Adventures in the Anthropocene

Gaia Vince

Why I looked at this book

This has been shortlisted for the 2015 Royal Society Winton Prize for Science Books. Now Lovelock's idea that organisms influence their planet took the name 'Gaia' and this book is about how humans have influenced their planet (thus beginning the Anthropocene) is written by someone called 'Gaia'. Nominative determinism? Coincidence?, Or did she change her name to suit her interests?

First impressions

Global warming is often presented as a number of degrees the planet has warmed, and it'snot always clear how this relates to the predictions of doom and gloom. Gaia Vince decide to see for herself the actual effects of the warming, and this book is the result. It looks interesting, but I'm not overkeen on the large stretches of italic text at the start of each chapter, and I feel that the book is a bit slow to get to the point. But maybe as I get into the book it will seem more reasonably paced.

Note:Sample 1st chapter available here, but more of the book is available to read in the sample at Amazon

Main review

Many places in the world are suffering from drought, but the travels of Gaia Vince show that with a bit of ingenuity and a lot of work it may be possible to deal with it. Whether it's in making your own glacier or using irrigation to its maximum potential, drought doesn't have to mean desert. She also finds that there are alternatives to the destruction of forests via resource exploitation and slash and burn farming - provided there's someone willing to stand up to the forces of destruction. I found it a very thought provoking book.

Do we go for progress? Hydroelectric dams offer one way to generate electricity without the carbon emissions, and provides the hope of modern living for large numbers of people, but constructing them will displace the people living and working in the area. Will this really be a change for the better for them? Do we have a rosy eyed view of what life is like in remote communities. It is all very well to try to ensure that hunter-gatherer societies can go on living the life they have lived for thousands of years, but if they get hold of guns then it is a very different matter.

Quite a bit of the book, however, is not about the author's travels, but about general environmental matters. I felt that this let the book down. Rather than going deeply into the issues, it seems to quickly move from one topic to another, and so result in the sort of shallow overview which you can find anywhere. Adding to this the large blocks of italic text at the start of each chapter, I just felt that there was too much which seemed like 'padding'. If you're not too bothered by this then there is much of interest in the book, but it means that I wouldn't place it at the top of the 2015 Winton Prize contenders.
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