For the most part, Porritt views science as arrogant, lacking in compassion, not open to public participation or scrutiny,...

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SCIENCE AND THE ENVIRONMENT

An attack on the “medical-industrial” complex by a British environmentalist who was the director of Friends of the Earth from 1984 to 1990.

Porritt’s voice tends to extremes—from jeremiads of doom to hymns in praise of Gaia (the earth goddess). Chernobyl, mad cow disease, toxic waste dumps, and antibiotic-resistant microbes are glaring examples of environmental disasters that result from neglect, duplicity, foolhardiness, and arrogance. Porritt condemns the kind of agricultural monoculturism that has led to the abuse of pesticides, and he points out that the same danger is posed by inducing pest resistance through the genetic modification of plants. He is equally concerned about the use of growth hormones and antibiotics in plants and animals. In general, Porritt tends to fault contemporary science as reductionist and value-free, and he worries that most geneticists espouse a doctrinaire and highly pernicious brand of genetic determinism. His arguments are not fully convincing, however. While he is correct in pointing out that humans are carrying some load of toxic chemicals that may contribute to cancer, he makes no mention of the particular lifestyle choices (i.e., tobacco use, alcohol abuse, and poor diets) that may be even more important contributing factors. He considers the global-warming argument (that climate changes are being brought on through the use of fossil fuels and the waste of resources), but he has little to say about population growth and the theory that it may be the ultimate destroyer of species and the planet’s largesse. In this context, the issue of sustainability seems all but a lost cause.

For the most part, Porritt views science as arrogant, lacking in compassion, not open to public participation or scrutiny, and far from holistic. Leaving aside what scientists themselves might say in response, one wonders whether such accusations will do any good in the end.

Pub Date: July 31, 2000

ISBN: 0-500-28073-8

Page Count: 144

Publisher: Thames & Hudson

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2000

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Loads of good explaining, with reminders, time and again, of how much remains unknown, neatly putting the death of science...

A SHORT HISTORY OF NEARLY EVERYTHING

Bryson (I'm a Stranger Here Myself, 1999, etc.), a man who knows how to track down an explanation and make it confess, asks the hard questions of science—e.g., how did things get to be the way they are?—and, when possible, provides answers.

As he once went about making English intelligible, Bryson now attempts the same with the great moments of science, both the ideas themselves and their genesis, to resounding success. Piqued by his own ignorance on these matters, he’s egged on even more so by the people who’ve figured out—or think they’ve figured out—such things as what is in the center of the Earth. So he goes exploring, in the library and in company with scientists at work today, to get a grip on a range of topics from subatomic particles to cosmology. The aim is to deliver reports on these subjects in terms anyone can understand, and for the most part, it works. The most difficult is the nonintuitive material—time as part of space, say, or proteins inventing themselves spontaneously, without direction—and the quantum leaps unusual minds have made: as J.B.S. Haldane once put it, “The universe is not only queerer than we suppose; it is queerer than we can suppose.” Mostly, though, Bryson renders clear the evolution of continental drift, atomic structure, singularity, the extinction of the dinosaur, and a mighty host of other subjects in self-contained chapters that can be taken at a bite, rather than read wholesale. He delivers the human-interest angle on the scientists, and he keeps the reader laughing and willing to forge ahead, even over their heads: the human body, for instance, harboring enough energy “to explode with the force of thirty very large hydrogen bombs, assuming you knew how to liberate it and really wished to make a point.”

Loads of good explaining, with reminders, time and again, of how much remains unknown, neatly putting the death of science into perspective.

Pub Date: May 6, 2003

ISBN: 0-7679-0817-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Broadway

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2003

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A tiny book, not much bigger than a pamphlet, with huge potential impact.

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NO ONE IS TOO SMALL TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE

A collection of articulate, forceful speeches made from September 2018 to September 2019 by the Swedish climate activist who was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.

Speaking in such venues as the European and British Parliaments, the French National Assembly, the Austrian World Summit, and the U.N. General Assembly, Thunberg has always been refreshingly—and necessarily—blunt in her demands for action from world leaders who refuse to address climate change. With clarity and unbridled passion, she presents her message that climate change is an emergency that must be addressed immediately, and she fills her speeches with punchy sound bites delivered in her characteristic pull-no-punches style: “I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act.” In speech after speech, to persuade her listeners, she cites uncomfortable, even alarming statistics about global temperature rise and carbon dioxide emissions. Although this inevitably makes the text rather repetitive, the repetition itself has an impact, driving home her point so that no one can fail to understand its importance. Thunberg varies her style for different audiences. Sometimes it is the rousing “our house is on fire” approach; other times she speaks more quietly about herself and her hopes and her dreams. When addressing the U.S. Congress, she knowingly calls to mind the words and deeds of Martin Luther King Jr. and John F. Kennedy. The last speech in the book ends on a note that is both challenging and upbeat: “We are the change and change is coming.” The edition published in Britain earlier this year contained 11 speeches; this updated edition has 16, all worth reading.

A tiny book, not much bigger than a pamphlet, with huge potential impact.

Pub Date: Nov. 26, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-14-313356-8

Page Count: 112

Publisher: Penguin

Review Posted Online: Nov. 3, 2019

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