naivety of it all. This could have been a chance to create an entertaining work for children that was informative, a little scary, but ultimately positive. We have to show children that the "good times" their parent had are now over but the future holds out for even better prospects - they'll just be very different form the ones their parents' have come to expect. Let them Transition to a post-carbon world. Tell them that fossil-fuels are finite and they can create a new normality. Do not tell them that they have to make the "planet safe". The planet is just fine thankyou. Mankind is not. The very language of this book will make you cringe. An example: "There's only one Earth. Love it. Save it." and how about "Adults are destroying your world"? Talk about a horse designed by committee. This is a camel with one eye and three legs. What were they thinking? We know how to get through to kids. We know how to talk about Climate Change. We know how to Transition. We know how to build a compelling case. This book falls down on all counts.
This is not the end of the story. You can go and visit www.projectgenie.org.uk to see how it has been taken up by the Charity the "Global Cool Foundation". They do offer downloadable Lesson Plans and other materials on Climate Change. Judging by the quotes from Gordon Brown, Boris Johnson, teachers and children they have got some good support. Apparently 140 schools took it up. We are surprised it was this many. What is more interesting is that they are working on a parallel project called "Global Cool" that aims to use the Cultural Dynamic research from the Institute for Public Policy Research which studied ways of getting Climate Change messages over to the sub-group called "Now People". We are familiar with the IPPR Report (called "Consumer Power") and believe it is an important insight because the Now People have such a powerful effect upon how the rest of the general population behave. More importantly the IPPR Report would recommend approaching the problem from completely the opposite angle adopted by "Genie". So as soon as they join these two dots together (and maybe seek help from the Transition Network) the better. We wish to thank Dave Hampton - the Carbon Coach (www.carboncoach.com) - for the review copy.
Ian Plimer "Heaven and Earth - Global Warming: the missing science"
ISBN 978-07043-7166-8. "Heaven and Earth - Global Warming: the Missing Science" was written by Ian Plimer and published by Quartet Books in 2009. This is quite a weighty tome measuring in at 503 pages including eight chapters and an index. It will take you a bit if time to wade through it. You probably shouldn't bother. For once we have a genuine scientist (a Geologist) writing of his doubts about man-made climate change. This does appeal to some of us who would rather not have sensation-seeking journalists & paranoid right-wing radio DJ's make this stuff up. To be fair this book is relatively free of some of the more tiresome polemic of other climate-change denial books. You can wade into this book and be overwhelmed by how all 'sciencey' it sounds but be warned: it is worth checking out some of the expert opinions from genuine Climatologists (available online). This book is riddled with errors, opinions and conjecture wrapped up as science. In the interest of filling 500 pages Plimer seems to have taken the view that his readership is slightly dim therefore if he can get away with blinding them with science. They then might believe him. Even if you hadn't been warned anyone in basic possession of an analytical mind will find themselves scratching their heads in disbelief. That's if you have the patience to get to the end of the book and his "Et Moi" which you SHOULD read FIRST.
Chapter 2 (which deals with the history of the Earth and its climate) stretches for what seems like an endless 68 pages. It quotes so many scientific papers and books in the footnotes that these notes are often longer than the actual text they refer to. However, even just skimming through quickly gives the impression that Plimer is just babbling. He goes around in circles to show that the climate has always changed and sometimes dramatically. "Voila!" you can hear him exclaiming, as he "proves" that man made CO2 cannot cause climate change. Eh? This really is insulting to the intelligence of most readers. Who cares if the climate changed before the industrial revolution? Since this was before the period of anthropogenic interference in the climate then it proves nothing. A child could see that. It is like saying that because you could get a sun-tan before the availability of sun-beds that the UV-tubes can't possibly work! Why Plimer? Even worse he goes on and on about how HE (we assume 'the great and powerful wizard of science') can do what the IPCC cannot do. He can interpret cave paintings, food prices and even the clouds on old paintings to tell us what the temperature was in 1603! Gee, all those PhD's at the IPCC must feel really humbled by this man's awesomeness.
So what drives "Australia's best-known geologist" to write such twaddle in the full knowledge that another set of scientists (in fact the vast majority of actual climatologists) will simply tear him to shreds? Well, of course, no serious scientist (nor Government) is interested in individual cranks like this. The reason the IPCC was formed was to assess the evidence and come up with a reasoned opinion. Sure there have been mistakes, and the process hasn't been perfect, but generally it has got the job done. It has never claimed that ALL the evidence was absolutely conclusive. To be fair to the doubters, there is some mileage in the view that the IPCC found anthropogenic climate change because it was paid to... But that isn't Plimer's angle. The IPCC is a meta-study organisation setup as an agency of the UN to reach a conclusion so that the UN and individual Governments could set policy. Plimer ignores this and claims that the IPCC is flawed because it didn't employ proper scientists. Some of the reviewers were (wait for it) shock (!), horror (!) "environmentalists". With this revelation Plimer lets slip what is really going on in his ideology. This book is based upon the author's distrust of anyone who isn't either an Australian or a Coal Mining Geologist. Since those pesky environmentalists aren't in Plimer's private clique then they are not to be trusted.
