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The God Species

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In 2008 Mark Lynas attended a meeting of leading scientists in Sweden when it suddenly dawned on him that what was being discussed represents a revolutionary new approach to maintaining the life of, and life on, our planet. This book examines this topic.

280 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 2011

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About the author

Mark Lynas

26 books70 followers
Mark Lynas is a British author, journalist and environmental activist who focuses on climate change.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 63 reviews
Profile Image for Michael Quinn.
46 reviews14 followers
July 19, 2013
In case you hadn't noticed, the American debate about the major environmental challenges of our times is fundamentally broken. This is the result of a political culture that grows ever more partisan, fueling a discourse that is more vitriolic each day.

On the right, at its worst we have people who deny that any of these issues even exist, preferring the ostrich approach to global problems. At its best, we have people who acknowledge the problems but prefer stalling tactics instead of resolutions, likely to avoid the scorn of their conservative brethren.

The left is often only a little better. While they love to shame "anti-science" Republicans for denying global warming, their ideological blind spots, especially when it concerns agricultural science and nuclear, are just as broad. Even worse, they tend to dip into ideological, anti-market and authoritarian responses to environmental challenges. They insist that people need to radically change their homes, lifestyles and family plans to serve abstract environmental causes that are not relevant to most people. Not only are these unwarranted, they're doomed to failure.

Enter Mark Lynas into this mess. Not only does this book do a masterful job of outlining the state of the pressures that we place on the environment, Lynas does an excellent job of ensuring that proposed solutions are extremely pragmatic. To outline his case, he provides a thorough review of the planetary boundaries platform, which allows his to cover specific human impacts to air-quality, land use, species diversity and environmental change.

Lynas is a former environmental activist who has become quite famous recently for publicly changing his position on GMOs. This attitude pervades his book, and he reserves most of his ire for leftists who continue to take anti-science positions on key environmental issues. This leads to a much more useful polemic. By mostly avoiding debate with the right, he avoids ontological issues and can keep a much sharper focus.

For most, the book is going to be emotionally draining. The sheer scale of our global environmental disaster is disorienting. The sections on species loss are especially harsh, as we are currently witnessing the most rapid extinction event since the end of the dinosaurs. This fact alone, when matched with the public's general ignorance about the issue, is depressing enough, but this is only one of the seven boundaries. To make matters even more pressing, the issues are interrelated. Climate change will accelerate oceanic acidification which will exacerbate species loss. Similar networks exist with the nitrogen cycle and the responsible usage of toxic materials (if there is such a thing).

Lynas's platform for addressing this massive and complex issues is deceptively simple. Human beings must intensify (but limit the expansion) of land use, use technologies to limit chemical emissions (carbon in energy, nitrogen in agriculture and toxins of all forms), and adopt aggressive international accords to implement primarily market-based solutions to major environmental problems. This means financing states and individuals to actually protect endangered flora and fauna, as well as continuing to encourage economic growth in poorer countries. As these countries develop, they will follow a trend similar to their richer neighbors and reduce their environmental impacts. Getting to that point will be costly.

If there is a criticism of Lynas' book, it stems from his platform. Because of its relative simplicity, and the way in which one solution can address multiple problems simultaneously, he has a tendency to repeat himself. Granted, this repetition occurs in ways that flesh out his argument, rather than diminishing it. For example, nuclear power is discussed in the context of climate change and toxics, as it has surprising benefits in both ways. Similarly, GMOs come up in both land use and the nitrogen cycle. And so on.

The public is in terrible need of a discussion along the lines that Lynas proposes in his book. These issues are urgent, and their scale is often difficult to fathom. This is why action along all seven boundaries is urgently needed. Wisely, Lynas ends his book with a triumph in this regard, the story of reducing CFCs in order to protect the ozone layer. Like global warming and nitrogen use, the scale of these problems was immense and demanded action from every country on earth. But accord was reached and humanity banded together to responsibly address its environmental impact. It can be done again. But it will demand an aggressively pragmatic and bold attitude to get us there.
Profile Image for Ryan.
990 reviews
April 4, 2020
Published in 2011, Mark Lynas's The God Species uses Johan Rockström's planetary boundaries to organize environmental concerns. The boundaries, btw, are: biodiversity, climate change, nitrogen, land use, freshwater, toxics, aerosols, ocean acidification, and the ozone layer. And Lynas advocates for Stewart Brand's eco-pragmatist approach to responding to our pushing up against (or running far past) these boundaries. Like Brand, Lynas likes nuclear energy, genetically modified food, and cities. Like Brand, he is critical of greens who oppose these things out of a sense of romantic nostalgia. God Species offers many interesting facts and useful summaries, but I would recommend both Brand's Whole Earth Discipline and Rockström's Bankrupting Nature ahead of it.

Profile Image for Karl-Friedrich Lenz.
Author 14 books2 followers
July 25, 2012
Okay, this is going to be a long review, since I will collect almost all of my blog posts on this book I did last year on Lenz Blog. Here we go.

The god species (1), published July 1, 2011

I am looking forward to the release of Mark Lynas’ newest book “The god species” that is scheduled in a couple of days.

