Review: The Skeptical Environmentalist–Measuring the Real State of the World

5 Star, Environment (Problems), Environment (Solutions), Misinformation & Propaganda, Nature, Diet, Memetics, Design
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4.0 out of 5 stars Gives New Meaning to Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics
January 22, 2002

Bjorn Lomborg

UPDATED 6 Oct 09 to upgrade to five stars and add links that comprise an apology of sorts. The more I read the less I know, and the more I appreciate the absolute essentiality of getting all points of view face to face before a citizen's wisdom council. New links that complement this book:

The Resilient Earth: Science, Global Warming and the Fate of Humanity
Acts of God: The Unnatural History of Natural Disaster in America
The Next Catastrophe: Reducing Our Vulnerabilities to Natural, Industrial, and Terrorist Disasters
Eco-Imperialism: Green Power, Black Death
The Real Environmental Crisis: Why Poverty, Not Affluence, Is the Environment's Number One Enemy

I rate this book a 5 for effort, a 3 for half-truths, and a 4 over-all. I am updating this review to note that my basic points were recently validated when the Danish committee for scientific integrity slammed this book for dishonesty. It is never-the-less a tour de force for Lomborg and his students (the latter appear to have done most of the tedious data gathering and basic analysis)–at its best, it provides a severe spanking for environmentalists who get careless with their data and their assertions. At its worst, it provides a semblance of cover for corporate carpet-baggers intent on liquidating what any child can understand is a closed system with limits.

At root, Lomborg is a disciple and blind follower of the paradigm best articulated by Julian Simon, who has himself been discredited here and there by well-educated environmentalists. Lomborg's professionalism and devotion to data are not questioned here–one either shares his paradigm or one does not. It merits comment that there are now several web sites, one of them in Denmark founded by his own colleagues, dedicated to exposing the flawed assumptions and analysis that went into this corporately attractive politically-biased treatise.

This is indeed a brilliant and powerful book, just as a nuclear explosion is brilliant and powerful–and very destructive. However well-intentioned–and I do not question, even applaud, the author's intentions, what we have here is a rather scary combination of fragmentary analysis in depth, combined with a strong belief system that accepts as a starting point the concept that the earth is infinitely renewable and no matter what happens, that is a “natural” turn of events.

Just as 9-11 was necessary before a paradigm shift in national security concepts could be achieved (now we know that individuals without weapons can turn our own civilian instruments against us in really damaging ways), I fear that a major environmental–perhaps even a terrorist-environmental event, such as exploding train cars full of chlorine, will be required before citizens as a whole experience the paradigm shift and understand that a) we live in the closed system and b) the burden of proof must be precautionary rather than exploitative.

We are soiling our seed corn and the earth it grows in. Lomborg would have us believe that what we grow within such a paradigm is natural and good–no doubt he has an explanation for the dramatic drops in sperm counts around the world, the troubling increases in asthma across Canada and the East Coast and other nations reeling from antiquated coal-fueled power plants (most of them in the mid-West), and other documented demographic costs to uncontrolled liquidation of the earth.

I will end with one very significant concession to Lomborg and his adherents: this book, compelling in isolation, makes it clear that nothing less than the full application of the distributed intelligence of the citizenry on a 24/7 basis, will be sufficient to monitor, evaluate, and comprehend the breadth and depth of our attacks on the earth. It is now clear to me that until we have a global web-based community of citizen observers able to enter data at the neighborhood level, using peer-to-peer computing power to analyze distributed data, that the citizens will continue to be at the mercy of corporate computers and political manipulation.

I strongly recommend this book, and Czech's book, as companion volumes framing a much higher level of data and debate that is now beginning.

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Review: Floods, Famines, And Emperors–El Nino And The Fate Of Civilizations

4 Star, Complexity & Catastrophe, Disaster Relief, Environment (Problems), Environment (Solutions)

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4.0 out of 5 stars Weather Side of History–One Really Big Core Idea,

November 12, 2001
Brian Fagan
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.

