Outgrowing the Earth: The food security challenge in an age of falling water tables and rising temperatures by Lester R. Brown, W.W. Norton, New York, 2004, 256 ff.
Warnings about potential environmental disaster of one kind or another abound today. Yet there are many who are still in denial - out of a sense of helplessness; or because they do not want to face an unpalatable truth and make changes to their extravagant life-style; or perhaps because their distorted religious world-view leads them to believe that God or Gaia will sort it out whatever we do.
Well, here is a book that, despite being five years old now (2009), is even more relevant today than it was at the time of publication, because the challenges that Brown highlights here have only become more serious in the intervening period. There are some economists, including the author, who believe that shortages of land and clean air to breathe and usable water are even more significant and dangerous to human survival than lack of oil. At the root of the problem we have people. There are simply far too many people on the planet for Earth's resources to sustain even at present levels. Rising global temperatures are only one of the results of our profligacy, not a cause of the problems: overpopulation is our greatest hazard.
In this book, Brown uses examples from overfishing in Canada and Peru, failure of wheat harvests in China and Russia, and the drying up of rivers used for irrigation in India to illustrate the fact that the problems are serious and global. And he should know, as the president of the Earth Policy Institute in Washington D.C. With all the monitoring resources at their disposal they are in a position to gather data on many aspects of our impending environmental catastrophe.
We can read this book as a catalogue of doom, gloom and failure, as it gives ample statistics of where we have gone wrong. But we can also read it as a challenge to join with environmental groups wherever we can to force governments and industry to put human survival before election prospects or short-term profit. Forget the shareholders and fat bonuses for directors - put the people first. This book should be required reading in schools and colleges in the hope of waking people up to what needs to be done if humankind is not to become part of the sixth mass extinction.
The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight: Revised and Updated: The Fate of the World and What We Can Do Before It's Too Late
Howard Jones is the author of The Tao of Holism