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Dr. J. F. BARKER "Gaia Watch, registered Charity" (Sheffield, UK)
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Soil Not Oil: Climate Change, Peak Oil and Food Insecurity
Soil Not Oil: Climate Change, Peak Oil and Food Insecurity
by Vandana Shiva
Edition: Paperback
Price: £13.48

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Soil not Oil, 2 July 2009
Vandana Shiva, Indian environmental campaigner, states mankind faces three intertwined crises:
climate change, a food crisis and the end of cheap oil. These crises have been created by the 'corporate interests' of industrialized countries, the World Bank, and the IMF. The solutions proposed by these bodies to deal with the climate change and food crises are based on continuing existing practices that created the crises in the first place- such as production of yet more fossil fuel-based chemical fertilisers, increasing use of biofuels (which "divert food and land from the poor to the non-sustainable energy needs of the rich") and the globalization of agriculture.
The industrialized world depends on capital and energy intensive systems, the energy coming from fossil fuels (like oil). The whole system is unsustainable. We must "power down" from capital intensive energy production to low cost energy production, from centralised economies with labour-displacing energy production to networks of renewable energy driven local communities with livelihood generating energy production, communities working with the living soil to restore soil fertility.
Hence the title of the book: "SOIL NOT OIL".

But Shiva ignores Human Population Growth, surely a major underlying cause of the world's environmental problems. Between 2007 and 2050 the global population is projected by the UN to increase by roughly the combined present day population sizes of India and China, most of this growth being in developing countries like India. Think of the consequent impact on the environment! Is this why Shiva ignores population growth?.

That criticism aside, Shiva produces lots of facts to support all her arguments and her book makes compelling reading. But she sometimes mixes her topics creating mental indigestion.

John Barker, Gaia Watch.

Manifestos on the Future of Food & Seed
Stuffed and Starved: Markets, Power and the Hidden Battle for the World Food System
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 9, 2010 5:18 PM GMT


The Revenge of Gaia: Why the Earth is Fighting Back and How We Can Still Save Humanity
The Revenge of Gaia: Why the Earth is Fighting Back and How We Can Still Save Humanity
by James Lovelock
Edition: Hardcover

62 of 68 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Climate Change - we have little time left to act, 2 May 2006
Gaia, that self-regulating system consisting of the atmosphere, living things and the ecosystems that contain them, the oceans and the underlying rocks, is in danger. Such is the warning given us by James Lovelock.

The regulation works through what are called 'feedback' mechanisms, and in the glossary at the end of the book Lovelock gives an explanatory example of such mechanisms:

If the car we are driving deviates from the intended path, we adjust the wheels to try to cancel the deviation. The power steering amplifies our action (negative feedback). But if the steering mechanism was faulty and it increased the car's deviation from the chosen path, the initial error would be amplified (positive feedback).

The earth remains a suitable place for man and other living organisms through negative feedback. Unfortunately, the balance of Gaia is now being disturbed by positive feedback mechanisms: One example given by Lovelock concerns the melting of snow on land. This snow reflects almost all the sunlight that reaches it and thus helps to keep the world cool. But as the snow melts at the edges, the dark ground that is then at the surface absorbs much of the sunlight and gets warmer. The increase in ground warmth accelerates further snow melting.

Lovelock says that nearly all the processes that affect the climate of the earth are now in positive feedback, and he gives six examples of these processes. Together, these processes are likely to push Gaia quite suddenly from its present equilibrium to an equilibrium at a much hotter state, and this change beyond what Lovelock calls a 'tipping point' may occur soon.

If this happens - perhaps by the end of the present century - the climate of the world could then "be described as Hell: so hot, so deadly that only a handful of the teeming billions now alive will survive" (page 147).

Strong stuff. But this is not the language of some columnist in a popular newspaper. It is written by a scientist who for many years has explored the properties of Gaia. A member of the Royal Society, Lovelock has, according to his own web site, produced about 200 scientific papers spread almost equally among topics in medicine, biology, instrument science and geophysiology.

Lovelock is the author of the Gaia Theory which states (glossary page 162):

"A view of the earth that sees it as a self-regulating system made up from the totality of organisms, the surface rocks, the ocean and the atmosphere tightly coupled as an evolving system. The theory sees this system as having a goal - the regulation of surface conditions so as always to be as favourable as possible for contemporary life. It is based on observations and theoretical models; it is fruitful and has made ten successful predictions".

In this book Lovelock gives the evidence for the theory, explains what is known of the regulatory mechanism, and looks at forecasts of how Gaia will behave in the present century; I have already written what Lovelock thinks may in fact happen.

How have we come to get into such a mess? Well Lovelock sees human population growth as the underlying cause of Gaia's problems:

"the root of our problems with the environment comes from a lack of constraint on the growth of population".

Lovelock discusses what we need to do now to avoid complete catastrophe. I will leave readers to find out for themselves what he proposes, apart from mentioning one thing he says, which I think may be paramount: "We need the people of the world to sense the real and present danger so that they will spontaneously mobilize and unstintingly bring about an orderly and sustainable withdrawal to a world where we try to live in harmony with Gaia".

This is a provocative book. Lovelock takes a swipe at 'affluent radicals', 'environmentalism' and 'Greens'. And unlike many, perhaps most environmentalists, he staunchly advocates nuclear power as the biggest ingredient in a future energy strategy portfolio designed to reduce carbon dioxide emissions as much as possible. I was myself one of those environmentalists who was against the use of nuclear power. But I have been convinced by Lovelock's arguments. He certainly makes it clear that biofuels could only make at most a modest contribution in the future, for to make even a fairly large contribution would require using all the land surface of the earth not already built up or used for agriculture.

