Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Elizabeth Kolbert - The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History

Elizabeth Kolbert begins her book on the current biodiversity crisis with a damning summary of the situation. After visiting Panama and meeting locals and scientists who report an enormous crash in the number of frogs in the rainforests, she writes

"Today, amphibians enjoy the dubious distinction of being the world's most endangered class of animals; it's been calculated that the group's extinction rate could be as much as forty-five thousand times higher than the background rate. But extinction rates among many other groups are approaching amphibian levels. Its is estimated that one-third of all reef-building corals, a third of all fresh-water mollusks, a third of sharks and rays, a quarter of all mammals, a fifth of all reptiles and a sixth of all birds are headed toward oblivion."

Kolbert explores the nature of extinction, from the sudden impact that obliterated the dinosaurs and almost all life on the planet, to the more gradual dying off that takes place as environments change. The book looks at how the historical "great" extinctions, including the dinosaurs and the enormous transformations of the oceans that saw the wiping out of animals like the ammonites. But this serves merely as the backdrop to explain just how different the mass extinctions we face are today.

The scale of the biodiversity crisis lies rooted in the expansion of human society across the planet. Many of the changes, like the dying off of the amphibians in Panama, have a single reason (in that case a particular fungus), others are linked to the environmental changes that are taking place - particularly climate change, which is warming the world, changing weather patterns and making the seas more acidic. All of these, even the fungus, have a common theme - it is human society that is making them worse.

Take the question of "invasive species" - animals or plants that are alien to a particular ecology, and when introduced can thrive at the expense of localised flora and fauna. Global trade networks have facilitated the spread of animals, large and small. Such that "every year more non-indigenous species of mammals,birds, amphibians, turtles, lizards and snakes are brought into the US than the country has native species of these groups." The fungus that destroys enormous numbers of frogs in Panama is a much smaller example of this.

A bigger problem is the way that humans encourage the creation of island ecologies. The splitting up of the rainforest is an example of this. Species may not cross a patch of open land, such as a road or a cleared area, so their numbers may not be able to spread to escape a changing environment, or find enough mates to procreate. This effect is well known in nature - isolated groups of species tend to die out over time as numbers dwindle. Human society makes it worse.

Along the way, as Kolbert explores the various examples and causes of extinction, Kolbert meets many scientists and activists who are trying to save individual species or groups of them. She meets brilliant individuals desperately trying to understand what is changing in the world and why. Frequently they have very bleak outlooks. That people want to avoid animals and plants going extinct demonstrates how much people care about the planet's environment. The problem is though, a political and economic system that puts the interest of multinational corporations before the planet and the myriad of species that live on it. Until we start to challenge the unsustainable nature of capitalism, we are doomed to see many more species die out. Kolbert's book is a brilliant, but tragic introduction to the scale of the problem we have.

Related Reviews

Lynas - Sixth Degrees
Pearce - The Last Generation
Pollack - A World Without Ice
Foster - The Ecological Revolution
Foster - Marx's Ecology

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Eduardo Galeano - Children of the Days: A Calendar of Human History

Eduardo Galeano is probably best known for his wonderful history The Open Veins of Latin America which was famously presented to President Obama by Hugo Chavez. In that book, Galeano told the forgotten story of South America, the rape and murder of its indigenous peoples, the stripping of its natural resources by colonial power and the ongoing subjugation of the continent.

Children of the Days marks many of those events, but it also celebrates the resistance and the inspiration of people. In the form of a daily dose of history, Galeano covers many arenas, from resistance to oppression, to the solidarity of the picket line, to the inspiration of songs, poems and literature. Football makes a frequent appearance, but usually to tell a story of oppression or resistance. There is the tale of the footballers who painted their faces black in solidarity with a black player who was the victim of persistent racism from Italian fans, or the "most pathetic" match ever played when FIFA colluded with the dictatorship of Pinochet to make sure football went ahead literary over the blood of tortured victims.

But Galeano's book isn't just a collection of such stories. It is a work of literature in its own right. Sometimes different days follow each other, to illuminate bigger stories, but every day is itself a work of art.

27 January - Open Your Ears

On this day in 1756, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born . Centuries later even babies love the music he left us. It has been proven time and again that newborns cry less and sleep better when they listen to Mozart. His welcome to the world is the best way of telling them, 'This is your new home. And this is how it sounds."