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Review: The Biodiversity Crisis–Losing What Counts

5 Star, Environment (Problems)

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5.0 out of 5 stars

World-Class in Every Way,

November 5, 2001
American Museum of Natural History
This is very much an edited work, with most of the entries being but two or three pages in length. All of the authors are world-class proven naturalists and related professionals, and the photography that accompanies each work is top of the line. Of all the bio-diversity books available, this one appears to be both the easiest to digest and the most pleasing to the eye.Biodiversity is an option-generator. More diversity, more options for the future. See also Howard Bloom, World Brain.

Hyperdisease happens more often than we might think, and is very relevant to concerns today about the collapse of public health. See also Laurrie Garrett, Betrayal of Trust.

Biological elements are being inserted into commercial off the shelf products with unanticipated effects, some of which are damaging to humans. One noteworthy example: Corning added an ingredient to its tubes to make them less brittle, and scientists were finding their experiments infected and contaminated. Corning would not reveal what had changed, claiming it was a trade secret. Independent investigation finally determined that there was a synthetic chemical mimicking estrogen and having the effect of an estrogen injection on the cells exposed to the Corning tubes. Buyers beware–there would appear to be some disclosure standards required!

Mass catastrophes have occurred many times over history, eliminating up to 75% of all living things, with varied outcomes in the millions of years thereafter. See also David Keys, Catastrophe, on the most recent, the Dark Ages, circa 535 A.D.

Naturalists and natural science–the study of nature in its own environment, are endangered. Most universities are failing to support this vital area of study, with a result that our understanding of nature stems largely from lab work and computer models that are far removed from reality. See also John Paul Ralston, Voltaire's Bastards.

I highly recommend this book. It is both discouraging (so much yet to be done to stabilize the world) and encouraging (many good things being done by many small groups).
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Review: Protecting Public Health and the Environment–Implementing The Precautionary Principle

4 Star, Best Practices in Management, Complexity & Catastrophe, Complexity & Resilience, Environment (Problems), Environment (Solutions), Nature, Diet, Memetics, Design, Science & Politics of Science, Survival & Sustainment, Values, Ethics, Sustainable Evolution
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4.0 out of 5 stars On Target but Fragmented–Needs New Edition with Summary

June 2, 2001

Carolyn Raffensperger (Editor), Joel Tickner (Editor), Wes Jackson (Foreword)

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.

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Review: Pandora’s Poison–Chlorine, Health, and a New Environmental Strategy (Paperback)

5 Star, Environment (Problems), True Cost & Toxicity
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5.0 out of 5 stars Double Value: on Environmental *and* Information Strategy

June 2, 2001
Joe Thornton

This is the best of the several environmentally-oriented books I have reviewed recently, and it offers a double value: not only does it lay out a persuasive social, economic, and political case for abandoning the Risk Paradigm of permissive pollution in favor of an Environmental Paradigm of zero pollution; but it also provides a very fine–really excellent–case for why the current government and industry approaches to information about the environment and threats to the environment are severely flawed. In a nutshell, the current approach divorces “good science” (code for permitting what you can't prove will kill the planet today) from social consciousness and good policy; and the current approach insists on studying risk one contaminant at a time, rather than as a whole.

This book is persuasive; I believe author has the right stuff and should be consulted on major policy issues. I believe the underlying moral values and intellectual arguments that this book makes, about both science and social policy, should be adopted by the Cultural Creatives and the independent voters of America, and that the recommendations of this book are so serious as to warrant country by country translations and promulgation.

This book is exceptional in that is combines a readable policy essay for the non-technical citizen, with deeply documented technical appendices and notes that support a middle ground series of chapters relating scientific findings to long-term policy issues.

From many small actions come revolutionary change–this book is a necessary brick in the road to environmental reform. The bottom line is clear: every year more and more toxins are building up in our blood streams, and this is going to have an overwhelmingly negative impact on the humanity, capability, and survivability of our great grandchildren three generations down–we have not have grandchildren seven generations down if the insights from this book fail to reach the people, and through the people, the policy makers and legislators.

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