You could largely dispense with the first 363 pages of the book, ie, Chapters 1 through 6, as they have little or no bearing upon the authenticity of anthropogenic climate change other than to introduce us to natural cycles and the roles of ocean currents. By Chapter 7 he finally talks about the actual climate by trying to convince the reader that there is serious doubt that temperatures are rising and we aren't sure about man-made CO2 either. He really stretches himself here but proves nothing. He talks about the pre-Mauna Loa infra-red spectroscopy readings as if they were of any use (page 420). Even his own diagram shows them varying wildly between 1810 and 1950 which is probably due to them being taken in the industrial heartlands of Europe. This was the reason they moved the equipment to the middle of the Pacific Ocean. They were unreliable. He even tries to tell the reader there is no such thing as the greenhouse effect (pages 365 and 366) and that it is all down to convective losses. If that sounds a little weird you should reflect on the near-absence of references for large sections of that Chapter. He may not be making it up but he sees no reason to back up any of his numbers or assumptions. Why? This should be the most important section of the book, where he could undermine the IPCC case, but he completely fluffs it. His killer diagram at the bottom of page 375 shows that there is not a linear relationship between CO2 and temperature. Just as adding another layer of glass to your greenhouse doesn't make it twice as hot - all CO2 ppmv beyond about 260 cease to have much effect. He fails at this point either to provide a reference for this diagram or to explain the IPCC view that it is water vapour feedback that does most of the work. He only mentions this right at the end of the book - probably in the hope that the reader will have forgotten his earlier comments where he derided the IPCC for ignoring water vapour feedback!
For all Plimer's claims of 'science' and his self-alleged command of geography, history, climate and physics he has some remarkable weak spots - namely mathematics in general and statistics specifically. He tells us that there is no such thing in science as a "tipping point" (page 338). Well that may be the media-friendly way of describing a "non-linear event" but certainly non-linear systems are very much a matter for science and engineering. He tells us that the 'precautionary principle' is also not scientific. Really? He says the same about 'consensus'. For him the world is black and white. For him the science is either right or wrong. There is no shades of grey, no possibilities, no risks, no need for mitigation and no probabilities. He tells us the 0.8degreesC +/- 0.8degreesC is "meaningless". Actually it is not. Getting a 'mean' result from a 'distribution' of data points and assigning a degree of error tells us a great deal. In this he misleads the reader and for a 'man of science' this is utterly shameful. There is far more to this book than an assessment of the science. That's the problem.
So to Plimer's ideology. On page 298 we get this: "The slightest change in Nature is viewed as a message that we humans are changing the climate, that this is evil and that we must rid the world of this evil." He devotes an entire chapter just to himself "Et Moi" at the end so he could expand upon this "evil" topic. On page 411/412 he writes "To call for the lowering of the carbon footprint is asinine. To refer to "carbon pollution" is ascientific political spin. To tax, ration and control the basic element for life is a micro-management of human freedom." Human freedom? Or the freedom of the Australian Coal Mining industry? On page 428 "One can only speculate as to why political activists concentrate their attention on CO2 rather than methane. It may be because CO2 is linked to industrial growth whereas methane is considered more "natural" and emitted by less developed nations." Or maybe it is because we can clean up industrial processes a lot easier that it would be for us to tell cows not to fart or people not to eat? On page 436 this "Green ideology and political pressure take place in a science-free zone." On page 438 "...the green movements have been taken over by neo-Marxists promoting anti-trade, anti-globalisation and anti-civilisation." Page 446: "Cheap abundant energy is fundamental to all economies." whilst on page 447 he follows up by saying that it is "suicide to impose other energy sources onto communities." For Plimer "extreme environmentalism" is a new religion (page 463). On page 465 "Minority groups (such as farmers and miners) who provide the basic necessities of urban life are sitting ducks for cheap shots by environmental groups..." and this is one of two references to mining (or "mineral extraction" as he euphemistically calls it - he means coal mining) and agriculture in the same sentence. To Plimer there are only three noble professions: science, farming and mining. Everyone else is an environmental extremist or "romantic". According to Plimer the world of the "romantics" does not exist (page 468): "Sustainability creates a miserable existence, poverty, disease, depopulation and ignorance." Plimer believes that it is mankind's divine right to battle and become victorious over Nature because Nature is 'bad' & out-to-get-us. It is us or the bunnies. Only HIS "science" can save us. So what if we don't live sustainably? We'll all die glorious deaths and go to Valhalla. On page 472 he makes a passionate plea for the Gulf States to import cheap Australian Coal to generate electricity because it is so much cheaper than solar energy.
