North Atlantic Books, 2014, pbk, 320 pp
Reviewed by Howard Jones
Ever since Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring woke us up to what we are doing to the Earth by prolific and indiscriminate use of pesticides of various kinds, and her earlier complementary books on marine pollution, there have been many more books on our desecration of the environment in the name of materialist profit. The rocks, soil, air and water of the planet before the Industrial Revolution have been assaulted and plundered for our comfort. The advance of technology spurred on by scientific discovery and invention may have made our lives more comfortable and interesting, but at what cost to our survival beyond this century?
This book gives us a wake-up call – as if we needed yet another – to the damage we are doing: but then, who’s listening? Earlier books – like Entropy by Jeremy Lifkin and Small is Beautiful by E.F. Schumacher – also alerted us to the havoc wreaked by mega-corporations in their heedless and hedonistic exploitation of the Earth. Instead of confronting each environmental crisis as another practical challenge, …we need to see beneath the words to the real messages trying to get through to us . . . we can no longer live just as analytical thinkers. Quoting Paul Devereux they say, … what’s required is a reinstatement of an ancient sense of our relationship with nature.
The authors refer to Richard Louv’s book Last Child in the Woods as a timely warning that children are disadvantaged if they are not given the freedom to experience the wonders of the natural world but instead are shut up indoors with their television and video games. As the authors say, we need to teach children not only scientific facts about the Earth but also a new spiritual vision of their lives. With the focus in schools on acquisition of material facts and getting credits for examinations passed, and cutbacks in education budgets, I wonder how few schools will ever put a copy of this or any other book the authors refer to on their library shelves?
There are so very many pithy statements in this book. Some are generated by the present authors, others are quotes from the numerous other authors of the same philosophy cited in the work. Carolyn Myss, who writes the Foreword, says this is a book that should be required reading for everyone – a sentiment I endorse, despite the predominantly American emphasis in the examples chosen. After all, much of the world’s Big Business with its ruthless and indiscriminate capitalist objectives originates these days in America. There is a massive amount of data in this book about the harm we are doing, but it is presented in a readable way even though the declining health of Gaia does make for rather depressing reading.
Despite this despairing message of the Earth in peril, the final 80 pages of this book provide a guide to ways each individual can make a positive contribution to survival – a pity that this section in particular is almost exclusively American! However, I particularly liked the suggestion that each individual might keep an environmental journal. The book ends with a twenty-page ‘Bibliography’, not of further reading, but of works referred to in the text; and 23 pages of Notes and an Index.