6 June - The Mountains That Were

Over the past two centuries, four hundred and seventy mountains have been decapitated in the Appalachians, the North American range named in memory of the region's native people. Because they lived on fertile lands the Indians were evicted. Because they contained coal the mountains were hollowed out.

Always fascinating, inspirational and beautifully written. This book will make you sad, happy and inspired. It will make you Google forgotten events and people and it will make you laugh."In 1492 the natives discovered they were Indians, they discovered they lived in America, they discovered they were naked, they discovered there was sin." Its a beautiful book.

Related Reviews

Galeano - Open Veins of Latin America

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Robin Dunbar - Human Evolution

Early in this book, Robin Dunbar explains the importance of an introductory work on human evolution. He writes,

"we share with the other great apes a long history, a largely common genetic heritage, a similar physiology, advanced cognitive abilities that permit cultural learning and exchange, and a gathering and hunting way of life. And yet we are not just great apes.... The substantive difference lies in our cognition, and what we can do inside our minds."

Later he concludes, with a central theme of the book, that "what underpins all this cultural activity is, of course, our big brains, and this might ultimately be said to be what distinguishes us from the other great apes."

Dunbar's ambition is excellent. To demonstrate how we have arisen from the animal kingdom, yet are also different, is very important as much of what else we can say about human society depends upon this. To do so in an introductory volume accessible to the interested reader is laudable. Yet I fear this book fails to achieve what it aims to, because the authors framework boils down to evolutionary psychology that fails to develop beyond a mechanical approach to biology.

Take one of the central themes of the book. The "social brain". Robin Dunbar explains what he means by this and some of the consequences.

"The social brain relationship manifests itself in primates as a cognitive limit on social group size and brain size. The social brain hypothesis has been given a significant boost by a recent spate of neuroimaging studies demonstrating that the absolute volume of key brain regions correlates with social network at the individual level (including the number of Facebook friends), both in humans and in monkeys."

Examining the data gives Dunbar a "predicted group size" of around 150 people. He illustrates the accuracy of this figure with various figures - neolithic villages had 150-200 people in them, the average village in the Doomesday Book had a population of 150, Christmas card distribution lists are on average 154, and Gore-Tex factory unit sizes are 150. The smallest unit in modern armies, that can function on its own, we are told, is the company with an average size of 150.

The problem is, that these cultural restricted, and somewhat arbitrary figures (154 Christmas cards??) seem extremely unlikely to be derived from brain size. Hunter-gatherer band size and medieval village populations had for instance, much more to do with availability of food. Factory unit sizes are determined by potential profits, markets and availability of labour, rather than the ability of humans to network through their social brains.

The bottom line, Dunbar says, is that that "the social brain hypothesis provides us with a precise equation for predicting social group size from brain size." Unfortunately, in doing so, it appears to me to ignore almost everything else about our interactions as a species with each other, and the natural world; in particular the changing economic relations we construct to organise our way of life.

This is not to suggest that Dunbar's book is entirely without merit. But his approach is stunningly reductionist. For instance, he concentrates very much on "time budgets" when studying and comparing different species. This is an approach that basically means breaking down an animal's (or human) time into parts and working out how much time must be spent eating, sourcing food, grooming and sleeping to achieve all the necessary rest, energy and social interaction to make the species hold together.

The problem with this approach is it leads to maths like the following

"If laughter supplemented grooming and was three times more efficient than grooming on its own, then it would have reduced this requirement to a third, or 6.2 percent and 7.8 per cent of the day respectively. This would bring us savings of 12 and 15.5 percentage points for the two species, which, combined with the 12.5 percentage points we gained from climate change, bipedalism and the expensive tissue hypothesis, would allow us to save 24.5 and 28 percentage points from the two species' time budgets."

Now there are a lot of ifs, buts and hypothesises here. But the bigger problem is that extrapolating so much from the animal kingdom and making decisions about human lives can only take you so far. We are left with a mechanical interpretation of modern humans that doesn't do what Dunbar sets out to do, i.e. understand why we are more than apes.

Secondly, some of this reads like a clever, "just so" story. With humans evolving solutions to solve a time-budget issue, but who cannot possibly have had the time-budget issue and survived. Evolution doesn't proceed because of a problem that will occur in the future, but as a response to changing circumstances in the here and now. So Neanderthals can't have learnt to cook to solve a time budget crisis, but must have found that learning to cook, changed other aspects of their life. Dunbar makes this mistake explicit, when he writes about how the gestation of human children changed.

