Friday 15 April 2011

Whole Earth Discipline by Stewart Brand

I won this book in the Eco-Libris Earth Day Campaign 41 Reasons to Plant a Tree for your Book. I chose this book as my prize because it promises to challenge environmentalists in their thinking on a range of controversial issues and I like to be challenged once in a while - it's healthy to have your assumptions tested once in a while.

The first issue it tackles is urbanisation. I already actually believe that city living can be green through for example good public transport links, the efficiency of infrastructure etc so I didn't need much persuading on this one. What I found odd was the way that some things were just presented as being good for the environment without any real exploration. For example mobile phones are described as having a great effect on helping people in developing countries to network and establish businesses, well that's undeniably true and I know there are strong links between wealth creation and environmental protection but these links need to be made explicit.

The second issue is nuclear power, which after recent events in Japan was unlikely to persuade me to change my mind (though high profile environmentalist George Monbiot did recently change his mind on the nuclear issue).

The third issue is Genetically Modified (GM) Food Crops. Having studied Botany, including Agricultural Botany, I've always thought that the opponents of GM have overplayed its problems while its supporters have overplayed its benefits. This book obviously does the second and doesn't fully convince me.

The final topic in the book covers regeneration of wildlands. This was the most interesting topic in the book and I felt was covered most convincingly.

Incidentally, there are no references in the book, to find those, you have to go to the website Personally I think that a book making as many claims as this one does should have the references in the book so that you can check them as you read along.

So a thought provoking but not entirely convincing book.


Anonymous said...

Nicely balanced review. I agree about the references - what a cop out not having them in the book (it is essential for any validity).

Danmark said...

Can I just say what a relief to find someone who actually knows what theyre talking about on the internet. You definitely know how to bring an issue to light and make it important. More people need to read this and understand this side of the story. I cant believe youre not more popular because you definitely have the gift.

Larry Kollar said...

As you point out, it's difficult to get a balanced perspective on GM food (and thus refreshing when you find it, thanks Juliet). On one hand, we've been doing it for millennia (except there it's called "breeding"). On the other, short-cutting the process doesn't allow the time to find potential drawbacks in the new offspring.

I've always taken Brand's "Whole Earth" books with a grain of salt, sounds like this one needs it too.