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Regeneration - Paul Hawken **

This is a really big book. I don't mean big in the sense of important, but physically enormous for what it is - it's roughly the size of a children's annual, though a lot thicker. Interestingly, the format appears to be a Paul Hawken speciality - he did it with his previous title, Drawdownthough that was far less glossy.

Paul Hawken's aim is to put forward a solution to climate change driven from humans rather than from the science. The tag line on the back of the book reads 'The climate crisis is not at science problem. It is a human problem.' And that itself is a problem.

It's not that climate change isn't a human problem, but rather that it's both a human problem and a science problem - requiring human and science-based solutions. But the approach taken in this book is anything but scientific. It's a bit like saying the Covid-19 pandemic is a human problem, not a science problem. The pandemic is indeed a human problem, but if we'd tried to fix it by ignoring key scientific interventions, such as vaccination, it would have been far more devastating.

This book is really an odd way to try get an environmental message across. It's a chunky, glossy, resource-intensive book, which suggests, sadly, that it's more about posturing than value, something that is echoed in the contents. It's not that Hawken doesn't make a good shot at the key requirements to deal with climate change - reducing, protecting and sequestering - but that the approach taken throughout is designed to appeal to the trendy, middle class metropolitan elite. (So, for example, 'equity' is given as the first essential for fixing climate change, rather than reducing, protecting and sequestering.) We get page after page of emotive essays and warm, wooly appeals to nature, but Hawken rarely dips a toe into the comprehensive package of scientific solutions we need. Where science does come in - for example in energy generation - what we get is very selective.

So, for example, you might think that nuclear power does not exist in reading this book - yet it's an essential to balancing a green energy supply. Wind, solar and storage are brilliant - but not enough to keep things going in low wind, low sunlight periods like the one we're in at the time I write this. As Gaia originator James Lovelock made clear, the green movement has to get over its knee-jerk reaction to nuclear. Even looking at other sources of generation, for part of this book I could not decide whether to laugh or cry. Hawken heaps praise on Germany. Germany. He tells us '[Germany] has made the transition [to more solar] without any disruption to consumer and industrial power.' What he doesn't point out is that thanks to abandoning nuclear, Germany is now using far more coal generation than it should - the worst source for climate change - a lot more than any equivalent European nation. Germany's approach is a disaster, not an exemplar.

Similarly, the coverage of electric vehicles is one that sits well with the chattering middle classes, but gives no consideration to the real world of economics. Hawken claims 'carmakers can offer an EV at a price comparable to or lower than an internal combustion vehicle as early as 2023.' That's pie in the sky. I would love to be able to afford an electric car. I'd buy one today. But right now, to get an equivalent EV to basic petrol car in the £7,000 to £12,000 range will cost at least £25,000 and more likely £30,000. Can prices really fall that much so quickly?

One last example of the chattering class bubble for which this book is written. The biggest contribution a one-off activity makes to our carbon production is taking a flight. Yet though the book has page after page on vaguely interesting (but pretty) ecological matters with limited impact on climate change, there is just one line where Hawken specifically mentions cutting back on flying. For the target market of this book, exotic holidays, letting your kids go travelling, and most of all flying off all over the world to conferences (the academic's favourite pastime) mean that air travel gets pushed under the carpet.

Although not the same kind of thing, I was also appalled by the section on the 'Healthcare industry'. Hawken draws a line between the lovely public and global health professionals and the nasty big Pharma. The front line workers 'have been and continue to be the tireless heroes and sheroes [seriously??] in virtually all countries, espousing and teaching about nutrition, preventative care, prenatal care and vaccines.' So remind me where those vaccines came from? What Hawken refers to as the 'allopathic medical system that, abetted by big Pharma, focuses on symptoms instead of causes.' Instead, apparently we should abandon those nasty drugs and resort to probiotic yoghurt. As someone kept alive by said drugs, I'd beg to differ. Of course the pharmaceutical industry, especially in the US, has real problems, but as soon as you see that 'allopathic' word, you know the kind of medical twilight zone we're heading into.

I can't remember when I've last read a book that made me so angry. This was an opportunity to make a real difference. The climate crisis is real and has to be addressed. But this Sunday supplement, glossy appeal to touchy-feely, knit-your-own-medicines, anti-scientific viewpoints is not the answer.



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Review by Brian Clegg


  1. Well done taking the author to task over Germany's catastrophic switch from nuclear on the most tragically stupid pretext.


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