While I plan to discuss it here once I get it on my Kindle, it might be fun to briefly note a couple of thoughts going through my head when reading just that title.

It is obviously true that other species don’t have a concept of god. Therefore it would be rather uncontroversial to say that mankind is the “god species” if the meaning is only that man is the only species suited to understanding the concept.

Another way of understanding that phrase is as in the title of the short story “The Food of the Gods” by Arthur C. Clarke, written 1961 and contained in the collection “The Wind from the Sun“. There, the “gods” are clearly the humans, who have solved the problem of feeding everybody for good by inventing production of foods directly from the elements.

That might be somewhat more controversial. Many religions would probably object to the idea that humans are gods themselves.

I won’t take a position on that particular question here. However, as I have remarked in a book I wrote 10 years ago, humans are clearly evolving much faster than any other species. Evolution takes thousands of generations to achieve any changes. Humans can acquire new capabilities in a remarkable short time frame, especially in the last couple of hundred years.

That gives humans the ability to create and change their environment as well as themselves in a more profound way than any other species. That is a god-like quality. I leave it to the reader to decide if that is enough to call humans gods.

Unfortunately, while humans have great powers to change things, not all of these changes are thought through and sustainable in the long run. With great power comes great responsibility. There is quite some room for doubt if humans have been up to the challenge.

The god species (2), published July 2, 2011

A review of Mark Lynas’ new book (which I can’t read for another couple of days) has this paragraph:

“Anyone who still marches against nuclear today,” he writes, “as many thousands of people did in Germany following the Fukushima accident, is in my view just as bad for the climate as textbook eco-villains like the big oil companies.”

I share much of this sentiment and have coined the phrase “fossil greens” for these people.

I am looking forward to discuss this in more detail once I get my copy next week.

Update July 2012; In the meantime, I have retired from pro-nuclear advocacy, since I think the fans of nuclear are damaging the climate by trying to slow down development of renewable energy.

The god species (3), published July 6, 2012

While I am waiting for the release of the latest book by Mark Lynas scheduled for tomorrow, I will write a couple of lines discussing an article he published a couple of days ago about nuclear energy, where he is critical of fossil greens.

Lynas writes:

"The German Greens have forced the country’s government to forswear nuclear after the Fukushima accident in Japan, which, while serious, has so far killed no one and is unlikely to do so."

While the first part about the Germans having dropped nuclear energy after the Fukushima accident is true (unfortunately), the latter part might be open to debate.

It is true that there has been not one person dead or even seriously harmed from radiation, which is quite remarkable under the circumstances.

However, as I noted the other day, Yomiuri now estimates about 50 deaths from the evacuations that forced elderly citizens to live without beds in a gymnasium.

One could argue that these deaths are at least indirectly caused by the Fukushima accident. However, they are also caused by the irresponsible fear crowd. If the German government had had its way, all of Tokyo would have been evacuated. I am quite sure that would have cost much more than 50 lives. The hysteric overreactions to the accident did not only lead to the completely irrational and unnecessary German nuclear shutdown, but at the same time also contributed to the stress and anxiety of people already hit by a massive tsunami.

Lynas also writes:

"Just compare the annual carbon emissions per person of coal-dependent Australia (18 tonnes) and nuclear-friendly France (6 tonnes) to see how environment-friendly atomic power really is in climate change terms.

"Had the Green movement of the Seventies and Eighties supported nuclear power — instead of violently opposing plans for greater use of atomic energy, a move that led to more coal power plants being built — we would not be facing the climate crisis we are today."

Exactly. We would also have much safer nuclear power plants, since opposition to new projects would not have derailed the technical progress seen in other fields of technology. If there was no anti-nuclear movement, Fukushima One might have been replaced ten years ago by a state-of-the-art Thorium reactor or fast breeder with absolutely fail-safe passive safety designs that rely only on gravity. And the spent fuel would not be stored in a makeshift pool right next to the power plant, but some central storage facility somewhere.

Update July 2012: Again, as mentioned above, I have changed my pro-nuclear point of view since last summer.

The god species (4), published July 7, 2011

On the day of release of the newest Mark Lynas book “The god species” I have bought the Kindle edition and can now start reading and discussing it. This post will start with the first two chapters.

I mainly agree with the idea in the introduction and the first chapter. Humans have been very successful and are now in charge of the planet. With that comes responsibility. We need to be good gods.

On the other hand, chapter 2 about biodiversity has not convinced me.

For starters, this is definitely not the most urgent item on the agenda. Once Venus syndrome kicks in, we can forget about the minor issue of biodiversity, since all life on the planet will be wiped out anyway. Global warming is the far more important problem.

I am not convinced that extinction of species as such is bad.

For one, there are some forms of life the extinction of which is actually a cause for celebration. Smallpox and rinderpest have been eradicated, and polio is on the target list.

If you don’t count virus forms as “species”, there are species like the sea wasp or the Irukandji jellyfish, which I would have no problem whatsoever with seeing disappear.

Tigers and whales given some space in the chapter would be somewhat more worthy of support, as long as I don’t get to face one of the tigers directly.

