Published just two years ago this book by Tony Juniper is still pretty fresh and its messages and facts are definitely well in-date, I received this as a present and have just finished reading it so while it is bright in my memory I wanted to share with you what my thoughts on this book are. To start with, as this is a non-fiction book full of scientific research, facts, percentages and experiments it is nice to know that the author himself is actually experienced and intelligent enough to understand what he is writing about and isn’t just pasting the summaries of other peoples research. Tony Juniper was director of Friends of the Earth and has been an ecological consultant to many major corporations throughout his career as well as having previously written a book on a similar subject – ‘Saving Planet Earth’.
The book begins with a fairly long introduction by HRH The Prince of Wales, who has a reputation of doing introductions for books related to nature; it is clear that HRH cares for the environment and genuinely wishes to do something positive to conserve it from what he writes here. Though in retrospect he does for the most part just reiterate what Tony Juniper has written in the rest of the book. There are 11 chapters (12 with prologue), each focusing on a different key aspect of the natural world that is essential for the well-being of us humans; these include soils, plants, genetic diversity, pollination, pest and disease control, water, fishing, carbon storage, protection and insurance from natural disasters, mental and physical health and finally the support of our entire global economy.
In his prologue Juniper gives us a fascinating case study which he mentions throughout the book and uses as a comparison to other cases he talks about; this is the great experiment of ‘Biosphere 2’. In 1991 eight people were sealed inside a small complex for two years with no connection to the exterior world, the complex was split into sections each containing a different biome such as a forest and an ‘ocean’ and the humans had to grow all of their own food, recycle all of their water and ensure the plants and animals living in there with them survived too. Although it had its fair share of problems the end result was a better understanding of our place on this planet, how all the ecosystems support life, how everything is connected and the fragility of a sealed environment. The Earth if you had not already guessed is biosphere 1, it too is a sealed container with no external influences except for the sun and everything in it has to be recycled and in balance in order to function and survive.
In each chapter Juniper backs up everything he says with real-life examples of research, experiments, schemes or catastrophes (like when chairman Mao decided to kill all of the sparrows in China, resulting in a famine that killed hundreds of thousands of people). He writes clearly and coherently and in a way that practically anyone could understand (without being patronising), he breaks down complicated figures and scientific papers into very understandable and often shocking anecdotes or summaries. The main argument of this book is that nature provides us with enormous economic benefits, in fact it pretty much sustains our entire economy and provides a long list of extremely useful services that keep the human world alive – all for free.
This is something that Juniper keeps knocking into the readers head with various impressive statistics and monetary figures (the big one being that nature is globally worth about $100 trillion to us annually – double the global GDP), he finalizes his argument in the final chapter which is all about our current economy, how short-sighted it is and how by taking nature into account we could massively improve it. This last chapter is perhaps a bit technical and I struggled to understand all that he was saying, I do not have a head for complicated economics and I dare say neither will a lot of other people, yet that is not such a negative thing because all the preceding chapters will have made you realise the full importance of nature already.
This book is very clearly an important publication for our time, what Juniper has to say needs to be heard (or read) so that someone (preferably lots of people) will sit up, take notice and do something about it. Nature does of course have a huge aesthetic, cultural and spiritual value to us humans and it would be lovely if everyone would realise that, unfortunately many people can only see worth in something if it has a six-figure sum attached to it – which is why it is so important that we make everyone aware that nature has an eight-figure sum attached to it. Read this book!