"The compromise solution that our ancestors came up with was to reduce the length of gestation to the absolute minimum needed to produce a baby that could just survive on its own."

Early species of humans try to solve their time budget crisis
Biologically this is what happened. But the idea that this was a "compromise solution" implies that it was a choice made by humans (or at least females). This is just bad science.

In his final analysis, Robin Dunbar concludes that

"The real story of how we came to be who we are beings with the appearance of the first Homo species... From there on in, it was a constant battle with time budgets under pressure from environmental factors that were selecting for ever larger community sizes..."

The problem with this is that it narrows humans down to simple victims of circumstance. Except, earlier in the book, Dunbar has shown how even the earliest humans developed tools to change and alter their environment. Indeed, to me, this is the missing link in Dunbar's analysis. We aren't simply products of our biology interacting with our environment, but we have, through our labour, altered our environment to improve our ability to survive. Thus we have shaped the world around us, and thus helped to shape our own biology, through learning to hunt, to cook, to cut trees, to dig holes and eventually to grow food and build societies were not everyone has to spend their whole lives producing food. Thus Dunbar's book, for all its strengths in explaining our convoluted history, cannot actually explain why we are what we are, and answer his own question. It is a great disappointment.

Related Reviews

Rose - The 21st Century Brain
Finlayson - The Humans Who Went Extinct
Stringer - The Origin of Our Species

Monday, June 09, 2014

John Scalzi - Old Man's War

***Spoiler Alert *** 

 Heavily influenced by Robert Heinlein's Starship Troopers and Joe Haldeman's The Forever War, as well as Vietnam films like Full Metal Jacket, John Scalzi has brought a new twist to the story of humans joining a galactic defence force. Scalzi writes very well. The action scenes work brilliantly, the dialogue is amusing and if the plot twists are a little unbelievable, hell it's science fiction.

The problem is the politics. Scalzi clearly is trying to distance himself from Heinlein's cruder militaristic bent. But he cannot get rid of it entirely. Here once again is a galaxy so packed with threats that human civilians cannot hope to survive without a massive military. A military that is effectively superhuman and without any form of accountability to wider human society. Indeed, society is kept in blissful ignorance of what's going on outside their solar systems.

The Colonial Defence Force isn't a defence force - its a militaristic colonial expansion programme. Apparently, in the future, humanity doesn't use its intelligence and scientific ability to avoid untrammeled expansion. Those that question the status quo meet untimely ends and the reader is told in no uncertain terms that there is no alternative to mindless military genocide. And it is genocide. There's a particularly clever example of the defence force literally crushing an entire alien population. As for the civilians? The CDF is also adept and strike breaking, helping space-scabs cross space picket lines and murdering space strikers. 

Scalzi has written a clever piece here, but it is a flawed and shallow vision. Maybe he's trying to poke fun at Heinlein's awful right-wing vision of a spacefaring humanity to stupid to protect itself without a military caste. But Scalzi apes his hero too much and becomes little more than a imitator. Very disappointed after enjoying Redshirts so much.

Related Reviews

Scalzi - Redshirts
Heinlein - Starship Troopers

Sunday, June 08, 2014

Hay, Linebaugh, Rule, Thompson & Winslow - Albion's Fatal Tree: Crime and Society in Eighteenth Century England

This recently republished collection of essays is essential reading for anyone trying to understand how the British criminal justice system evolved, and how it was moulded into a system that protected wealth and private property, under the illusion of offering justice for all.

Douglas Hay's opening essay describes this process. In 1788, the editor of Pleas of the Crown wrote, "The increase of commerce, opulence, and luxury' [since the first edition of 1715] 'has introduced a variety of temptations to fraud and rapine, which the legislature has been forced to repel, by a multiplicity of occasional statues, creating new offences and afflicting additional punishments."

Many of these statutes were capital, but perhaps surprisingly, Parliament didn't enact them as a "conscious public policy", rather they, initially at least, came from individual interests driven through by those acting in the name of various commercial organisations. So, in 1764, Parliament decreed "the death penalty would apply to those who broke into buildings to steal or destroy linen, or the tools to make it...". This was enacted in an "incidental" clause to an act that incorporated the English Linen Company. In other words, the death penalty was added to protect the interests of the owners.

