Book Review: The God Species, by Mark Lynas, 2011

*** 3 stars *** A great overview of where we are environmentally, but weak on solutions.

This National Geographic book was a gift, as I doubt I would pay the $25 for the hardcover, but it is worth a look-see. The title refers to the power we have to affect the planet for good and for ill. This book offers quite a bit of hope by positing that we still have time to think and act globally to fix the mess we’ve created, mostly unwittingly. But now that the problems are known, we need to put our wits to work.

God species
If I eat this book, do I save a tree?

The nine chapters of The God Species follow the nine physical boundaries that humanity must not cross. These boundaries were developed in 2009 by a panel of elite scientists, and the good news is that they say we have only crossed three of the nine boundaries so far. Of course climate change is one of the three and remains the wild card that could upset the whole game, or in other words, the human species.

The other two boundaries crossed are biodiversity loss, or the extinction rate, and levels of nitrogen, as in fertilizer. I agree with his proposal for expanding urban populations in order to preserve large stretches of undeveloped land—and aquatic preserves—for the millions of other species on earth. Rivers suffer greatly from nitrogen run-off, but the solution here was not so clear. I learned that very few plants can remove nitrogen, so preventing excess fertilizer would seem the place to begin.

The author tries to be “controversial” by being pro-growth for both the economy and the population, because he believes humans at any population level can find the technical means to balance the environment. That’s where he lost me. Although I do agree with his ideas of spreading wealth via development, I don’t see how humans could multiply their numbers and their use of resources indefinitely. Are you promoting boundaries or infinity?

I do appreciate the attempt to show that hope exists for more people to arise out of poverty without inevitably destroying the planet. Humans have always impacted their environs, but today we recognize that the impact is global and potentially irreversible. We have entered the Anthropocene, the age of man, where changes are happening more rapidly than ever before. That’s the scary part—we can see our foot on the accelerator, pushing down, down, down, but we also seem unwilling to give up our addiction to speed. For a visual example, check out http://trillionthtonne.org.

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