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The Little Green Handbook: Seven Trends Shaping the Future of our Planet    by Ron Nielsen order for
Little Green Handbook
by Ron Nielsen
Order:  USA  Can
Picador, 2006 (2006)

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Ron Nielsen, a nuclear physicist who has spoken about environmental trends for many years, tells us that The Little Green Handbook is his 'attempt to provide a comprehensive summary of the essential facts and figures that we need to know in order to understand clearly global environmental changes, and to try to give a broader view of the implications for all of us if these trends continue.' Throughout, he makes the point that though quality of life still looks good from our first class Western perspective, most of the world's population already exists in 'second- and third-class carriages', where life's journey is much bleaker.

The author categorizes critical global trends under: population explosion, diminishing land and water resources, destruction of the atmosphere, the approaching energy crisis, social decline, and conflicts and increasing killing power. Though the facts and figures are disturbing, the overall tone is cautiously positive, as Nielsen suggests that 'We can still repair much of the global damage, restore the environment, change the way we live, increase the ecological capacity of our planet, and create a sustainable future.'

Here are some points that particularly struck me. 'Children under five years of age form only 10 per cent of the global population, but they share 40 per cent of the burden of disease caused by environmental factors.' Nielsen speaks of the planet's carrying capacity and tells us that a third of the world's population growth occurs in India and China. He covers land degradation and deforestation, explaining global footprint and the excessive global ecological deficit of the developed countries. In 2000, for developing countries, '48 per cent did not have access to sanitation facilities, and 22 per cent did not have access to safe water.' Regarding the destruction of the atmosphere, Nielsen delves into implications in detail (including increasing extreme weather events), warning that 'We have the power and technology to make our world as hostile as other planets in the solar system.'

Nielsen takes an objective look at globalization, which could be beneficial but if uncontrolled 'will continue to deepen social and economic polarization within and between countries.' This growing disparity only increases 'hate and despair', with devastating consequences to social order worldwide. 'About 90 per cent of all wars and armed conflicts since 1945 have taken place in developing countries', with civilians the main casualties (and 50 per cent of them children!) Nielsen presents a strong correlation between economic strength and a country's ability to sustain a democracy, and warns us that we are already in the Fortress World. His In a Nutshell summary ends with 'What should we do?' and six proposals for urgent focus. Though I hope that some of this will happen, it seems unlikely that enough will, and I can only hope that mankind survives the catastrophes ahead this century, as it has the smaller scale ones of the past.

Though I don't have the background to assess the accuracy of the details here (and those interested can follow up further information in Appendices and References that form about a quarter of the book), the sheer volume of the very obvious (and very major) challenges to our children's futures is extremely worrying. As Nielsen says, 'It is not just one trend that points to the developing global crisis, but a whole complement of trends.' The Little Green Handbook is an excellent reference for anyone concerned about the state of the world, and a strong wake-up call for those who haven't heard the multitude of earlier alarms. As the author comments, 'We all share the same speck of dust in the universe, and we have to find a place for everyone on it.'

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