PLAYING SAFE by Jonathon Porritt


Science and the Environment
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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 31st, 2000
ISBN: 0-500-28073-8
Page count: 144pp
Publisher: Thames & Hudson
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1st, 2000