This book is an excellent complement to David Key's book on “Catastrophe”, and I found it a worthwhile fast read.It has one really big core idea that ties environmental, political, economic, and cultural readings together–it explores the inter-relationship between sustainability of any given society within the constraints of the time and the legitimacy of the government or other form of political organization.
Two things appear to help: long-term vision on the part of the leader, and whatever it takes to maintain the people's faith in their leadership.
The author concludes with an overview of where we stand today, and draws attention to the especially dangerous combination of overpopulation, global warming, and rapid climate changes occurring all at once.
For me, this book combined an overview of how seriously we must take ocean currents and related climate changes; and how important it is that our leaders understand these issues and take long-term views that add stability and sustainability in the face of varying challenges to our well-being.
This is the second best of several books on environmental policy I have reviewed, and it merits careful scrutiny in part because it brings together a number of expert authors and there is in essence “something for everyone” in this edited work. What is lacks, though, is a good summary chapter that lists how the “precautionary principle” should be applied across each of the top ten environmental areas of concern–something that could circulate more easily than the book, and perhaps have a beneficial policy impact at the local, state, and national levels–and I suggest this because the meat of the book is good, it needs an executive summary.
The chapter that was most meaningful to me, the one that I think needs to be migrated into business education, international affairs education, science & technology policy education, is by Gordon K. Durnil, Chapter 16, and it deal with “How Much Information Do We Need Before Exercising Precaution.” This is a brilliant piece of work that dissects our current environmental policy information collection, processing, and analysis system, and finds it very deceptive, disingenuous, and consequently seriously flawed.
For the best on the environment, read Pandora's Poison. For the best on public health, read Betrayal of Trust. For a very fine cross-over book that has good chapters from various good people, this is the book to buy and enjoy.
It took me over a month to do justice to this book, and I have taken into account the thoughts of other reviewers. A book of this importance would indeed have benefited from an international advisory board of public health, medical, insurance, and policy experts; it would certainly have benefited from greater structure, firmer editing, and a foreword by someone like a former Surgeon General of the United States. As it is, it appears to have overcome these deficiencies with hyped-up marketing and sweetheart reviews, and this in some ways counterproductive because this book could have, should have, become a mainstream topic in the Presidential campaign. It failed to do so for several reasons, not least of which is the propensity of both candidates and their advisors to avoid serious thinking, but also because the book is not helpful to a popular understanding of the very real global and domestic threats to the health of our children today and in future generations. Having said all this, I commend the book for its content and do not recommend it as avocational reading. There are some very important points that the book brings out, and I will itemize these in order of importance: 1) Public health is about detection and prevention, medicine is about remediation. In the long run, investments in public health are vastly cheaper and more effective than after-the-fact medical intervention; 2) The insurance industry in the developing world has failed to support public health investments, and in a remarkable collusion with the pharmaceutical, hospital and managed health care industries, has created a very expensive and increasingly ineffective system focused on drugs (to which diseases are increasingly resistant) and hospitals; 3) Hospitals are no longer reliable in terms of protecting patients from both error and secondary infection from other patients. People are coming out of hospitals, in many cases, with more diseases than when they went in; 4) The health of our nation depends on the health of all other nations-not only does a collapse of public health in Africa lead to failed states and forced migrations, but it also is but an airline flight away from infecting Kansas; 5) Clean drinking water, uninfected food, and good environmental and occupational health conditions are at risk in many parts of the United States and Europe, not only in Russia and the rest of the world; 6) The United Nations, and the World Health Organization in particular, are in disarray and ineffective-in large part because of a lack of support from member nations-at dealing with the public health commons. There is no question but that the author has hit a “home run” in terms of describing the harsh reality of epidemics in India and Africa, the collapse of public health in Russia, the rapid migration of many diseases from Russia through Germany to the rest of Europe and the U.S., and the severe costs in the U.S. of a retreat from the collective good with respect to public health. Unfortunately, it is a home run hit in isolation, not a game-winning home run, because it fails to drive home, to the only audience that matters-the U.S. voter-exactly what political and economic initiatives are required to achieve three simple objectives: 1) re-establish the public health infrastructure in the U.S.; 2) redirect the entire health care industry toward preventive measures-including water and food quality controls-instead of remedial prescriptions; and 3) provide compelling incentives to the rest of the world for cleaning their own house (this presumes that we are able to clean our own first, a very questionable assumption at this point in time). This is a valuable book, a five in terms of intent, a three in terms of execution, and I am glad that I took the time to read it. It provides a wonderful foundation for enjoying, at an intellectual and policy level, the medical and public health novels by Robin Cook.
Many of the cartoons published in the Irreverent Dictionary came from this book, and I was among those who suggested to Paul that he should publish the cartoons separately. They were, however, essential to this otherwise intimidating book that is nothing less than an operating manual for the Captain of the Virtual Network. The bottom line that I took from this book is that Kevin Kelly is right, our national and international information systems are “out of control” and our policy leaders have abdicated their responsibilities to technicians who do not have the political, economic, or common sense of two ducks and a chicken. As Paul alludes in one of his footnotes, the Network today is somewhat in relationship to the “horseless carriage” stage of the automobile, and we have a very long way to go before policy helps make computers as user-friendly and reliable and interoperable as the telephone and the automobile are today.
By the author of Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television, this is actually a manifesto for a popular revolution against banks, corporations, and states-a peaceful cultural revolution that has as its objectives the restoration of land ownership to the commonwealth; the acceptance of alternative economic models that optimize group cohesion instead of individual or organizational profit; and the liberation of 3,000 nations of relatively distinct groups from the subjugation imposed by the states that now have sovereign (that is to say, violent coercive) power over the individuals and groups that fall within their imposed territorial claims.
“The Asymmetric Threat: Listening to the Debate,” published in the Winter 1998-1999 issue, is a concise summary of the Army Strategy Conference of 1998. Click on the icon below to read the summary of the Army Strategy Conference of 2008, which JFQ has declined to publish.