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3.9 out of 5 stars
3.9 out of 5 stars
The God Species: How the Planet Can Survive the Age of Humans
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on 21 January 2013
In this book, Mark Lynas describes some of the challenges we together will face over the next 30-50 years, perhaps beyond. Many of these have been described or written about in other places, but Mark uses the concept of 'Planetary Limits' to bring it all together - show how many of the forces at work influence each other, and make sense of the whole. Some of the choices he makes are surprising - and he admits early on in the book that he's had to reverse some of his prior opinions, because in his earlier life as a 'green campaigner' he was stuck in dogma and parroting other people's views... (just like many 'climate sceptics' still are). Overall, I think it's an educational and enlightening look at the choices we are about to face as a global society - at times dishearteningly honest, but with a positive outlook.
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on 9 July 2011
The paperback edition of "The God Species" by Mark Lynas has been withdrawn from sale by Amazon just as it was launched, after somebody complained it was "not as described". The author suspects foul play - and having read it I can see that he might have made some enemies.

But importantly - and this is the reason why you should read the book - Lynas's argument is so groundbreaking that there are a number of different traditional "camps" within which someone may have been offended enough to try to stop the book in its tracks. Lynas has been seen by many as on the side of the Greens, as he speaks about the need to avoid catastrophic environmental change. Hence opponents of the Green movement may automatically be opponents of Lynas. But in "The God Species", Lynas has taken the bold and innovative step of making strong argument in favour of using our technology to make us more responsible as stewards of the Earth, which he views us as now ruling with the power of Gods.

Perhaps most controversially, Lynas argues that nuclear power and genetic engineering do have a place in avoiding dangerous climate change and protecting food security - clearly views which risk alienating many traditional Greens. But the point is that Lynas has backed up his case with extensive and well-referenced evidence, so this is not an idealogical book - yes it still is his opinion, but it is a well-informed opinion which can be challenged point by point by counter-evidence if you so wish.

Lynas has successfully broken free of the chains of partisan views in the environmental debate, which must be a good thing - polarization of the argument has led to entrenched positions which will ultimately do nobody any good, and lead to underhand behaviour such as (in this this case, it seems) the suppression of free speech. But that is precisely why the book should be read - it's a novel, independent view about which you can make up your own mind.

My guess is that anyone who reads this book would find something they agree with, something they disagree with and something utterly surprising. I wholeheartedly recommend it to anybody that is interested in a fresh take on environmental matters, whichever "side" you think you are on.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 8 February 2014
There is no doubt that humans are placing great stresses on a host of planetary boundaries. Were they all to be breached, then at industrial civilisation is finished, and so perhaps all life on Earth (although of course nature could get along without us). The book describes with great clarity how near humanity is to crossing various natural thresholds, not just in pumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere but also lesser-known threats such as ocean acidification. Make no mistake, this is hair-raising stuff.

Not many greens are going to dissent from his analysis of the problem. But many will hate his proposed solutions - nuclear power, GM crops, for example, and his repudiation of conventional green nostrums such as advocating austerity, cutting living standards etc. So in this sense, he is by no means preaching to the converted. He shows how greens' conventional rejection of solutions like nuclear power and GM crops threatens to make the problems worse. There is no doubt for example that the fact that so many nuclear power stations have not been built has been to the wider detriment of the environment because we have simply burned more coal in lieu of nuclear, with all the deleterious consequences that entails for the planet's environment.

It is a message that I enjoyed reading. So, from my perspective, this book can be commended for the following reasons.
First of all, it deals with realistic solutions that work with the grain of human nature and not against it, and hence have a greater hope of success than the eco-purists proposed solutions (cutting living standards, abandoning air travel etc.). The sorts of solutions advocated by people who call themselves deep ecologists and such like have no broader appeal, hence no chance of success. Second, it avoids the sort of sanctimonious, preachy tone that accents a lot of green `discourse', which again puts a lot of people off. Third, it avoids talking in the language of sin and purity, again the sort of tone a lot of people associate with green spokespeople, the sort of tone which causes people to switch off as no one likes to be preached at, especially by people who appear to enjoy the benefits our industrial civilisation brings while decrying it at the same time (witness green activists jetting off to various climate-change meetings and conferences around the world).