I urge people to read this book.

Dr. J.F. Barker, Gaia Watch registered Charity


Sparing Nature: The Conflict Between Human Population Growth and Earth's Biodiversity
Sparing Nature: The Conflict Between Human Population Growth and Earth's Biodiversity
by Jeffrey K. McKee
Edition: Paperback
Price: £20.50

4.0 out of 5 stars Human population growth and biodiversity decline, 1 Mar. 2006
McKee comes straight to the point in his first chapter when he states two propositions:
The First is that there is a very close relationship between biodiversity loss and human population growth. Quite simply, he says, the more people there are, the more we push aside wild plants and animals. His second proposition is that the most important conservation measure we can take is to slow or halt the growth of the human population.
The rest of the book is a fascinating examination of biodiversity and its decline from a variety of different angles, in which McKee sees the proof of his propositions.
Early on, McKee introduces and adapts an idea of Charles Darwin on natural selection: nature may be thought of as a yielding surface into which very many sharp wedges are driven in close together. Sometimes as one wedge is struck, another one falls off. And to McKee, the human species is the most successful wedge of all.
McKee argues that the evolution of man in Africa and spread to other parts of the world is correlated at each stage with mass extinctions of other mammal species. In Africa itself, after the appearance of Homo erectus , other African mammals started to go extinct at an unprecedented rate. Outside of Africa, the spread of H. erectus and later Homo sapiens to and in the different continents was associated with mass extinctions of large mammals. McKee provides evidence to support his contention that the spread of Homo was the primary cause of the mass extinctions, although he accepts that climate change played a part.
The rest of the book is given over to exploring the many ways in which human population growth is connected with biodiversity decline in today's world.
This is no dry-as-dust academic book. Rather it is full of interesting examples at local levels which challenge the reader to think through mechanisms of biodiversity change.
However the fact that there are numerous interesting examples may perhaps have contributed to what I think is one fault of the book - McKee is occasionally discursive to the point where I felt the thread of his argument was being obscured.
Finally, a comment on the quality of illustrations: As far as the few photographs are concerned (pages 24, 39, 43, 53), they are rather blurred, at least in my copy of the book.
These criticisms not withstanding, this is a very informative book.


Sparing Nature: The Conflict Between Human Population Growth and Earth's Biodiversity
Sparing Nature: The Conflict Between Human Population Growth and Earth's Biodiversity
by Jeffrey K. McKee
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £25.95

4.0 out of 5 stars Human population growth, a cause of biodiversity decline, 25 Feb. 2006
McKee starts in chapter one with two propositions. The First is that "there is a very close relationship between biodiversity loss and human population growth ". He immediately goes on to assert a causal connection between these two phenomena: "Quite simply, the more people there are, the more we push aside wild plants and animals. As our population has grown, other species have had to adapt to living in confined reserves or enclaves, lest they go extinct. But over the planet as a whole, there are fewer chances for species to survive as we continue to increase our numbers so dramatically, with a net gain of over 200,000 people every day". The second proposition is "the most important conservation measure we can take is to slow or halt the growth of the human population".
The rest of the book is a fascinating examination of biodiversity and its decline from a variety of different angles, in which McKee sees the proof of his propositions.
Early on, McKee introduces and adapts an idea of Charles Darwin on natural selection : nature may be thought of as a yielding surface into which very many sharp wedges are driven in close together. Sometimes as one wedge is struck, another one falls off. And to McKee, the human species is the most successful wedge of all. And he applies the idea straight away to the evolution and spread of the genus Homo.
McKee argues that the evolution of man in Africa and spread to other parts of the world is correlated at each stage with mass extinctions of other mammal species. In Africa itself, after the appearance of Homo erectus , other African mammals started to go extinct at an unprecedented rate. Outside of Africa, the spread of H. erectus and later Homo sapiens to and in the different continents was associated with mass extinctions of large mammals. McKee provides evidence to support his contention that the spread of Homo was the primary cause of the mass extinctions, although he accepts that climate change played a part.
In later chapters McKee looks into the relationships between the human population growth and biodiversity decline in relation to various other phenomena: In Chapter 4, the development of agriculture; in chapter 5, the changing allocation of land for various functions across the globe; in chapter 6, habitat loss and fragmentation; in chapter 7 water matters such as the building of dams, ocean fishery catches, marsland drainage. On the way (first part of chapter 5), McKee gives us a primer on population growth - fertility, mortality, migration, age composition and the demographic transition.
In chapter 8 McKee explains why conserving ecosystems and biodiversity is so important to mankind (including of course forests as carbon sinks and the maintenance of genetic diversity vital to the development of new drugs). And chapter 9 is an epilogue drawing together many ideas.
This is no dry-as-dust academic book. Rather it is full of interesting examples at local levels which challenge the reader to think through mechanisms of biodiversity change. However the fact that there are numerous interesting examples may perhaps have contributed to what I think is one fault of the book - it is sometimes discursive. This is particularly so in chapters five and six, and as I read these chapters I felt the thread of the argument was being obscured.
McKee argues that the upturn in population growth, at the time of the origin of agriculture (and the concomitant increase in food production), was not caused by the latter; it was simply a consequence of the nature of exponential growth. Here he makes no mention of the work of Hopfenberg and Pimentel who provide evidence suggesting that it was the increase in food production following the origins of agriculture that caused the upturn in population growth.
Finally, a comment on the quality of illustrations: As far as the few photographs are concerned (pages 24, 39, 43, 53), they are rather blurred, at least in my copy of the book.


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