The theory that biodiversity is necessary to have a functioning ecosystem has merit. However, unlike global warming, it is very difficult to point to one particular tipping point.

One might also mention that man has built new species. Not only in the recent experiment of actually creating life Lynas starts his book with, but with breeding efforts over a long time. Dogs were once wolves, and they have evolved since in many new forms. Genetical engineering is a faster way of breeding and another way in which humans actually add to the number of species.

While I am not convinced that this is really the most pressing problem now, I agree that a solution would be desirable.

The idea Lynas puts forward of putting a price on biodiversity does not seem to be a working system yet.

I prefer the much more concrete proposals in Lester R. Browns book “World on the Edge” (chapter 10), that is tree planting, natural parks and “marine reserves”. As mentioned before, the Fukushima accident would be a good opportunity to just dump a lot of low-level radioactive water in the sea and then use the hysterical irrational fear of radiation to declare a large area around the site completely off limits for fishers.

Just like the Chernobyl exclusion zone has been wildly successful as an involuntary natural park, the same benefit could be achieved here. And it doesn’t even require educating the irrational fear crowd about the lack of danger from radiation.

Since I have some interest in European Union law, I might also mention that the problem of biodiversity is a topic of interest to European Union policy, as a simple search in the EUR-Lex database shows. It might be of interest to discuss what current European Union legislation and policy programs on the question say. That however would not be related to Lynas’ book, who doesn’t seem to discuss these, so I will skip that right now.

The god species (5), published July 8, 2011

On the day of release of the newest Mark Lynas book “The god species” I have bought the Kindle edition and can now start reading and discussing it.

The next couple of posts will discuss ideas from the third chapter “The Climate Change Boundary”.

Most of the things Lynas says there are exactly right, and not news to me. Therefore I will focus on those parts of the chapter that told me something I didn’t realize before.

Before doing so, I will however cite one sentence. Lynas writes:

"Moreover, meeting the boundary is a basic requirement for any level of sustainable planetary management: if CO2 continues to rise, and temperatures begin to race out of control, then the biodiversity boundary, the ozone boundary, the freshwater boundary, the land use boundary and ocean acidification boundaries cannot be met either, and the remaining planetary boundaries are also called into question."

Exactly what I was saying in my last post of this series. If so, why start the book out with biodiversity rather than the most important question?

The god species (6), Extremely rapid climate change, published July 8, 2011

On the day of release of the newest Mark Lynas book “The god species” I have bought the Kindle edition and can now start reading and discussing it.

The next couple of posts will discuss ideas from the third chapter “The Climate Change Boundary”.

Most of the things Lynas says there are exactly right, and not news to me. Therefore I will focus on those parts of the chapter that told me something I didn’t realize before.

At footnote 46, Lynas reports that there was a temperature rise in Greenland 11.700 years ago of 10 degrees Celsius in just three years, citing a 2008 paper in Science, 321, 5889 by J. Steffensen and others. If so, that would rather change the idea that there necessarily will be decades or centuries to deal with climate change.

The god species (7), published July 8, 2011

On the day of release of the newest Mark Lynas book “The god species” I have bought the Kindle edition and can now start reading and discussing it.

The next couple of posts will discuss ideas from the third chapter “The Climate Change Boundary”.

Most of the things Lynas says there are exactly right, and not news to me. Therefore I will focus on those parts of the chapter that told me something I didn’t realize before.

After footnote 63, Lynas says that France is the world’s largest electricity exporter (without a reference for the statement). That after mentioning that France has the lowest per capita emissions in the industrialised world because of their near 80 percent use of nuclear power.

There is an interesting problem here. If France is the largest exporter of electricity world wide, then that figure of 80% would seem to be in need of some kind of interpretation and adjustment.

I have searched a bit and came up with 67.6 TW/h exported in 2009.

Those exports are going to increase this year, since Germany has doubled imports from France after shutting down its own perfectly safe nuclear plants.

In that year all thermal electricity generation in France was at only 52.6 TW/h.

That of course means that if France were not powering Germany and the UK, it could scrap thermal power completely. Or that in comparison to the electricity actually consumed in France the generation percentage of nuclear and renewable energy is already over 100 percent.

The god species (8), Energy from the desert, published July 8, 2011

On the day of release of the newest Mark Lynas book “The god species” I have bought the Kindle edition and can now start reading and discussing it.

The next couple of posts will discuss ideas from the third chapter “The Climate Change Boundary”.

Most of the things Lynas says there are exactly right, and not news to me. Therefore I will focus on those parts of the chapter that told me something I didn’t realize before.

Lynas discusses energy from the desert at footnotes 64 and following. There he says that one of the best places for this concept would be Australia.

I agree. There are several interesting strategic advantages compared to the Sahara or the Gobi deserts.

For one, generation and consumption would all be done in one stable industrialised country. No headaches from political instability (like in North Africa right now) or from having to pull your power line from Mongolia through Chinese territory to reach Japan.

The second advantage is that distances could be much shorter. A look at a map of the existing electric grid in Australia shows that it already extends a fair distance into the continent from Port Augusta, making the remaining distance to the central desert areas rather shorter compared to the distance from North Africa to Germany or the Gobi to Japan.