It is difficult to lampoon this guy as he does it so well himself.
The author believes Global Warming is GOOD. Good for biodiversity and humanity. It will not lead to extinctions, and, if it did, that would be completely natural. Whilst he makes some valid points about how warming is more desirable for the human species than cooling he misses the point by a mile.... It isn't that "global warming" in the historical record was a "bad" thing. It is that ANY climate change in THIS time period is dangerous. There is no historical precedence so we must assume the worst. We live in a crowded planet with 7 billion people. Just because a few Cro-Magnons enjoyed a good sun tan 200,000 years ago doesn't mean that this over-populated Earth is going to enjoy it in quite the same way. We have made our ecology fragile. When your biodiversity is already under stress it won't take much to push many species under. That is what we are doing. This is entirely new and utterly dangerous. Ancient history will not hold the answers. Since the soil holds a lot of carbon and we are killing it with nitrate fertilisers (derived from dwindling fossil fuels) then we are piling disaster upon disaster. Our human ecology is a pack of cards on the Titanic and we are steering it towards an iceberg. Yes the bacteria, cockroaches and rats will survive long after man has extinguished its existence from this planet. That doesn't mean we should aim for this self-destruction with gay abandon. You can't just shrug your shoulders.
Richard Mabey "Food for Free"
ISBN 978-0-00-718303-6. "Food for Free" by Richard Mabey and published by Collins in 2004. This is the condensed "Gem" edition of a book first compiled by Richard as far back as 1972 and revised several times since. If you ever seen a book like this then you will probably know the problem with this kind of thing. Eating from the wild is a minority hobby. It will not sustain a civilisation. Put that out of your mind. It also sounds as if those who treat this as a hobby may need to get in their 4x4 SUV and drive out into the Countryside to find the clean and unpolluted foodstuffs-for-free. I would guess that makes the carbon footprint unsustainably high. It seems that, as long as you have plenty of butter to smother over your boiled weeds then it will be edible. I might also add that mayonnaise, ketchup, salad cream or Branston Pickle would probalbly do as well - you could probably make dry-wall edible with these! So what can you learn from something like this? Well, our peoples have survived for millions of years on stuff that just grows naturally. However we since domesticated then industrialised our food chain until a point where none of us even know where our food comes from. Even those of us with a basic familiarity with gardening see only garden varieties. Work like this puts us back into contact with a simpler and cruder way of existence. The way of the hunter-gatherer. It has almost all the practical worth of dead insects under museum glass. But don't let that put you off. This remains a treasure-trove of ancient wisdom - from old recipes to how to spot a deadly mushroom. It is all here and in a size that slips right into the palm of your hand. If you are a gardener and permaculturist you may find that work like this helps you to understand what is, and is not, a "weed". If something insists on growing then maybe it should be allowed to grow. And if it is an edible plant then who is to say that nature is not trying to tell you a little something? What would probably be of more use for everyone is a book that combines this wisdom with a "how to" on seed preservation. When disaster strikes we may need to return to our hedgerows to realise the genetic potential in those heirloom seeds. After this book you'll look at the natural things around you in a different way. Less of a carpet of green stuff to be somehow "over-come" but more of buffet. One for the foodist only but give it as a gift for its novelty value. An eye-opener.
