I write this review as a member of Rosie’s Book Review, and I freely chose to review an ARC copy of this non-fiction book.
I must confess to feeling totally unequal to the task of reviewing this book. I did mention that to the author of the book, who insisted that it would be of interest to authors and to the general public, as well as to economist, and particularly to anybody interesting in preserving the environment and finding new (and workable) ways to do it.
I am not an expert in Evolution, Economics, and/or Environmental Sciences, and this book’s approach uses and builds on elements and concepts of all three, so my opinion is far from a knowledgeable one when it comes to evaluating it. All my comments about this book are, as are all reviews, only an expressional as my personal point of view, and in this case I feel particularly unqualified to make an in-depth analysis, as I lack the knowledge required and cannot debate the nitty-gritty details to be able to either agree or disagree with the research. Don’t get me wrong, the basic idea is easy to grasp, but, as usual, the devil is in the detail.
Junglenomics proposes using Nature’s blueprint —the way ecosystems work— to solve the environmental disaster we’re quickly approaching. The author uses evolutionary theory to illustrate how we have got to where we are, explaining that all species are hungry for resources, and that is a normal evolutionary trait. The fact that Homo Sapiens is more successful at it than the rest of the species in our planet, means that we have exploited and accumulated Earth’s resources beyond the point where Nature itself can counteract our actions and re-establish the balance. Although ecosystems can adjust to increases in one bio product or species in different ways, our disruption of our environment has been so quick and drastic, especially in the last couple of centuries that our recent attempts at redress seem to be too-little/too-late.
The author goes on to analyse both, the situation and the attempts at redress, noticing that most have been piecemeal and lacked in a consistent application, for a variety of reasons, but most of all, because rather than appealing to the market (money makes the world go around, let’s not forget, and Lamb makes a good case for how money came to be what it is, a stand-in for our hunger for resources), and trying to find solutions that make sense from an economic point of view (something that will either produce money or reduce costs, or both), so far the focus has been on penalising and restricting practices that, until now, have resulted in great profit and advancement for the markets. Getting a lot of nations, not only developed ones, but also developing nations (that feel they are bearing the brunt of such policies without any of the benefits Western developed nations had had years to reap) to sign up to agreements is difficult, and enforcing them is near impossible, as we have all seen. Rather than accusations and counter-accusations (and the author discusses in detail the reasons for the difficult relationships between ecologists and economists, but also points at some positive recent trends), a combined effort based on a new perspective and understanding of the issues could be the way forward.
This is a book full of gems and information (some totally new to me, and other that I had only heard about in passing), and although what I’ve said might make it sound as if the text deals only in generalities, nothing is further from the truth. The author looks at all (or most) aspects of the question, from climate change (noticing that there is now an extreme focus on that to the detriment of the rest of the imbalances in the ecosystem equation), to waste management (not only factories but also human and animal), not forgetting the pollution of the seas, and the depletion of certain animal species, to name just a few. He highlights organisations, programmes, schemes, industries, and even countries (Costa Rica gets the gold star) that have found workable solutions to some of the problems, proposes specific ways to deal with issues such as funding (issuing bonds, and he mentions war bonds and the similarities with the situation we are in now), the need to find international organizations to monitor the implementation of such plans, and also, the importance of coordinating the efforts and working together at a supranational level.
I am not sure if I am a sceptical who tries hard to give new (and idealistic) proposals a chance, or I’m a dreamer trying hard to be a sceptical. In any case, as I was reading the book, I couldn’t help but write down many of my ideas and my objections/questions in relation the content, and was pleasantly surprised when I discovered that most of them were tackled by the author, who has done much research and has tried to be as even-handed as possible, presenting always the two sides of any argument, and also dealing with the possible criticism and objections. Although his attitude is never complacent and he points out the facts, he does not point the finger of blame at individuals (while he praises those he feels are already applying a Junglenomic-like approach), and despite his realism, he remains optimistic and encouraging.
As I said, I don’t know enough about Economics or Environmental Sciences to offer an informed opinion as to how successful a model Junglenomics would be. It made me think, and at a completely untrained level, the suggestions make sense, although implementing them would be as complicated as the author already envisages. This is clearly a labour of love and much time and effort has gone into the creation of the book and the theoretical/philosophical/practical approach behind it.
Regarding the style of the book, it is not an easy book to read. It is a very ambitious text, and it seems to try to be all things to all people. It does contain some examples and anecdotes to try to make it accessible to all (and it has great quotes in all the chapters), but it also contains tonnes of footnotes, and detailed disquisitions on subjects that are quite specialized, sharing much in common with academic texts (there is an index at the end, and illustrations, charts and diagrams to explain some of the concepts). I kept thinking that a non-expert reader might benefit from more of the examples and stories (we like stories), while if the book is addressed at policy-makers and analysts (both Ecologists and Economists) they wouldn’t necessarily care for the basic explanations. Perhaps two versions, or two separate texts, might achieve both, to reach a wider audience and raise awareness, and to also get into the hands of the people likely to be able to influence policies and induce change. I am sure it would make for a very compelling documentary in the right hands. I’d recommend possible readers to check a sample of the book to decide if they think it would be a good fit for them.
At an anecdotal level, I observed that many of the studies mentioned come from the UK and the European Union (probably down to availability of studies and familiarity with the material, although it does reflect the true situation of the research as well); I wondered about the use of words such as “benign” (it might depend on one’s perspective or definition) and also about the fact that despite trying to be as inclusive and non-Eurocentric as possible, there are topics that are culture-sensitive (the issue of the kinds of animal products used in Chinese Medicine, which he discusses, although I couldn’t help but notice that he uses rabbits as an example of an animal most people would only eat in dire circumstances. I don’t eat any meat, but rabbit is regularly grown for food and eaten in Spain, and I’m sure in other countries as well). I’ve always wondered, when it comes to Ecology, if we can truly observe the ecosystem we’re a part of in any objective manner (we are, indeed, part of the problem, and we know about the observer’s paradox), but…
In summary, this is a book that requires a dedicated reader, keen on digging beyond the surface into the topic of how to save the environment, taking as an example the way ecosystems work (symbiotic relationships in particular) and using sound market strategies. I’ve learned a great deal from it, and I thought I’d leave you with the last quote from the book, a particularly relevant one when it comes to this topic:
I am only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something; and because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do something I can do. Edward Everett Hale
You only need to think of Greta Thunberg (that the author mentions as well).