One added benefit is that Australia right now takes over 90 percent of electricity from thermal generation. That means that energy from the desert would displace dirty energy (most of it coal).

The god species (9), published July 9, 2011

Someone is trying to slow down the release of the new Mark Lynas book “The god species”. The United Kingdom Amazon page now shows an error message:

"This product is not currently offered by Amazon.co.uk because a customer recently told us that the item he or she received was not as described.

"We are working to resolve this as quickly as possible. In the meantime, you may still find this product available from other sellers on this page."

This will of course backfire, since it is just one more reason for people to notice and become interested in the book.

However, it is rather strange that Amazon would take such a measure based on the complaint of one (1) costumer. Does that mean I can temporarily take down some climate change denial book, if I were inclined to do so? Which of course I am not, since I know that this would only help sales.

The book is still available as a paperless Kindle edition, which should be the edition of choice anyway because it saves on paper and energy required for printing and shipping.

The god species (10), published July 10, 2011

On the day of release of the newest Mark Lynas book “The god species” I have bought the Kindle edition and can now start reading and discussing it.

This post will discuss chapter four, “The Nitrogen Boundary”.

This “nitrogen boundary” is different from the hard limit of 350 ppm CO2 in that there is no clear numerical target right now. It is also very different from CO2 in that without massive use of nitrogen there would be no way to meet the needs of feeding 6.9 billion people.

The most interesting fact is the game changing impact of the Haber-Bosch process invention. Without that, population would never have reached close to 7 billion.

We need some more game changing innovations to avoid global meltdown. See also Bill Gates’ 2010 speech making that point. where he calls for “miracles”.

Unfortunately, there is no guarantee for that to happen.

The god species (11), published July 12, 2011

On the day of release of the newest Mark Lynas book “The god species” I have bought the Kindle edition and can now start reading and discussing it.

This post will discuss chapter five about land use.

First, things I agree with.

Obviously, one advantage of nuclear in comparison to solar or wind is that fact that it uses much less space. That is true when only counting the actual plant site. But it would probably still be true if one designated a 30 kilometer evacuation zone around each nuclear plant (like after the Fukushima accident) even before anything happens. That would have the added benefit of working as a national park, giving wildlife some place to develop without getting disturbed by humans.

I strongly disagree with Lynas’idea that one should refrain from building large scale solar energy in the desert because that might disturb some turtles or eagles.

For one, in contrast to wind energy that might be deadly for birds, I don’t see why turtles can’t survive with solar energy around. Those plants will be large, but they won’t cover the whole desert.

And even if there was a choice between large-scale energy from the desert and preserving a couple of species, I think the stakes are too high to give biodiversity a priority. If we can’t stop global meltdown, no life will be possible on the planet. The luxury of keeping all the species might be defensible if we were really all powerful gods. We are not. We have to choose our goals.

Again, the climate boundary is the most important of them all. It needs to trump everything else, especially the mostly sentimental biodiversity boundary.

With wind energy, I recognize the need to keep damage to birds and bats as low as possible. But again, if I have to choose between conserving a species of eagles already almost extinct anyway and increasing our chances of avoiding four degrees or more of heat, my choice is not the sentimental one.

There should be some research in proper technology to make birds avoid flying in the turbines. Have some radar surveillance and some warning sound system, some nets mounted before the turbines, or whatever else might work.

The god species (12), published July 12, 2011

On the day of release of the newest Mark Lynas book “The god species” I have bought the Kindle edition and can now start reading and discussing it.

This post will discuss one point made in chapter six (water).

Lynas remarks that desalination will become more important with global meltdown, since one of the consequences is that large parts of the planet become more arid.

In places with access to the sea desalination will be necessary. That requires a lot of energy.

However, as Lynas remarks, there is no need for that energy to be available continuously. Desalination is a perfect application for wind and solar energy that is intermittent. Desalinate your water when the wind is blowing and the sun is shining.

In other words, not only is hydrogen a potential way of storing energy. Water is as well.

On the other hand, this will not work well in the Gobi desert, which is much too far away from any source of salt water.

I have two more posts on "The god species" on my blog, but I have managed to run out of space here. So for the last two posts, a link will have to do:

The god species (13) http://k.lenz.name/LB/?p=3761

The god species (14) http://k.lenz.name/LB/?p=3765

Profile Image for Grace Downey.
26 reviews
February 10, 2023
In my quest to read all the previously untouched books on my physical book shelves, I came across this book. I found this book to be full of worthwhile and optimistic science surrounding climate change. It was sobering to read a non-fiction book over a decade old and to then discover that many of the disasters the author Mark Lynas warns would happen if we didn't confront climate change (such as increasing and more intense hurricanes) did indeed come to pass.

Lynas believes, as a species, that us humans have a god-like effect on our environment and should embrace this moniker rather than push back against it. I appreciated this on a personal level and followed his reasoning with this. Lots of people passionate about the environment like to view us as separate from nature; but really, we are all a part of the natural world whether we want to be or not. It reminded me of the amazing book Braiding Sweetgrass in this sense.