Despite the enormous increase in the number of crimes that faced a death penalty, there was a decline in the use of state killing in this way. "A coexistence of bloodier laws and increased convictions with a declining proportion of death sentences that were actually carried out." Hay explains some of the reasons for this apparent contradiction.

"Most historians and many contemporaries argued that the policy of terror was not working. More of those sentenced to death were pardoned than were hanged; thieves often escaped punishment through the absence of a police force, the leniency of prosecutors and juries and the technicalities of the law; transported convicts were so little afraid that they often return to England to pick pockets on hanging days; riot was endemic."

As Hay points out, "if London rioted at Tyburn, how much worse would disorder be if the executions were for times as numerous."

However, rather than repel these laws, parliament continually added more capital statutes, despite the campaigns of reformers suggesting the opposite. Hay argues that the answer to this seemingly irrational behaviour lies in understanding that the ruling class saw the law as "one of their chief ideological instruments". Hay points out that the elaborate and inefficient "absurd formalism" of the legal process gave strength to the ideology of the process as being just. The story of one "wicked aristocrat" who was hanged on the scaffold was told and retold "well into the 1800s". It served to suggest that before the law, everyone was equal, but in reality the rich could and did escape justice through their wealth, power and connections. Even the fact that many convicted of a capital offence were pardoned by the king was used to demonstrate the "use of mercy" inherent in the system, helping to justify the social order. As Hay points out, all this was necessary, because

"It was easy to claim equal justice for murderers of all classes, where a universal moral sanction was more likely to be found, or in political cases, the necessary price of a constitution ruled by law. The trick was to extend that communal sanction to a criminal law that was nine-tenths concerned with upholding a radical division of property."

The rest of the essays in this volume examine how this played out in different arenas of the 18th century world. It also demonstrates how the public reaction to the changing laws and property relations expressed itself in many different ways. Peter Linebaugh's article on The Tyburn Riot Against the Surgeons shows a population refusing to allow the system to have its way entirely. Pitched battles were fought by the crowds at executions to prevent the bodies of those killed being taken away and used for dissection. Resistance and solidarity wasn't just rioting, it was also in collective attempts to raise money for a proper burial, or to return the body to loved ones.

One of the most remarkable essays is the piece by Cal Winslow, Sussex Smugglers. This documents the enormous scale of smuggling in England, and the limited ability of the ruling class to deal with this. Entire communities, even if not actively engaged in smuggling, demonstrated support and solidarity with those evading taxes and customs duties. Pitched battles were fought, and the smugglers were frequently successful. The scale of smuggling was such, that it encouraged the development of trade in areas "not easily reached from established centres of communication". Thus smugglers were actively encouraging the development of capitalism, even as they were resisting it. Turning to smuggling was less about the poor trying to find a solution to their poverty, smuggler's "took to the highway", "not just because they lost their trade, but because they were determined... 'to resist to a man'."

The smugglers were resisting the imposition of new capital relations. These essays, document the imposition of laws about wrecking, poaching and smuggling and other new crimes, and show how preparing for new capital relations impoverished the majority in the interest of the minority. (Douglas Hay suggests that in the ruling class in the 18th century was less than 3 percent of the population). But these laws and attempts to enforce them met with fierce resistance and solidarity. Capitalism was born in blood, violence and oppression. But, as this book also shows, the violence was challenged by the solidarity of entire communities who fought to make the world more just and equal. That the lawmakers had to use this language is one small victory of those at the bottom of society.

Related Reviews

Linebaugh - The London Hanged
Thompson - Making of the English Working Class
Linebaugh - Stop Thief!

Thursday, June 05, 2014

John Berger - Ways of Seeing

From its radical design and layout, to its unusual notion of what constitutes an essay, John Berger's Way of Seeing is a striking book. But it is the radical approach to art outlined in its short essays (both those with words, and those with only pictures) is what really makes this book stand out. Berger locates art in the prevailing political and economic situation. How we view art, how we understand it, how we copy it and discuss it, has everything to do with the world in which we live. Art doesn't exist for art's sake, it exists as a product of past ages that has survived into our time. We look at it through eyes shaped by our own experience, as well as eyes that have seen countless reproductions and re-interpretations.

Take Berger's discussion of oil painting.

"The art of any period tends to serve the ideological interests of the ruling class.... What is being proposed is a little more precise; that a way of seeing the world, which was ultimately determined by new attitudes to property and found its visual expression in the oil painting and could not have found it in any other visual art. Oil painting did to appearances what capital did to social relations. It reduced everything to the equality of objects. Everything became interchangeable because everything became a commodity. All reality was mechanically measured by its materiality." 

