Skip to main content

Drawdown - Paul Hawken (Ed.) ***

When I was at university there was a book (sometimes classed as a magazine) I often thumbed through in Heffers, though I could never bring myself to buy a copy as it was too expensive. It was called The Whole Earth Catalog, and combined ecological articles with reviews of products, many of them for living an independent lifestyle. I find it hard to believe that it's accidental that the look and feel of Drawdown, with its large format, coarse paper covers and heavily illustrated interior, very different from a typical Penguin paperback, is so reminiscent of The Whole Earth Catalog.

So apart from the gimmick of the appearance (as it makes it very clumsy to read), what does the book provide? We are promised 'the most comprehensive plan ever proposed to reverse global warming', which sounds promising. What we get is a range of 80 solutions, each presented as a separate article, plus a collection of (sometimes more interesting) articles on what are described as 'coming attractions' which range from nuclear fusion to the Hyperloop.

There's a lot that's quite interesting here, but there are two big problems. One is the format. This kind of edited collection of essays is very difficult to get the big picture from. It's not really giving us the plan it promises, so much as the building blocks for a plan. If you were to encounter one of the individual articles in a magazine it would be interesting. But 80 of them are mind numbing enough to be unreadable. There are a couple of short sections pulling it all together, but they don't give us enough. The other problem is what's missing. There's nothing about active technological solutions to reduce the impact of climate change other than a couple of articles in the futures section, where some of them could have made a huge difference by 2050 - what we're given is all about doing what we do differently, which leaves an awfully big hole. It also shows its colours when it comes to nuclear - the numbers look impressive (especially with a misprint that gives the cost of nuclear to 2050 as $.88 billion) but it's the only section that has so much negativity. 

Overall, the result is frustrating. There are snippets that are fascinating - I would never have guessed, for example, that improving refrigeration disposal would have the biggest possible impact on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. There's a lot of work gone into this book but the format makes it more like struggling through a charity's report and accounts (only 20 times longer) than reading a comprehensible narrative. It only real works as a reference book, and even then, the structure makes it difficult to get the big picture. 

I would have much rather the book had been presented in well-written, narrative form that gave us a better overall picture. It feels to be written by committee. And that's a shame.

Paperback:  

Kindle:  
Using these links earns us commission at no cost to you


Review by Brian Clegg

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

The God Game (SF) - Danny Tobey *****

Wow. I'm not sure I've ever read a book that was quite such an adrenaline rush - certainly it has been a long time since I've read a science fiction title which has kept me wanting to get back to it and read more so fiercely. 

In some ways, what we have here is a cyber-SF equivalent of Stephen King's It. A bunch of misfit American high school students face a remarkably powerful evil adversary - though in this case, at the beginning, their foe appears to be able to transform their worlds for the better.

Rather than a supernatural evil, the students take on a rogue AI computer game that thinks it is a god - and has the powers to back its belief. Playing the game is a mix of a virtual reality adventure like Pokemon Go and a real world treasure hunt. Players can get rewards for carrying out tasks - delivering a parcel, for example, which can be used to buy favours, abilities in the game and real objects. But once you are in the game, it doesn't want to let you go and is …

Uncertainty - Kostas Kampourakis and Kevin McCain ***

This is intended as a follow-on to Stuart Firestein's two books, the excellent Ignorance and its sequel, Failure, which cut through some of the myths about the nature of science and how it's not so much about facts as about what we don't know and how we search for explanations. The authors of Uncertainty do pretty much what they set out to do in explaining the significance of uncertainty and why it can make it difficult to present scientific findings to the public, who expect black-and-white facts, not grey probabilities, which can seem to some like dithering.

However, I didn't get on awfully well with the book. A minor issue was the size - it was just too physically small to hold comfortably, which was irritating. More significantly, it felt like a magazine article that was inflated to make a book. There really was only one essential point made over and over again, with a handful of repeated examples. I want something more from a book - more context and depth - that …

Where are the chemistry popular science books?

by Brian Clegg
There has never been more emphasis on the importance of public engagement. We need both to encourage a deeper interest in science and to counter anti-scientific views that seem to go hand-in-hand with some types of politics. Getting the public interested in science both helps recruit new scientists of the future and spreads an understanding of why an area of scientific research deserves funding. Yet it is possible that chemistry lags behind the other sciences in outreach. As a science writer, and editor of this website, I believe that chemistry is under-represented in popular science. I'd like to establish if this is the case, if so why it is happening - and what can be done to change things. 


An easy straw poll is provided by the topic tags on the site. At the time of writing, there are 22 books under 'chemistry' as opposed to 97 maths, 126 biology and 182 physics. The distribution is inevitably influenced by editorial bias - but as the editor, I can confirm …