Lynas offers lots of amazing and innovative suggestions backed up by science on how we can manage our environmental future within the context of various "planetary boundaries"; these boundaries are limits to things like biodiversity loss, ocean acidification, and more. Staying within the planetary boundaries ensures long-term human survival.

I knocked off a star from this review because I felt Lynas did not fully explain some of his reasoning for why all of his solutions have to be done under a capitalist system. Lynas argues in his book that pragmatism should take precedence over idealism. To a certain extent, I agree with him; however, whether I personally agree with him or not doesn't matter in a book review. The crux of this for me is that I didn't feel Lynas fully articulated and supported his viewpoint that capitalism could be beneficial to the environment, or even argued successfully against other alternatives. It felt like Lynas said "we have do this under capitalism because it's what we have now" while also simultaneously arguing for a complete overhaul of various industries.

Overall, I appreciated this book's hopeful message and the wealth of science within it. I learned a lot and I appreciated that about this text.
Profile Image for Brad Marshall.
7 reviews1 follower
June 30, 2019
Great read on tacking climate change and other environmental crises without us all moving back into mud huts.
Profile Image for Kieran.
29 reviews2 followers
February 8, 2019
This is some of the worst science writing I've ever seen.

Even when Lynas shows the depth of his climate change knowledge, his conclusions and opinions pissed me off to no end. There is so much lazy wishful thinking, baseless conjecture and condescending arrogance here. Lynas should stick to journalism (he is not a scientist by background) - the only part I actually enjoyed was his firsthand account of the demise of the 2009 Copenhagen summit, which was simple reporting. This book has aged very badly - his solutions (except nuclear power) do not seem remotely prescient with 8 years of retrospect. Oh, and a lot of it is also pretty boring.

I'd only recommend this to other young scientists, who might find it motivational that they can certainly write better than this kind of popsci garbage that gets published.
Profile Image for Alienus Orator.
12 reviews
December 29, 2019
A fantastic read. It is a clear break from the pessimistic rendering of environmental problems.
A must read for those who crave a pragmatic outlook on the issues. Shines the light on well known and widely discussed facets like the climate change and also the less discussed areas like freshwater management and nitrogen pollution. It conveys the urgency and the current standing of the humanity but since the book was written in 2011 the data might be a little outdated.
In an age where the action is needed it’s a book that should be read by all. If not for the facts and the science, for the general spirit that we should approach managing our planet.
However to me it felt like the author downplayed the misuse of fertilizers in favor of increased use towards lesser land use per capita. Especially since the scientific community is having doubts about Glyphosate and other weed killers.
December 3, 2011
An holistic view of the impact of humans on the environment based on the planetary boundaries proposed by a group of environmental scientists. These are points beyond which damage to the Earth cannot be recovered or not readily or completely. Refreshing in that it tackles aspects of human impacts other than climate change and imbued with a sense of urgency for action offers potential ways forward whilst acknowledging that the majority of people will not be persuaded by belt tightening and self sacrifice - any solution needs to accommodate human behaviour. Not always convinced by the depth of research and accuracy, nor that the potential ways forward have been fully thought through but altogether a good overview.
Profile Image for Sarah.
657 reviews3 followers
April 7, 2019
In 9 years this book seems very out of date. I appreciated another viewpoint on matters such as nuclear power - which in opposition to most of the Green lobby the author supports- and some more information on biodiversity but overall a bit of a slog of a book.
Profile Image for Eric Roston.
Author 1 book33 followers
February 24, 2012
A terrifically informative and insightful expansion on a key study from the past few years.
Profile Image for Sevket Akyildiz.
77 reviews2 followers
August 29, 2018
A fifty-fifty book! Fifty per cent (or more) is (very readable) science and policy based discussion with rational observations made by the author about the potential boundaries or tipping points (covering humankind's impact on the natural world) with each boundary given a separate chapter: the biodiversity boundary; the climate change boundary; the nitrogen boundary; the land use boundary; the freshwater boundary; the toxics boundary; the aerosols boundary; the ocean acidification boundary; and the ozone layer boundary. Lynas writes 'Based on the pioneering work of the 29 scientists making up the planetary boundaries expert group, this book has made the case that the Earth system has inherent ecological limits within it...' (p. 234). This general coverage of the boundaries is very good indeed, concise and touches upon all those themes and issues one hears about in the news but perhaps does not really fully understand. Lynas explains the tipping points expertly and clearly. But the other fifty per cent of the book (or less) is argument and recommendations based upon the author's current views of how we might survive best on earth. Lynas discusses possible solutions to the tipping points noted above. Some are logical and do-able, for example, his idea that '...each country adds half a per cent to Value Added Tax (VAT) with the proceeds raised specifically safeguarded for the ecosystem and habitat restoration ("rewilding")' (p. 133). Other recommendations are more challenging, for instance, he supports plant biotechnology: 'Creating new strains of rice, wheat and corn that fix their own nitrogen,' (p. 109); he speaks of urban living for the masses (as this will have less impact on the natural environment) (pp. 134-137); increased use of nuclear energy (as the only serious alternative to fossil fuels) (pp. 167-182). Lynas is indeed a plausible and knowledgeable writer but you need to make up your own mind about some of his recommendations. The argument of the book is complex, yet, I feel that Lynas is looking at mainstream society and the dominant liberal-capitalist model and trying to accommodate these as best possible with the boundaries of the ecosystem (and vice versa): this is both the strength and the weakness of his book.
Profile Image for Clint.
735 reviews6 followers
October 2, 2017
A very informative and well presented book about the various boundaries (c02, acification of the ocean, land use, species loss...) with practical analysis of how we can continue to grow and mitigate potential disasters.