Lynas acknowledges that much of the harm we have done to the planet is not premeditated, that the rise of living standards is not something to be deplored, because it has made huge contributions to the alleviation of human misery. The challenge is to reconcile our technological prowess with the planet's limits, not an easy balance to strike, by any means. Many will doubt that it is possible. Perhaps it is not. But the sort of gloating eco-fatalism preached by people like John Gray, from the keyboards of their home computers, sitting comfortably in well-lit and well-heated homes, has nothing to commend it.

So many conventional greens won't like being told that some of their preferred solutions have actually made the planet's maladies worse - or would, were they to be implemented. But those who fight shy of accepting the truth of man-made climate change, perhaps out of conviction that some proposed green solutions would in fact do serious harm to human flourishing, as I have done, should read this book. For our environmental problems are very real, and our species risks becoming a victim of our own success. But just as eco-dogmatism prevents us from adopting workable solutions, denial that the problem of climate change exists makes for dangerous complacency that threatens to undo the gains of our industrial civilisation. Those who wish to see these gains preserved should therefore read this book.
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on 27 April 2012
This is a really important contribution to debates about human activity and its interaction with the environment.

Its importance lies in the clear discussion about 'planetary boundary systems' and not just climate change: those nine interconnected and crucial 'whole earth' systems that sustain human life. These systems can be characterised as having some room for more human intervention before the system starts breaking down, being more or less in equilibrium with human activity, or being beyond equilibrium now. He presnets convincing data and shows each system's rate of change given current trends.

Not being a planetary system scientist, there was a lot of new information for me here, some of it surprising. I would have liked a few graphs and the content is crying out for good diagrams and graphics.

The ideas are of a piece with other 'revisionist' thinking, for example Stewart Brand (on the benefits of cities) and to some extent George Monbiot (on the benefits of nuclear power, despite Fukashima). I like Lynas's fracture of 'being green' equals anti-capitalist/anti-science/anti-corporate.

Probably the biggest challenge for politically active 'greens' is the idea that, given the right incentives, 'the market' i.e current corporate capitalism and governments, can really help shape these boundaries for the better. Growth might be ok, as long as its impact can be sustained by each system, is his basic point.

However, he appears to downplay the appalling history of rampant corporate and regulatory mismanagement of the very systems he wants 'us' to deal with. While his arguments can appeal to and be understood by interested readers, activists, corporate heads and investment funders, it seems to me he is at his weakest when he appeals to so called 'responsible' captains of industry. His call to action just doesn't hit that bottom line, while some innovation simply needs to stop, such as 'fracking'.

Having said that, this book is essential reading for anyone who thinks, talks and acts on environmental issues. I guess that means you.
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on 3 January 2013
This is an incredibly useful book for anyone who wants to be informed about climate change and everything else that is happening to our planet. It is well-researched, and very readable, with lots of provocative and persuasive comments about various governments, climate sceptics and environmental groups.

Mark Lynas concludes that it is not too late to prevent climate disaster, but that we need to stop using fossil fuels altogether, just as we stopped producing CFCs to fix the hole in the ozone layer. He says that if politicians take the lead internationally by announcing a ban, then business will invest in the technologies to make it possible without the world's economy collapsing. To me, this is too optimistic. Politicians, particularly in the USA, are just not going to do it.

Fortunately, the book is also positive about geoengineering, particularly carbon scrubbing as this will tackle ocean acidification as well as climate change. Given that the world is not going to stop emitting too much greenhouse gas, we have to find another way to tackle this, and geoengineering is the only plausible strategy left. It doesn't need such widespread international agreement and it doesn't need us to change our lifestyles in ways that most people are not willing to do eg drastic cuts in car use, air travel and meat consumption. See [...] for more information.