Patrick J. Michaels "Meltdown"
ISBN 1 930865 59 7. "Meltdown - The Predictable Distortion of Global Warming by Scientists, Politicians and the Media". Written by Patrick J. Michaels and published by the Cato Institute in 2004. The Authors talks of the Cato Institute as being a "liberal think tank" and we can interpret this as placing it somewhere BETWEEN the Environmental Lobby and the Market-dogma on the Neo-Cons. Given that 'environmentalism' is somewhat mainstream these days, and that neo-liberalism is becoming increasingly right-of-center then we may think of this as being fairly right wing and broadly Republican. Yes, this is a US-parochial work. The vast majority of the evidence presented concerns the science and reporting of issues in the USA. It only journeys further a field if the author thinks he has evidence to back his cause. And his cause it this: Global Warming is real and man-made but it will only create small increases in temperature and we can adapt to this, as can the environment. He makes a very good case and we do recommend that everyone reads this. But with BIG caveats. This is not an argument for complacency. The Cato Institute is funded by Exxon (see www.exxonsecrets.org). So we should be suspicious when Michaels argues that deaths from heat waves will be mitigated by fitting Air-Conditioning to the homes of old-people. He neglects to tell us where the energy will come from in 2050 in order to power his air-con. So this is certainly 'small-picture' stuff not big-picture. He mostly uses statistics to demolish some stories although these are carefully chosen. He uses the falling temperatures between 1940 to 1960 to counteracts recent temperature rises to try and argue that none of the computer models work and that recent rises prove nothing. However, his analysis doesn't really go back far enough making it a classic case of lies and damn lies.... He does make some VERY good points in the book and sure, there have been some excesses that he has exposed. However, his central thesis that Global Warming hysteria is driven by Politicians and self-serving Scientists defies all intuition. Mind you, he is dealing with the Federal Grant structure for science in the USA and they have a lot of money to give away. As a counterpoint please read Ross Gelbspan's "Boiling Point" which shows the other side of the story. It is far more intuitive to believe that few Politicians are willing talk about Global Warming as they see it as Political suicide. Whilst, for scientists, outside of the USA there is more evidence that they are making it up than there is that Doctors invent new diseases. Do they exaggerate for funding? Possibly but not significantly. Does Michael's argument that the Scientific establishment follows the 'Global-Warming-as-Disaster' "paradigm" such that peer review is ineffective and favours only doom and gloom? This is interesting but holds little water outside the USA. This book cites fifty examples but these predate 2003 and go back as far as the 1980's. Are they pertinent for 2009 now we know so much more? The news isn't getting any better and Politicians still aren't doing anything. Michaels makes no mention of tipping points nor the rising acidity of the oceans. Even if the oceans absorb all that CO2 that still leaves most of the planet dead. Air-con won't help if you are starving....
Mobbs "Energy Beyond Oil"
ISBN 1 905237 00 6. Published by Matador Publishing in 2005. I read this in the first quarter of 2007. This probably the only the second book I have read that lumps climate change and peak oil together as one topic and studies them together. Mobbs deals far more with the peak oil side of things and he is statistically very thorough. His scope is largely limited to the United Kingdom Energy Market but the work provides lessons for other countries. It is difficult to criticise this work. It can comes across as pretty dull at times and it goes through the science in the manner of a secondary school physics text book. This would make it impenetrable to the casual reader but as it is not meant to be a text book I wonder where the library might stock this? It doesn't quite fit a category. If there is to be a criticism it is for the editors who failed to curb Mobbs' polemic against Carbon offsetting. Quite why he trips off on a pointless rant again carbon reduction schemes is not quite clear. It deserves no place within this book on this topic. Although he repeats the same tired and flawed arguments he digs up a new one that Chomsky would be proud of. Apparently Carbon Trading Markets, that transfer money to Third World countries, is Western selfishness because the only countries that benefit are those where that money is then spent - the West. This lazy piece of logic can be extended to all forms of aid to the Third World so could justify cutting off every penny. Bizarre. Put this stupidity to one side for a moment and you have a fantastic book. It gets fantastic just at the end where Mobbs pulls a rabbit out of the hat. He presents two graphs, one is Business as Usual and the other is with Energy Conservation cutting over to sustainability. What is remarkable is that the two are quite similar. It is just that 'business as usual' may continue the party for a few years more but then comes to an abrupt crash as the energy supplies runs out. And Mobbs does demonstrate that it is ALL Energy supplies: coal, oil, gas and uranium. They will all be gone within fifty years leaving only a residual 20% of sustainable leftovers. So we learn to live with that or stop living. Recommended.
Piggott "Choosing Windpower"
"Choosing Windpower" by Hugh Piggot. ISBN 1 90217 531 X. Published by the Center for Alternative Technology. This is similar to "Wind Energy Basics - A Guide to Small and Micro Wind Systems" by Paul Gipe but is much smaller and a lot less entertaining. It covers a lot of the same ground in a more concise form but covers the UK market rather than the United States. This is a useful contribution. Hence you should probably buy both books together, reading them at the same time, if you based in the UK and Europe. The book is 110 pages long but fits in the neatly into your pocket. It can be downloaded as a PDF from the CAT web site but we chose to buy the review copy from Amazon. It comes as a little spiral-bound notebook which would be cool if this meant you could fold it back upon itself to hold a page open. Sadly you cannot because they have then glued a stiff cardboard cover on to the outside. Why? Inside you get some useful little illustrations and a sprinkling of black-and-white photographs. The introduction bugs the reader by making repeated references to "wind-mills". Let's get this straight - a 'wind-mill' grinds flour directly from the force of the wind. A wind-turbine generates electricity. It is the latter we are talking about here. Through this little book there is repeated reference to four case studies and we look at every aspect of their requirements and how to meet them. It is well written and the explanations are readable. However, like Paul Gipe's work it is, essentially, a text-book. Hence it is not overly-fun to read. In truth it is quite dull in places and will remind you of the bits of school physics lessons you really hated. Putting that to one side, if you need to know why you shouldn't put a wind-turbine on the roof of your house, then this little gem will tell you. You can visit CAT and get a Development Course on the topic. Recommended.