Profile Image for Sue Chant.
784 reviews14 followers
May 24, 2020
Didn't realise until I got into this book that it was from 2011 - much of the info was well out of date and there are more current environmental books out there.
Profile Image for Jo Bournemouth.
26 reviews2 followers
April 4, 2021
The first couple of chapters were thought provoking but then I got bogged down and didn’t finish it.
Profile Image for Firoze Cassim.
88 reviews
May 19, 2021
An excellent book. Mark looks at the impact of humans on the environment in a fascinating way by looking at planetary boundaries such as land use, nitrogen, aerosols, etc.
2 reviews
March 7, 2022
Tough to get through but filled with information about current situations, problems and solutions as clear as daylight!
Profile Image for Megan Blood.
278 reviews1 follower
May 8, 2013
Just a few thoughts as I go along:

-The more I learn about science, the more I realize how little we know about anything. For every answer, we open a hundred questions. Which is why it gets irritating to read about thing like evolution and global warming like they're settled in stone. Which isn't to say that I reject evolution/global warming (I don't)--I just reject the idea that we really know what happened/is happening well enough to make huge changes wisely.

-Interesting ideas about putting prices on natural resources like plants and animals. No idea how that would work in reality (like there's a market for squirrels that could give us a legitimate price--it would probably end up being mandated by the government, which is never a good idea).

-I skipped the global warming section. Heard it all before.

-He's actually PROMOTING nuclear power? I think I may be in love.

-I'm all for solar/wind energy, but ONLY if it can compete freely in the market (no special treatment, no subsidies). Get it to that point and then we'll talk. Give money to R&D all you want, but until there's a viable product somewhere there's no need for government to prop up "green" companies.

-Just wondering how these wind/solar farms he's promoting in Australia/Africa/the ocean will affect all the endangered ecosystems he's so worried about.

-I don't like the idea of government mandating fuel efficiency. How about just letting people decide for themselves? Bombard them with advertisements and guilt-trips all you want, but don't assume the government knows what's best for each individual. If people want fuel efficient cars, they will buy them (and they do--hello, Prius C). But I would like to retain the right to go purchase a gas-guzzling Hummer for myself, should I ever want to waste that much money.

-Let politics drive the change to greener tech--sure! But by "politics" I mean bottom up (the people changing their opinions and then electing people who represent those opinions), rather than top down (elected officials deciding that they know best and will guide the rest of us into the light). Let's have an honest debate about the best ways to accomplish things.

More to come...

Okay, I just couldn't finish this. He gets 2 stars--one for nuclear power and one for promoting genetically modified food as a "green" technology. But he falls into the common trap of believing that we actually understand the complexity of the environment enough to be able to do anything about it. We can't even predict earthquakes with any degree of certainty--what makes people think we can predict what will/will not affect the earth's cooling/warming?

Basically, he lost me at the chapter when he described a computer program where scientists had somehow input all of earth's various flora & fauna. "And scientists found that if they 'deleted' the tundra, total rainfall on the earth dropped by 3 inches!" (not a direct quote). I'm sorry, but any scientist worth his labcoat knows that this is, at best, an indicator that the earth's environment is very complex and that we don't understand how or why certain things affect other things. What it is NOT is an "answer". My guess is that it's just his interpretation as a writer, but when you start telling readers that there are "answers" from "scientists", you lose me. Even with all our brilliant scientists, we still know very, very little about very, very little. So don't tell me what the "answers" are when in 10 years the "answers" will have changed completely.
Profile Image for Michael Berman.
192 reviews5 followers
February 24, 2012
This is a very provocative analysis of the current environmental issues facing the earth. Starting from the assumption that mankind has the power to remake the face of the planet (as we have been doing unintentionally since the first time we burned a savannah), the author looks at how we can avoid crossing, or in some cases, revert back below, certain planetary boundaries. The boundaries--which cover things such as the maximum amount of CO2 in the environment, the maximum sustainable loss of species, the maximum rate of ocean acidification, among others--were set by a working group of scientists.

The prescriptions in this book will anger some environmentalists, in spite of the author's sterling environmental credentials. For example, he has no patience with those who would oppose nuclear power, noting that even the worst nuclear power accidents are so much more benign to the planet than our continual use of fossil fuels. He is also a (reluctant) supporter of genetically-engineered food, stating that his former aversion to it was as scientifically invalid as is the current view of climate change deniers.

