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Negotiating for a Sustainable Future

by Ed Ayres

Pub Date: April 22nd, 1999
ISBN: 1-56858-125-4

Carefully researched science journalism and alarmist polemic mingle in an end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it treatise. Ayres, editorial director of the Worldwatch Institute, uses a wealth of statistics and published reports to trace what he calls “a blitz of enormous biological and physical alterations in the world that has been sustaining us.” This blitz, he goes on to say, comes to us in the form of four “spikes”: a surge in the presence of carbon gases in the atmosphere, causing the by now well-reported increase in global warming; a marked rise in the rate of extinction of plant and animal species; an increase in the human consumption of natural resources; and a potentially cataclysmic rise in human population. These spikes, Ayres says, cannot be understood in isolation; they all feed into one another, with the mere presence of more people requiring the use of more wood, water, plants, and animals. Ayres’s use of science in making this foundational argument is solid and seemingly inarguable. He takes a more emotional tone with the second part of his book, which is directed toward policy issues. Why, he asks, does it seem as if no one cares that the world is in grave danger? He argues that the media, operating under the guise of objectivity, do little to convey the urgency of the bad environmental news he reports. “When the media,” he writes, “dwell on crimes, crashes, and scandals, they provide a rich diet of distractions from news of the spikes that are killing us. For those who have interests in keeping the public thus distracted, no conspiracy is necessary; all that’s needed is to let the media do what they already have a strong financial incentive to do”—namely, to let the corporations whose advertising sustains them run rampant. Ayres’s apocalyptic tone is at odds with his earlier cool scientific rationality, and it may cause some readers to dismiss his well-made glimpse into a difficult future as simply more doomsday-speak.