Pfeiffer "Eating Fossil Fuels"
ISBN 0 86571 565 3. Published in 2006 by New Society Publishers. Written by Dale Allen Pfeiffer who also authored "The End of the Age of Oil". It is not a long book, at only 85 pages excluding Resource Guide, Bibliography and Index, however Dale has managed to come up with the goods on this topic. He occasionally holds his punches in the language used - he could be a little more direct. Despite the title he covers a broader range of topics including the degradation of the natural environment and how intensive agriculture has had a knock-on effect in declining water tables. It isn't always entirely clear how this is related to fossil fuels other than as an indirect consequence of population over-shoot. Likewise there is a section devoted to soil degradation that is largely derivative of similar work elsewhere. It is also worth comparing such claims about loss of biodiversity and topsoil with counter-claims by Lomborg. It always sounds worse than it probably is. The book also seems to avoid looking at the economics of the oil and gas usage in feedstock's for pesticides and fertilisers. It would be interesting to see how oil prices would effect agriculture but this is not really studied. It is just assumed that one day the oil and gas wouldn't be there leaving us in a hole. In truth it will be a long drawn-out and protracted agony for those members of the human race being slowly priced out of basic foodstuffs. Where this book does draw its great strength is in the examination of Korea and Cuba's different responses to their own post-Soviet Oil crashes. Korea got it all wrong and Cuba got it all right. The books concludes with the oddly titled "Twelve Fun Activities for Activists" however it sounds more grim than fun. The solutions, as always, are local and home-spun. Support local agriculture. invest in permaculture, buy from local markets, and so on and so forth. No surprises really. The book disappoints only in failing to convince the average reader of the precise links between oil and food, but Dale covers almost everything in-between. Recommended as one of the few books on this most important of topics. If Climate Change won't starve you the end of Oil will. Read it and dig up your lawn.
George Monbiot "Heat"
ISBN978 0 7139 9923 5. "Heat - How to Stop the Planet Burning" by George Monbiot. Published by Penguin in 2006. This eagerly awaited book by George Monbiot is investigative journalism at its best. He sets himself a target, a 90% cut in UK CO2 emissions by 2030. Then he sets out to see how this can be done, in his words "without insurrection". For it is this central thesis - how to make the necessary changes without everyone living in tree houses - that bothers us all. If you are reading this page then it bothers you. For the first time ever somebody actually deconstructs our modern economy and our hectic lives to see what can be done. He casts a critical eye over our homes and our industries, our transport and our energy supplies. He has dug up some fresh new ideas and been very thorough. However, he is, afterall, just a journalist better known for his writings in The Guardian. There are few better known trendy lefties out there. This is the real deal and he proves quite likeable even to those of us with a distinctive non-lefty background. So he evades criticism through his thoroughness. His attention to the science and engineering is to be commended. However, in the very last chapter he blows it. After giving a reasonably rational and level headed assessment of the state of the world it all unravels. Lo! His baby daughter was born and he gets all weepy. Then he gets angry. Instead of venting his spleen at the inaction of Politicians he turns on Carbon-reduction Investments. At this point you will recall the George has a few shady dealings with the folks over at www.planestupid.com - normally we quite like their web site but we have to take them to task for their irrational hatred of that wisdom-spending we used to call 'offsetting'. We know offsetting is not going to save the planet but it will contribute. If you have a problem with HOW people are motivated to invest in such schemes then you have lost the plot. So, after a quite enlightened read we have to wrap up with impassioned gibberish about burning trees. Oh dear. Own goal. But the rest of the book is fine. A great source book. Recommended.