My only complaint with the book is that within some of his chapters, each of which is ostensibly about a specific planetary boundary, he can tend to digress into ultimate conclusions that might have been better in the last chapter. I'm also not sure that I agree with all of his conclusions, since I'm no expert, but I certainly do agree with his basic thrust: we will not solve our environmental problems by telling people, either in the west or in the developing world, to consume less, nor are renewable energy sources (wind, solar, geothermal) anywhere near enough to power our societies.

Profile Image for Radiantflux.
427 reviews409 followers
April 25, 2016
20th book for 2016.

This is a good evidence based attempt to explore various natural boundaries (global warming; species loss; ocean acidification; etc) that we as a species we as a species can't cross if we hope to maintain a livable global environment.

There are a lots and lots of interesting ideas here.

He takes strong aim at environmental groups for being too ideological (anti-GM and anti-nuclear based on belief not facts), which I sympathetic too; though both issues need a much more through and nuanced discussion than the brief talking points given in this book. It certainly not clear to me having read this book that organic farming, for instance, is really so inferior to farming involving high levels of pesticides/fertilizers. Or that nuclear power really is so benign as he says.

However, his strong faith on the markets ability to fix many problems (e.g., privatizing water globally) seems to me silly at best, and shows a strong ideological bias that frames much of the discussion in a text that presents itself as a purely evidence-based approach to environmental issues.

This is particularly obvious when he clearly states that economic growth can continue indefinitely while respecting the planetary boundaries he lists. This is pure ideology.

Overall there is a sense that this book simplifies and selectively presents evidence that supports his World view (i.e., that an optimism in technology to fix things, coupled with market-forces, can allow us to become benign masters of the natural world).

This is definitely worth a read, so long as you keep in mind that frame the author uses to frame his "evidence-based" approach.
Profile Image for Jan Denn.
12 reviews3 followers
January 17, 2013
"Ecological limits are real, economic limits are not." This pretty much summarizes Lynas's book. This is one of the best environmentalist books I've reads so far--clear, comprehensive, provocative, realistic. The God Species incorporates not only ecology but also politics and economics in the environmental-protection arena. His work does not advocate the antitechnological or the "we are morally obligated to protect nature" creed proposed by many Greens. Instead, he uses scientific, historical, and statistical figures and inferences on how we can and why we should experience economic growth without crossing the line. The book presents certain boundaries, or thresholds, that should be kept in check if we want to experience prosperity while living in harmony with our nonhuman friends.

I was personally pleased to read about his views on nuclear technology and genetic engineering and particularly enlightened by his writings on ocean acidification and nitrogen use.

As a pessimist myself, I enjoyed how Lynas expresses his views in such a positive way that it tells the reader that there is still a BIG hope for the Earth's future. "Voices of doom may be persuasive, but theirs is a counsel of despair. The world--and our children--deserve better. . . . Global environmental problems are soluble. Let us go forward and solve them."

Indeed, Mr. Lynas, and even if I disagree with some of your compromising views, your writing style redeems the single star I was not supposed to give.
Profile Image for Brandt Kurowski.
18 reviews
October 25, 2013
Not one of the most enjoyable books I've read recently, but certainly one of the most important. I consider it essential reading for anyone who cares about the environment. Be forewarned that Lynas spares no sacred cows in his evidence-based assessment of the problems caused by human influence on Earth, and the solutions. For example:

1. Worried about global warming? Advocate for nuclear power.

2. Concerned about fertilizer run-off? Start eating GMO crops.

3. Want to feed the planet? Stop supporting organic food.

I'll stop there, but the list goes on. I started reading this book coming from a standpoint of being anti-GMO, pro-organic, and on-the-fence-about-nuclear. But the book itself didn't change my mind, the science behind it did. So I beg you, if you care about the future of our planet, to read this.

In the book Lynas breaks down the environmental challenges we face into nine "boundaries" (e.g. atmospheric CO2, land use, toxins, aerosols) that humankind must keep within in order to stay alive. The structure seems a little forced at first, until you get halfway through and he makes it clear how these boundaries interact with each other. And at times the book comes across as a tedious recitation of facts, but if you push through you'll uncover the threads that bind it all together.

Profile Image for Sean.
Author 4 books7 followers
August 27, 2013
Solid science backs rational arguments that ill-informed activists are stopping us from applying viable technical fixes to the environment's real and pressing problems.

A brisk counter-punch to the scientifically-illiterate western middle-class types who hope to persuade the relatively impoverished majority of humanity to give up any hope of a future of increased personal comfort (such as they themselves enjoy) in order to be dirt-poor subsistence farmers, despite the fact that even if we we tilled every inch of the earth we would still require to somehow magic away half of the present world population.

That the author used to be one of these muddleheaded romantics himself makes it all the more convincing. "Will Outrage" as the "Independent" review says. But after the outrage, check his numbers, and his sources. Unless you are going to allow yourself to pull the same cherry-picking tricks as the climate-change deniers, you will need to allow that his is a set of conclusions grounded in the best science available.

GMOs are now known to be harmless, Nuclear Power is less harmful than the alternatives, as are some kinds of Geoengineering.

Want an example? Countries who abandoned nuclear power due to political pressure just burned more coal.

