News stories, I was taught in school, always include "who, what, when, where, why". And science stories, the old joke went, always include "who, what, when, where, wow". For green tech, authors tend to trade the "why" for a "woe". And then, of course, there's the "woo".
The book starts with the woe:
The history of agriculture (starting with the Neanderthals), the technological fall from grace, and then heart wrenching descriptions of the coming agricultural apocalypse. Is it correct? I don't know. But I'm pretty sure that, despite the provocative mental picture it evokes, restaurants in New York don't necessarily put out food waste in green plastic garbage bags (there are multiple composting programs), and the author's claim that "the Spanish troops received the lasting 'gift' of syphilis ... undoubtedly acquired from raping and pillaging sorties, which they then introduced into Europe" is hyperbole (unless he meant that they introduced raping and pillaging sorties to Europe? I'm pretty sure Europe had those already). But in this book's universe, there are wastrel societies, and steward societies, and nary the twain shall meet. (Except for those Conquistadors).
The over simplification of history leads into an oversimplification of science. "<GMOs have> come under attack because of a perception on the part of the public that GMOs are potentially harmful and should not be allowed. In fact, they have been modified to resist droughts, attack from a variety of plant pathogens, and increased amounts of herbicides." (page 130) (Try googling "roundup-ready" for why this isn't such a hot idea).
Then comes the woo:
The author says we can solve all this, the loss of wild land to farming, the need for massive amounts of fertilizer and pesticides, the poisoning of groundwater with agricultural runoff. With indoor farming! In a gigantic building! (Because massive agro-businesses have been so benevolent in the past).
To address the weed and pest problem, the buildings can be biologically isolated, using technology already in place in hospitals (hospital-bred infections are some of the most virulent, and hard to get rid of).
To feed and water the plants, we can use hydroponics, on which the author has already done some research. "The liquid portion of the operation is pumped slowly through a specially constructed pipe, usually made of a plastic such as polyvinyl chloride (or PVC)" (page 167). (Are you nuts?)
To get sunlight to the plants? We can use mirrors and lenses, or even provide light with super-efficient OLEDs, run, perhaps, by photovoltaics. (Maybe we could devote one floor of the building to the photovoltaics, and use them to run the lights on that floor, as well as on all the others?).
And so on.
From a literary perspective, this book is readable. The flow is coherent at the macro-level (chapters and sections), though at the deeper levels the text often repeats, as if they were new, ideas that were already presented. The utter lack of citations, from someone who claims to be an academic, is more troubling, but fits with the overall sense that many of the facts stated are completely off-the-cuff. In addition, the author oversimplifies, and writes with affect in mind, not logic. What we get is the literary equivalent of an impressive facade and lobby, without any thought to the traffic circulation and HVAC.
When I studied writing in school, I was taught about "who, what, when, where, and why". But when I studied architecture, the most cringe-worthy critique wasn't about form, or function, or even appropriateness-for-landscape. The cutting-est thing your instructor could say about your design was, simply, "how do you change the lightbulbs?". This book has some cool ideas. But it also has a HUGE pile of lightbulbs.