So the conclusion may be unconvincing, but the research, the analysis and the other proposals made are brilliant. I am so glad that I have read this book.
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on 23 February 2014
Mark Lynas looks at the benefits of capitalism and the problems it has created for the environment. He suggests that a reconfiguration of capitalist enterprise may be far more beneficial to the survival of the planet than a retreat into an imagined rural idyll from the past. Of course the main problem is that the people who control the planet are in thrall to neo liberal, self serving policies which are neither beneficial nor fair to the earth and its flora and fauna. How to convince the 'fat controllers' seems to be the major problem we face.
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on 4 September 2014
This is the first review I have ever written, and I am urged to write it as this book, for me, has opened my eyes. Do not let the title of the book, 'The God Species', mislead you in to thinking it is arrogant it any way. It is not. After the first chapter, that becomes apparent.

This book is concise, clear, and actually rather optimistic all things considered. I struggled to put it down at points! Chapters 4 I found particularly insightful. Regarding GM crops, this book intrigued me to research them further, resulting in me completely changing my opinion on them. A lot of good, strong research has been done for the writing of this book. Lynas backs his arguments up with strong statistics, scientific research and references, taken from varied and valid sources.

Overall, this book has inspired me.

Highly recommended!
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on 20 March 2014
I think some of this book's reviews are entirely unfair. They are correct in what they are saying: this book is subjective, and slightly misleading. But, it is not a text book, it is a good read! I imagine most people who would choose to read this book would always view another individuals opinions cautiously and seek to research the information further.
I really enjoyed the book, I just suggest you read the book in a manor the title suggests (light-hearted). The issues throughout are important and for those who simply view this as waffle and would rather read a text book. I personally suggest the most up to date IPCC report...
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on 22 January 2016
The day you finish this book will resonate with you for years. His condemnation of out-dated, misleading and ultimately self-defeating environmentalist dogma is blistering. Lynas' book is the result of detailed research covering decades of scientific study. More to the point, it's written in plain English that any intelligent non-scientist will understand. The nine Planetary Boundaries were clearly explained and humanity ignores the science at its peril. Ultimately, the planet will survive while the human race might not. It's up to us.

At last, a book on real environmental issues that makes sense.
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on 9 August 2012
This is a curate's egg of a book - good in parts, but leaving an unpleasant aftertaste.

To start with the good, Lynas presents the 'planetary boundaries' approach with commendable clarity. He explains why each boundary is significant, assesses likely consequences of breaching it, and establishes why environmental policy makers should do more to respect these boundaries and how they interact. His example of how encouragement of biofuels may help mitigate climate change, but at the cost of crossing critical land use and biodiversity boundaries, is particularly telling.

The more Lynas explores policy choices, however, the more selective he becomes in his use of evidence. He seems determined to avoid any policies, however effective, which might be perceived as interfering with personal choice. So changes in human behaviour that would be more respectful of planetary boundaries - reducing meat consumption or air travel, for example - are dismissed as both unnecessary and undesirable. When it comes to technological developments like genetically engineered crops or nuclear power, however, Lynas becomes quite evangelical - highlighting potential rather than actual benefits, and downplaying or even dismissing risks. He suggests, for example, that there is "no logical reason" why genetic engineering means monoculture, without addressing the economic reality that this is so often the result in practice. Similarly, he downplays the risks of nuclear waste storage by insisting that longer-lasting radioactive isotopes "can be recycled in other reactors" rather than buried, skating over the distinction between theoretical possibility and actual performance.

Lynas' faith in the capacity of technology to solve all environmental problems is in marked contarast to his accounts of past technological changes like fossil fuels, nitrogen fertilisers and CFC coolants - all of which promised so much when they were first introduced, but had damaging long-term unintended consequences that were only recognised several decades later. Lynas does not make clear why the technofixes he now supports (including massive geo-engineering projects like pumping sulphur pollutants into the stratosphere) should be any different. Perhaps it all comes down to the author's conviction, encapsulated in his book title, that it's not just acceptable but essential that we 'play God' and develop our dominion over nature in order to protect our material comforts and engineer our survival. The danger, unfortunately, is that, instead of divine wisdom, we end up with an enhanced version of the human arrogance that got us into this mess in the first place.
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