Mars "Getting Started in Permaculture"
ISBN 978 1 85623 035 3. "Getting Started in Permaculture" by Ross and Jenny Mars was published by Permanent Publications in 2007. Originally published in Australia in 1994. 103 pages long and subtitled "Over 50 DIY Projects for House & Garden using Recycled Materials" this work was originally prepared for an Australian audience so it has undergone a minor conversion to make it fit the Northern Hemisphere. This book sounds really exciting and useful if you read the cover. However you do quickly tire of its "101 uses for a plastic bottle" approach. Many of the projects are better covered elsewhere - indeed some of them remind you of do-it-yourself projects from Children's Television. The coverage of each project is very lightweight so it can only be used as an approximate guide for the sort of things you may wish to try. It is really for ideas rather than guidance. If you are looking for guidance on how to grow lots of food organically then this is not it. In fact it contains little or no information on how to grow food. Sure the related topics are covered, such as mulching and composting, but this book's main thrust is as a DIY book. This represents little more than a collection of leaflets hence the cover price of nearly £10 is a bit outrageous. Many of the projects do seem to assume an almost endless supply of stuff. I doubt many readers will be readily able to "recycle" this from whatever they find lying around. Some of the areas do seem to be quite outside what we might think of as being "permaculture" as we get an insight into how to make paper - by taking paper and liquidising it. How pointless. It all comes over as a random collection of fun-things-to-do for anyone who is exceptionally bored and with time on their hands. However you feel short-changed. For any beginners in permaculture this is probably not really recommended as I am sure we would like to know how to lay out a garden and what sort of things to grow, and how. So the title "Getting started" is quite misleading. It looks as if you could try all 50 projects and not have generated a morsel to eat. It barely touches the surface nor does it really cover Permaculture that well. A few of the basic principles are covered but remember that the authors have a farm to work on. Do not expect to roll out some of these ideas to the average British garden. I guess this is a problem with any books coming over from the U.S. or Australia, they have a different sense of scale and their climate is different. I can't see the average Londoner planting a screen of trees to prevent bushfires. Leave this one on the shelf.
David MacKay "Sustainable Energy - without the Hot Air"
ISBN 978-0-9544529-3-3 (paperback). "Sustainable Energy - without the hot air" by David JC Mackay is available for free download from www.withouthotair.com. Published by UIT Cambridge Ltd in 2009. This is a review of the free download. The author is a Professor in the Department of Physics at Cambridge University so he should really know his stuff.... But, he wears shorts, rides a bike and his PhD was in Neural Systems. His research is into machine learning, information theory and communication systems whilst he has been teaching the public about energy systems only since 2005. This might make some a little doubtful about the quality of this work. MacKay bills the book as a neutral and scientific look at the debate. He relishes the lack of science in the discussion and feels the need to redress the balance. This looks like a labour of love, obviously a hobby and side-line but the amount of research in the book suggests he is well read on the subject despite his apparent lack of background in the field. Well, physics is physics. The books is very thorough although it has some major shortcomings - all of which he freely admits to. Primarily he doesn't compare like-with-like. He totals up total energy requirements and resources without properly comparing transport fuels with transport fuels. However this doesn't overly distract from the BIG picture he paints. He even divides the book up into sections for those who believe in Climate Change and sections for those who do not. Either way his conclusion is the same: we need to decarbonise the UK (and global) economy. Economics and finance are not fully discussed and he doesn't properly analyse the opportunity cost of one course of action versus the other. We also don't often get a "value for money" type analysis as to how far a dollar of taxpayer's money would go to eliminate carbon given the different choices. The data we have suggests that Nuclear power is terrible value for money but Mackay still shortlists it without this type of input. Even with these problems there are few quibbles about the conclusions, even if they are sometimes uncomfortable. The anti-transitioners and flat-earthers will, no doubt, draw a crumb of comfort here if they cherry-pick the data. Expect this book to be quoted by BOTH sides of the argument. This is not easy reading but it certainly cuts the crap. Transitioning to a sustainable energy system will not be easy. It will cost a lot of money and we will have to cut back on our profligate use of energy across the food and transport sectors. Everything is about to change and it may not be the ecotopia that the greens imagine. It may well be that the medicine contains some bitterness and a lot of compromises. However, doing nothing is clearly not an option. Recommended.