He accompanies it with images similar to this.

Now the reader may well shrug, and point out that many oil paintings didn't simply list products, objects or commodities. But Berger anticipates this, pointing out that those that don't, when examined, are found to be "exceptions of a very special kind". Those pictures "repeatedly reproduced and presented" are consider works of "the masters", yet are not representative of oil painting as a whole.

Berger continues by looking at how this effected what art was made. Landscapes, when first painted, served "no direct social need", so their painters starved. When landscape became an accepted form, its subjects were often linked to that of property (as in a famous painting of Gainsborough, Mr and Mrs Andrews).

Other examples of "property" abound in this work. Berger discusses the nude as subject, presented as an object to be gazed at by the observer. The hypocrisy of this is summed up by all those images of naked women holding mirrors, as Berger cynically notes.

"You painted a naked woman because you enjoyed looking at her, you put a mirror in her hand and you called the painting Vanity, thus morally condemning the woman whose nakedness you had depicted for your own pleasure."

The depiction of objects and commodities, and the use of the woman's body continues today, of course. Berger links the art of oil painting and its origin under capitalism as being directly linked to the photographic world of advertising. Oil paintings ability to render images as lifelike, and draw the observer in, is directly related to the way that objects photographed can be made to be alluring. Advertising thus, for Berger, offers us the future, wrapped in the past.

This fine book deserves a careful reading. Art is more than the sum of its parts, and Berger's examination of the way that it reflects prejudices and ideology is one that has stimulated debate and discussion for years. It begs the question too, of how art, under a classless and free society will be made, interpreted and enjoyed.

Related Reviews

Monday, June 02, 2014

Horatio Clare - Down to the Sea in Ships

This lovely little book details the authors two voyages with the crews of two ships, the Gerd Maersk and tje Maersk Pembroke. The first a state of the art super container ship which Horatio Clare joins in Felixstowe, leaves temporally in the Middle East, and rejoins in South East Asia. The second is an older cargo ship, crossing the Atlantic. Both voyages have similarities, but both are very different experiences. From mid-Atlantic storms to the voyage along the Suez Canal.

Along the way Clare bonds closely with the crews. Joining the ships with the permission of the shipowners, but with freedom to write what he wants, he tells the stories of low pay, long voyages and hopes and fears of the seamen. Their complaints (lack of beer on board) and their stories of disasters and duty free shopping are often funny, but sometimes tragic. You get a real sense of a body of seamen, united by shared experiences. But there are darker sides too. Many who make up international shipping crews are Filipino, suffering lower pay than their white colleagues, they often suffer racism and discrimination rarely becoming officers despite years of loyal, low paid work.

There are even darker tales. Clare tells of stowaways cast adrift, of ships that cuts back on training and equipment to maximise profits. He quotes from reports by UK inspectors on the state of ships, that "could have been written fifty or a hundred years ago":

"The crew accommodation was no longer provided with heating; there were insufficient fruit and vegetables on board... There were insufficient life rafts, the sanitary water system was inoperative and there was no fresh-running water. There were no nautical publications and charts were incomplete for the operational area.. The ship was dangerously unsafe as the engine room bilge wells were full of thick black oil... There was insufficient diesel fuel on board for the voyage..."

However bad it is on some ships, Clare's two voyages demonstrate that not all ships are like this. The camaraderie and comradeship, the way the crew work together in some of the toughest and most dangerous situations is very powerful. It is people like this, earning very very little, that move the goods around the world that keep consumers happy. This book should make everyone remember the blood, sweat, tears, and suffering behind the stuff on the shelves.

Sunday, June 01, 2014

Richard Heinberg - Snake Oil: How Fracking's False Promise of Plenty Imperils our Future

Fracking is a relatively recent arrival in the UK. The few sites that have seen drilling have provoked large and diverse protest movements and camps. Activists have built up a powerful set of arguments against fracking. We oppose it for many reasons - the irrationality of burning further fossil fuels, for the polluting effect on local air and water, for the increase in traffic and for the way that fracking companies are allowed to run roughshod over local planning laws and the interests of the community.