Capitalism isn't going anywhere. Get over it, hippies!
Profile Image for Jenny.
228 reviews
November 28, 2013
Loved it! This is my kind of environmentalism.

1. He backs up everything he says with scientific studies.
2. He's not an ideologue. He's willing to break away from traditional environmental rhetoric if that's what the science suggests, specifically when it comes to nuclear energy and genetically modified food.
3. He's an optimist. He doesn't see environmental collapse as inevitable and has many, many reasonable suggestions on ways to approach it.
4. He's practical. He doesn't call for idealistic, Utopian solutions, but rather, looks for approaches that are plausible on an international scale.
5. He's not authoritarian. He doesn't advocate for extreme austerity or dictatorial governmental restrictions. Rather, he sees climate change as a potential for economic growth.
6. The book itself is well-written and approachable for an audience that may or may not have a background in science.

I've been recommending this book to everyone, and I recommend it to you, too.
Profile Image for Samyuktha jayaprakash.
222 reviews9 followers
March 4, 2014
Beautiful book . Eye opening
A very strong case by Lynas , paving way towards a very practical and pragmatic approach to save our world.
Every boundary is very well explained and I particularly like his growth oriented alternative seeking green approach . The fact that he displays the weakness in his argument himself is heartening. Nuclear , geo engineering and genetics seem to be tantalisingly practicable . The moral scientific distinction is helpful . Also the look into the political workings behind these treaties was very interesting.
Overall a very knowledgeable ecological book based in science! While the arguments are deeply personal we can't overlook the fact that they are damn persuasive .
However very interested to read about the other side of this topic. Are the greens justified in being so paranoid about nuclear energy and genetic crops? There must be so smoke right?
All too interesting .
Profile Image for Lois Binalla.
244 reviews39 followers
May 21, 2015
I have learned a lot on this wonderful book I am so glad I found this on booksale.

It is very informative. Even if you are not that into science, this book will enlighten the reader.

Even though I found this book very enlightening, I found this book very depressing at the same time. The destruction made by humans have been discussed here. So much destruction since the arrival of humans, and it still hasn't stopped.

I love Mother Earth, I am only aware of the few environmental problems discussed here in the books. Now I know more.

I also was not aware of the mistakes made by some environmentalist. And I am glad some of them changed their minds, but the environmental groups I follow are still making some of the mistakes mentioned in this book.

I agree with the solutions given by the author. I just hope the environmentalist and deniers will be enlighten also and agree with him.
Profile Image for Bricoleur  (David) Soul.
22 reviews58 followers
July 9, 2011
This book has been made "unavailable" on Amazon UK as they received a complaint from a customer that What they received was not as described!

This is he message you receive on the Amazon UK web site as of Saturday July 9, 2011:

Item Under Review

This product is not currently offered by Amazon.co.uk because a customer recently told us that the item he or she received was not as described.

We are working to resolve this as quickly as possible. In the meantime, you may still find this product available from other sellers on this page.

It is available on Amazon US (and of couse all other booksellers that don't refuse to take orders from customers...)

I will be reading with interest .... So far it seems to exactly match the description given on the website...

I think Amazon needs to be held to task on this....

Profile Image for Jade Whitmore.
1 review11 followers
December 14, 2014
This is a book everyone needs to read.

Its eye opening, but it doesn't scream of despair. This book logically analyses the current environmental threats, handily referred to as boundaries, and shows how they can be dealt with. Some of the authors recommendations may seem controversial, but I honestly believe he shows a realistic way to resolve environmental issues.

Despite its scientific complexity this book isn't just for graduates. Anyone with a basic scientific understanding or even willingness to learn could cope, even if it means rereading the odd chapter.

All in all, this is a book I would read again, or even just dip into chapters for reminders. I think anyone with an environmental concern, or even without one, should read this book. It might just change your whole outlook on current global issues and how to tackle them for the better.

Profile Image for Elizabeth Hauke.
4 reviews5 followers
September 6, 2012
A very compelling and non-sensational walk through the facts of detrimental human interactions with the earth, which hinges on several key concepts such as the 'tipping point'. It is perhaps a little too detailed for my taste - I found that once the point had been made I wanted to skip on to the next chapter to find out about the next aspect of the problem. However, I did like the practical and down-to-earth suggestion of solutions and actions that could alter the course the planet seems to be set on. Rather importantly, it puts climate change in the context of a larger global set of problems that need highlighting.

This would be a good kindle read, because the paperback is large and unwieldy. You will get thumb-ache reading this edition through the night.
Profile Image for Kathy.
28 reviews2 followers
October 1, 2012
Lynas provides a good overview of the planetary boundaries that we must figure out how to live within, and challenges the assumptions of many environmentalists on what will be needed to achieve those goals. Ultimately it is hopeful, but a little simplistic in places. While he makes a good case for why nuclear power needs to be part of the solution to climate change, he glosses over the problems of nuclear safety and long-term waste management. I can accept that maybe the risks of climate change are greater than these risks, and therefore lesser evils need to be accepted and dealt with, but these are not insignificant.
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