Donella Meadows, Jorgen Randers Dennis Meadow "Limits to Growth"
ISBN 1 84407 144 8. "Limits to Growth - the 30 year update" was written by Donella Meadows, Jorgen Randers and Dennis Meadow. Published in 2005 by Earthscan. The three authors are all (or were) University Professors (one has since passed away - Donella in 2001). In 1972 the original "Limits to Growth" was published by the same authors. It gave a message that was very timely if misunderstood and ignored - our planet will not support infinite growth in its economy and human population. Despite the fact this is stunningly self-evident it looks as if many are happy to ignore this fundamental truth. This book is the second follow up (the first being "Beyond the Limits" in 1992). It uses updated Computer Models and empirical data from the last 30 years to re-examine the basic assumptions. In 1972 they predicted over-shoot and that has now happened. The fact no one chooses to notice is akin to a man falling of a cliff who thinks he is flying. The original work was done at MIT and sponsored by the Club of Rome - an international group of Businessmen, Statesmen and Scientists funded by the Volkswagen Foundation in Germany. The "World3" Computer model they use is now freely available to anyone who wants to send off for the CD. In 1972 they predicted growth until 2015 and believed that there was plenty of time to head off disaster. This is not the impression you might get from the Skeptical Environmentalist who see no signs of growth limits. Lomberg suggested the Club of Rome work had predicted doom and gloom. In fact it did not. It was piece of scientific modelling showing possible future scenarios. You can argue about the assumption in the scenarios but the results remain the same. There are limits and we have passed them. A large part of the work is dedicated to exploring the World3 model to understand how societal collapse will happen and how it could be prevented. How can we bring ourselves back down to earth? The various scenarios in World3 produce interesting results if not always surprising. It can only indicate the general direction and timing. However its trending looks intuitive and occasionally eye-opening. One way or the other growth will stop - even if it means running out of people. The Message? If we are to avoid crashing and burning then we must fully exploit every renewable resource we have with better and better technology. Pollution must be controlled, land yield improved, land erosion prevented, energy efficiency maximised, etc. There is a solution. Markets and Technology are part of that solution but not the entire solution, they are imperfect, indeed markets can have a detrimental effect. Other important impacts will be felt if we stabilise our population, our industrial output and seek only sustainable development. After the hard science is over the book rather disappoints in the rather tree-hugging nature it disappears into less objective solutions - such as 'love'. Great. However there are many good suggestions here even if this is not the purpose of the book. Recommended for anyone who wants the big picture of where we are going and how to stop disaster.
Aubrey Meyer "Contract & Converge"
ISBN 1-478379-3 Full title: "Contraction & Convergence - The Global Solution to Climate Change". Published by Green Books on behalf of the Schumacher Society. Aubrey's background as a professional Musician and his insistence upon referring to "Zen" and other forms of eastern mysticism does undermine his important message. If stripped of this nonsense this should become the policy of the WTO, World Bank, UN and every country on earth. It is common sense. Aubrey argues that the only practical solution to Global Climate Change comes from Equality of Carbon Emission and Reduction of Carbon Emissions. No argument with the latter but the reasoning for the former is thoroughly discussed as simple politic pragmatism. Equality is the only way to get everyone on board. Hence it is expedient. This is persuasive and embodies vague concepts of global justice into a practical solution. The second interesting part of the book details the politics of the discussions that lead to Kyoto. Some of the distorted economics presented by the rich northern countries was appalling. Sometimes a dull read when lost in the statistics but still a recommended source that cuts through the noise. Buy it and read it now.... But, please liberate the solutions from the hippies.....!
McKillop "Final Energy Crisis"
ISBN 0-7453-2092-9. Published by Pluto Press in 2005. The book is edited by Andrew McKillop and Sheila Newman. This books explores the crisis in fossil fuels. Without oil everything we take for granted comes to a grinding halt, our food, our homes, our economies, you name it, everything. Even if there were unlimited supplies you couldn't burn for two reasons: it would harm the biosphere and it would be a waste. If you burnt it then you couldn't use it to make hydrogen, fertiliser, drugs, plastics, lubricants, etc, etc. A range of international contributors write pieces for the book. They look at the politics, the wars, the future economics, depletion and sustainability. What other lifestyle could we lead without oil? Will nuclear fill the gap? Oddly enough, whilst McKillop has a solid energy industry experience, Newman is actually a sociologist and artist. However it is she who covers the topics of population and land-use. She contributes the section on population over-shoot covering France and Australia. Ouch! I wouldn't want to be in Australia fifty years from now - a revelation! Inside the book they are joined by ten other authors who write on a range of topics such as the French Nuclear experience and something called "The Simpler Way" by Ted Trainer. All in all a broad church that takes in Kyoto, farming, food production, physics, Central Asian phantom oil, renewables, oil wars, the Chinese economic miracle, oil market shocks, coal demand, and so on. Recommended.
Porritt "Capitalism as if....."