Snake Oil is the first book I have read that puts the arguments against fracking into a larger context. The author is an energy expert who has written wildly on the problems of the oil industry, particularly the question of Peak Oil. As the title suggests, he argues that fracking is a "false promise" from the oil companies that want to continue business as usual, in the face of a dwindling supply of mainstream oil reserves. The US government in particular has based its economic future on over-exaggerated promises from Snake Oil salesmen.As Heinberg says, "the Obama administration finds temporarily rising oil and gas production figures so enthralling that it is willing to ignore long-term costs to water and air quality, and to the health of humans, livestock and wildlife."

Heinberg argues this promise is likely to collapse soon, causing major problems for the economy and the future of energy. A short, new preface, gives the book context for UK readers and, tellingly, Heinberg dedicates the book to activists fighting for a more rational energy future.

The early sections of the book deal with Peak Oil. In the US arguments that oil and gas production were reaching a plateau and would fall off have been averted by bringing online large sources of shale gas. But Heinberg argues this is based on over optimistic predictions and a misunderstanding of the nature of the problem. Fossil fuel supplies, of shale gas, oil and coal and extremely large. However, most of these sources are so difficult to access that they are not economically viable. Indeed with some of them, the energy required to utilise them would be fare more than could be produced by burning the finished product. As Heinberg emphasises, "the peak oil discussion is about rate of supply, not of size of resoureces or even reserves." Locating new supplies has also declined (it peaked in the early 1960s), in "recent years the oil industry has found (on average) one barrel of new oil for every four or five consumed".

In other words what is happening, is that we are increasingly reliant on harder to access, refine or process sources of fuel. Naturally companies always use the "sweet spots" first - the places were it is easiest to build wells or drill. Predictions for the amount of gas that can be reached or the value of the fuel obtained are then extrapolated from these best points, leading to immense speculation on Wall Street and false promises. Indeed Shale Gas (and other extreme energy sources) are only viable because the price of oil is so high and expected to rise. Leading to the obscene situation where companies are building "shale gas wells that cost more to drill than their gas is worth at current prices".

Heinberg concludes that "taking into account decline rates, potential drilling locations, and the variability of regions within resource plays [gas fields], the industry's claims for how much oil and gas can be extracted, at what rate, and how profitably, are widely overblown."

Activists against Shale Gas will be aware of a number of arguments from the fracking companies seeking to sweeten the pill of drilling in local communities. Heinberg takes up a number of these - he points out that promises of new jobs rarely go to locals - they usually go to specialists who move to an area for a few years, before moving on. Predictions of jobs to be created in the US in fracking areas, frequently include strippers and prostitutes that thrive amongst the boom areas. Local jobs tend to be service jobs that last a few years.

Heinberg also demonstrates how polluting fracking is. For instance, a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration report said that "4% of the methane gas being produced in the Wattenberg field in Colorado was leaking to the atmosphere." Another study by the same team put the figure at 9% for a field in Utah. Methane is a significantly dangerous greenhouse gas, and the one responsible for the burning tap water shown in many You Tube videos.

This short book is thus an extremely important and very readable book for anti-fracking activists. While it concentrates on the US experience, it is possible to utilise many of the facts and figures for to argue against fracking in the UK. It also raises a number of other questions.

Heinberg argues strongly that we need a switch to renewable energy showing it is technologically possible. Unfortunately, as Heinberg knows, governments around the world as less than enthusiastic for the transition. While part of the problem is, as Heinberg says, that some have been seduced by the idea of large quantities of shale gas as a transition fuel to a low carbon future, the biggest problem is a system that is structured around a fossil fuel economy and the interests of the oil companies.

As Heinberg says

"the US is failing to plan for a future in which hydrocarbons are more scarce and expensive; failing to invest sufficiently in renewable sources of energy, and in low-energy infrastructure such as electric light rail; and failing generally to do what every nation must in order to survive in a century of rapidly destabilising climate - which is to reduce dependency on fossil fuels as quickly as possible."

Heinberg's book tells us exactly why shale gas is a false promise and will help destroy the planet, rather than save it. The information in it will allow activists to build stronger and better informed anti-fracking campaigns. It will also help us develop a wider critique of energy production and use under capitalism and struggle for an alternative.

Related Reviews

Nikiforuk - Tar Sands: Dirty Oil and the Future of a Continent
Rogers - Green Gone Wrong
Marriott & Minio-Paluello - The Oil Road
Klare - Blood and Oil: How America's Thirst for Oil is Killing Us.