Bankrupting Nature: Denying our Planetary Boundaries

Alex Blake reviews Bankrupting Nature: Denying our Planetary Boundaries

Bankrupting NatureBankrupting Nature: Denying our Planetary Boundaries
Authors: Anders Wijkman and Johan Rockström
Pub: Routledge
Price: £24.99 

With sights set high, Swedish authors Anders Wijkman and Johan Rockström attempt to tackle a multitude of environmental problems. As they point out, this is not a book about climate change; rather, climate change is just one of the many ailments facing the world at present that need immediate attention.

They argue that we have entered the ‘Anthropocene’ era, where humanity is the dominant force on the planet, bringing its own challenges to be faced. To that end, the authors cover a wide range of topics, from man-made climate change and population expansion, to the failings of free market capitalism and the ‘myth’ of infinite economic growth. These must all be remedied, they argue, if we are to avoid disaster in the future.

Wijkman and Rockström assert that rather than separately measuring environmental impacts (greenhouse gas emissions, biodiversity loss, etc) and working to minimise their impacts, we should look at how we can guarantee human development on a limited planet – the environmental impacts must be taken as a whole within the context of human development.

This idea is crying out for further development, but sadly makes only fleeting appearances in the text. It is rarely touched upon in any great depth and only makes a significant appearance in chapter five.

This article was taken from Issue 72

Yet there are other strong points. In a blistering attack on climate deniers, the authors dismantle the arguments of the sceptics and urge governments to ‘listen to the natural scientists’. They lay a chunk of the blame squarely at the feet of the media, which they believe misrepresents the overwhelming scientific evidence backing climate change by presenting the deniers as ‘equal actor[s]’, deserving of equal air time.

The authors’ style is eloquent and their arguments convincing. They refuse to confine their work to one topic alone, instead pressing the claim that the earth faces a mass of problems that must be tackled together. Despite remaining frank on the momentous challenges facing humanity, they are positive that much can be done – ‘opportunities abound’ and ‘another world is possible’, they remind us: nothing will be done if our outlook is pessimistic.

However, with so many different and divergent subjects, the overall effect makes for a slightly disjointed book, and a sense that the chapters were written separately and in isolation. Adding to this problem, the chapter order at times feels strange. For example, chapter nine covers climate deniers, chapter ten is a brief description of the greenhouse effect, then chapter eleven returns to climate deniers. Why is the explanation of the greenhouse effect wedged in between these two chapters, and why is it not at the beginning of the book?

Yet if the book at times suffers from organisational problems, this should not take away from the strength of the content itself. This is an ambitious publication that reminds us that humanity’s tasks are great, but by no means out of its reach. It demands attention.