ISBN 978-1-84407-193-7. Published in 2005 and updated considerably in 2007. Published by Earthscan. Full Title: "Capitalism as if the World Mattered" by Jonathan Porritt. This is a book primarily about selling sustainable development to Business Folk and the Electorate, but fails to deliver any killer vision or program. In fact you would be forgiven for thinking that it is 350 pages of waffle and navel-gazing. Porritt is a true mega-star of the green movement but he is the green answer to Tony Blair. Whilst most of his country lost faith in Blair and Brown several years ago it does seem as if Jonathan is their greatest living fan and pours nothing but praise on their work on third world debt and the environment. In truth it all sounds like a 'deep-green' having flown a little too close to the Sun and having fallen to earth a far lighter-green. Porritt's proposition here is that Capitalism can be reformed to support the Planet's Natural Capital one company at a time through some kind of super-green Corporate Responsibility packages. Porritt gives vent to all kinds of anguish over the crimes of the George Bush Jnr regime but the main agenda is set by his own "Forum for the Future". He lambastes the traditional greens for their inability to articulate a positive vision and often returns to the idea that environmentalism is dead. It remains unclear as to what "Forum for the Future" is doing but you would expect a modern Government to be receptive to great plug-and-play answers for their environmental problems.. It makes you wonder if Porritt hasn't just wasted the last twenty years with a bunch of civil servants when he should have been evolving something inspirational. Throughout this book Porritt delivers an analysis of everyone's opinions through his large personal library. He wants us (especially the cynical greens) to embrace Capitalism and revolutionise it from the inside. He comes up with lots of post-modern ideas about what constitutes "Capital" and he truly believes that if you wrap the environmental message in nice green wrapping then those hedge fund managers in the City will swallow it. Only very briefly does he even touch on WHAT exactly it is that would possibly make this happen - a price per tonne for Carbon of $100. Here is a germ of an idea but it is quickly swamped by a sea of voices. We hear every shade of opinion yet never seem to reach a conclusion. We need to make sustainable development desirable? Wrong. We need to make the survival of our species a matter of economics. And we have to inspire people through their own stupid self interest. Once you have that licked then the suckers are all yours. This is a well researched book and an interesting read if you want a pleasant ramble through the world of green politics and its failures. If you want a kick in the pants and a hundred great ideas to sell sustainable development to your Board of Directors, Shareholders or your electorate... Well, we're still clueless. Sorry Jonathan. You are a great guy and we like you. But this half baked imitation of a Business Management text book and isn't going to work. It doesn't matter that the "Financial Times" or "The Observer" loved it. This won't break out of its obscure green-niche. When you talk about a Martin Luther King style "dream" then you are setting yourself up for disappointment if you then can't deliver it. Until the loss of habitat or climate change causes pain to the people who matter (those who work in big finance, Oil, Washington and mega-Trans-National Corporations) then you are howling at the moon. Porritt knows about Peak Oil and devotes a section to it. And then conveniently forgets it for the rest of the book. Join the dots and think. Everything in Politics, Money and Power is all as joined up as the Natural Bio-system. When you stop trying to treat each individual bit in isolation and take a holistic view then you won't find a solution to the mankind's survival.
Aric McBay "Peak Oil Survival"
ISBN 13 978-1-59228-127-5. "Peak Oil Survival - Preparation for Life After Gridcrash" was published in 2006 by the Lyons Press. The author is a peak oil "specialist" from Canada. In some respect this book adds little that you cannot learn from a dozen books published on survival. What makes it a little different is that the author doesn't recommend that any of his advice is followed as individuals. He asks that the reader joins with family and friends within the community to practice the survival techniques he discusses. Judging from the cover the book is a little misleading as the author does say it will explain how "people can protect their families and strengthen their communities". This conjures up a vision of the book being a bit more like Rob Hopkins "Transition Handbook". however, it is far from it. Instead you get a very brief post-apocalypse crash course in survival - complete with diagrams. The author draws heavily on the work done by he US Survivalist Community to prepare for Nuclear Holocaust so there is a hint that space will not be at a premium and that there will be a boundless supply of stuff to make all the gadgets described. Quite how you are meant to find a supply of all these materials after all the DIY stores have closed is a mystery. Better start stocking up now then? The book is barely 84 pages long excluding Appendices. Considering its hefty $13 price tag it is not good value for money. Oddly enough the pages are printed on really, really thick paper. I wonder what that tells you? Padding? Each chapter is little more than a brief pamphlet on such topics as obtaining water, digging a latrine, cooking food and, well, that's it really. It is rather too brief. To its credit the introduction is extremely well written as it neatly describes the situation we are in and how every alternative to oil comes up wanting. The author got into this game through his deep "love of the land". He is an old school environmentalist who discovered Peak Oil. As such he wastes a few paragraphs in his liberal hand-wringing for the state of fish in the sea. He found that the few changes he made as an environmentalist would be washed away by Peak Oil and Climate Change. If you don't resolve them then nothing else matters. However, you can read this wisdom elsewhere. As this book is for North Americans it is not easy to recommend it to people in other countries as it adds little you cannot read elsewhere. But it has its high points. We hope to see more from this author.