Ehrlich, P. R., & Ehrlich, A. H. (1991). Healing the planet; strategies for resolving the environmental crisis. United States: Addison-Wesley Publishing Company: Stanford, CA, United States.
The book explores the issue of overpopulation and global challenges related to unsustainable agriculture; land, air, and water pollution; global warming; ozone layer depletion; and energy consumption. The authors provide far-reaching remedies to the many environmental problems that have resulted from overconsumption together with use of faulty technologies.
Reviewing this book is of huge significance in light of the increasing immediate and future negative impacts of human activities to the entire ecological system, which in turn threaten the life and health of humans, people, and animals on the planet. This far, no single government has achieved in creating a sustainable development strategy targeted at seeking a way of economic advancement that does not compromise the welfare of the subsequent generations. Healing the Planet is a book that contributes significantly to the development of this agenda. The book is also an easy read and offers priceless information relating to the looming environmental crisis, its triggers together with potential strategies to tackling it. The co-authors of the environmental book highlight the problematic environmental issues in an effort to convince the reader of the apparent seriousness and ubiquity of the prevailing situation.
The thesis of the book is well developed and argued in the 65 pages of valuable notes and references. The authors’ positive thesis propagates the idea that it is possible to ‘escape the environmental crisis, while preserving a marked-based economic system’ (Ehrlich & Ehrlich, 1992). The Elhrlichs hold that the human population is dangerously high, posing a direct threat to continued survival of the planet’s environment as well as the human’s themselves. The issue of human overpopulation thus serves as the foundation of the book’s subsequent chapters that address matters of life support systems; the effect of high energy consumption to the environment; the problem of global warming; the impact on the ozone layer; issues of land, air, and water pollution; increasing stress on land resources; the problem of unsustainable agriculture; and finally the risk-benefit decisions to the subject matter.
The authors use prevailing evidence at the time to justify their argument of the impact of human overpopulation on the environment. Averagely, each American, in terms of commercial energy use, is responsible for 70 times as much environmental degradation as a Laotian or Ugandan; 20 times more than an Indian; approximately twice as much Japanese, the Britons, Australia, Sweden, or France; and 10 times as much as Chinese. Taken from this perspective, therefore, United States is described as the most overpopulated country in the world. The average American is thought to “consume more of the world’s resources compared to the average citizen of any other big ten nations” (Ehrlich & Ehrlich, 1992). United States is thus argued to bear the largest impact on the planet’s environment along with limited resources because of its great influence on the global stage, high population, as well as highest use of damaging technologies. Interestingly, the book also draws evidence from historical events, for instance the Persian Gulf war and other medieval events that contributed to environmental damage (Ehrlich & Ehrlich, 1992).
The book also notes that all human beings are currently faced with common challenge of how to manage the looming and seemingly inevitable population and economic expansion on the one hand, and stepping down the whole effect on the environment on the other. The book regards as highly misleading the existing argument that the present market mechanisms are best placed to allocate resources in the right manner in the face of numerous global externalities. Furthermore, the authors vehemently dismiss the notion that advanced technology has in itself the infinite capability to restore or curtail the adverse consequences of environmental degradation (Cairns Jr., 1992).
The ultimate chapter of the books discusses the remedies to environmental damage that can be undertaken by scientists, engineers, governments, teachers, and individuals across the globe towards achieving a desirable ecological transformation. To attain this, the authors are of the opinion that humans need to take full control of their long-term future and avert the sorry state of affairs through three elements involved in the equation: (i) managing the rapid population growth; (ii) undertaking significant reductions in consumption by the rich; and (iii) adopting overly environment-friendly technologies (Ehrlich & Ehrlich, 1992). In addition, the authors put forward a number of proposals for averting the human problem and realizing a sustainable society. The Elhrlichs call for more ecological education; significant changes in the norms, values and beliefs of people especially the western culture; forging global cooperation and management of carbon, CFs and related emissions; undertaking environmental economics through internationalization of environmental costs into prices in the marketplace; forming and implementing relevant environmental security policy; and undertaking military conversion (Cairns Jr., 1992).
Paul and Anne Ehrlich summarize the problem of environmental degradation through the equation “I=PAT”, (Environmental Impact = Population X Affluence X Technology), where T increases with increase in P (Ehrlich & Ehrlich, 1992).
Criticism of the book
The weaknesses of the book arise from the thesis itself, which is too positive or optimistic in a rather unrealistic way. Chapter 2 describes the Holdren scenario, summarizing a rather optimistic scenario for the Earth planet on basis of maximizing the efficiency of energy utilization. The authors argue that less developed nations have the potential to develop their individual per-capita energy user by as much as 2% annually between the period 1990 and 2025, whilst developed countries could attain a similar 2% reduced a year via increased efficiency. This is highly unrealistic because of the existing capitalist-orientated economy-cum-liberal modeled society that favors maximal economic profit and highest regard for individual freedom and pursuit of self-interest, and global technology race, it is highly unlikely that sustainable development can be universally adopted in the world (Klein, 1994). Although it is true that high-tech, sustainable technologies have significant potential to ensure efficient and responsible use of natural resources, they also would require power and resources. While stepping down the high affluence level especially in developed nations would serve to decrease the human effect on the environment, revising downwards the standard of living in the developed countries or indeed anywhere else is practically not realistic (Klein, 1994). However, the authors get right by suggesting that the human impact on their environment can be reduced by reducing or controlling the global population growth.
In the same light, it seems practically impossible to completely close the wide gap between the super rich and the most poor in a world setting where the wealthiest nations are literally living off the poor countries and whilst certain life standards are regarded as appropriate (Klein, 1994). As such, only the selected few can maintain the best life standards through exclusion of the majority from having a fair share of the natural resources at their disposal.
In making proposals for a sustainable ecological system, the book is typically advancing the argument of the United States on the role of an individual country to check the massive environmental damage. It is argued that protection of the environment would only be achievable if there is international action by states to that effect. This is problematic because of the apparent lack of a central authority in charge of environmental protection among the world countries.
While the general thesis of the book is well developed and argued, the reader is not clear on where to start the treatment. The title and thesis notwithstanding, the authors dwell more on the problems as compared to solutions besides the apparent lack of in-depth strategies for implementation of the suggested remedies. It is evident that the authors are more concerned with producing a rigorous, near academic evaluation of the general challenge of realizing the continuity of the ecosystem and the human problem. To a larger extent, the environmental alarms raised by the authors sound like a replica of many other recent literatures on the topic.
The “Healing the planet; strategies for resolving the environmental crisis” has had valuable contribution to the climate and environment debate. There has been development of new resource-conserving and pollution-reducing technologies in the recent past and is bound to continue in going forth. However, the environmental issue is bound to remain unresolved owing to a multiplicity of factors which include: individual national environment policies remaining prone to undermining from neighboring nations; cheaper pollutant products in the marketplace; lack of international protection for global environmental goods such as water bodies and air.
The book is a good academic resource that students around the world can turn on to become environmentally literate and in turn communicate the information to the masses. It is a book that cites notable economic advisors, professions, and even newspaper reports which provides helpful environmental information to the reader.