Sunday, November 13, 2011

The God Species by Mark Lynas - Book Review

Achieving sustainable growth within the Planetary boundaries

Global warming has been a `hot' topic for some time - but this book is not just about global warming and climate change. Going much beyond that, Mark Lynas takes us though the concept of planetary boundaries - ecological limits of the Earth's systems crossing which can push the planet into a death spiral. The book describes nine such planetary boundaries and they are: (1) Biodiversity loss (2) Climate change (3) Nitrogen cycle (4) Land use change (5) Global Fresh water use (6) Chemical Pollution (7) Atmospheric aerosol loading (7) Ocean acidification (8) Stratospheric Ozone depletion. Specific boundary limits and current data are provided for all boundaries except two - items 6 and 7. Explaining the basic science in detail, Mark shows that the debate should move from whether the dangers are real or not to how we should tackle them. More importantly, Mark shows that how many of them are interlinked and a hasty approach to solving any one of them without understanding the connected implications can lead to severe problems.

Moving himself away from the traditional Green ideologies, Mark agrees with Stewart Brand in pushing for Nuclear Power, Genetic engineering and promoting urban living. Mark also demolishes the current popular notion especially among the Republicans in the U.S that measure for protecting the environment is economically counter productive and can retard growth. The most important takeaway for me from this book was that while ecological limits are real, economic limits are not.

I found myself in agreement with most of the concepts developed by the author but am still not convinced about Nuclear power. More data will be needed to convince the public about the safety of nuclear energy, and author's handling of Chernobyl and Fukushima does not match the depth shown in other areas. I had also visited Chernobyl recently and was amazed at the effort still need to contain the contamination. Mark makes no mention of the new cover being built to cover the Chernobyl plant which hopefully will keep it safe for the next 100 years.

Though the book starts off with the developments in genomics, further coverage in the book on DNA sequencing and its potential is very limited. But the author does bravely go into articulating that sooner or later, our species would have to play `God' and take more active efforts in managing the planet through the use of our Science & Technology.