"State of the World 1986" and "World Enough and Time" continue the long tradition of "globalist" studies first launched by the Club of Rome and the Brandt Commission. Both books attempt to examine how the economic and resource demands of a burgeoning world population affects the world's natural resource base and global ecosystem and present broad recommendations for policy action.
Of the two books, "State of the World" is by far the most provocative. One of its central conclusions, that global "security" will increasingly become more affected by environmental and economic concerns than by military issues, goes far in establishing a new national security agenda for all aspirants in the 1988 presidential elections.
However, despite some bold insights and excellent argumentation, the book wallows around with little direction or organization. The chapters are uncoordinated and rarely tie in with other subjects, almost as if they were written as separate articles for outside publications, but at the last moment thrown together. The fact that the PBS' series NOVA intends to highlight the work's conclusions in a series of broadcasts makes this deficiency particularly alarming. In other places, the chapters are redundant, often overlapping in content. For example, ecological problems are discussed in at least three chapters, often repeating information found elsewhere. The chapters on "Reversing Africa's Decline" and "Managing Rangelands" suffer similar redundancy.
The main problem of this book is the failure to tie together the various (and wide-ranging) topics to the goals set out in the introduction. Too often the chapters are well researched and provide details as to problems but offer few conclusions. Only "Assessing Ecological Decline" by Lester Brown and Edward Wolf (Chapter II), avoids this pitfall and provides an excellent inter-disciplinary analysis of the economic costs, social consequences and political fallout arising from ecological decline.
"Moving Beyond Oil" by Dr. Christopher Flavin (Chapter V) is particularly vexing. While the environmental benefits of alternative energy sources are discussed glowingly--especially vis-a-vis conventional fuels such as nuclear power--nowhere is there more than passing mention of the fact that geothermal energy brings large quantities of arsenic and hydrogen sulfide to the surface, which poses considerable hazardous waste disposal problems or that the use of firewood has led to massive deforestation throughout the Third World and to air pollution alerts in Montana, Colorado and New England. Likewise, Flavin's statement that most renewable energy technologies will be able economically to compete on their own without tax credits in a few years is problematic given rapidly falling oil prices. The analysis in this chapter also suffers from some confusion as to real and constant dollars.
Likewise, Flavin's statement that without improvements in energy efficiency U.S. energy consumption would have been 10 mmb/d (million barrels per day) higher in 1984, downplays the dynamic role that nuclear power and coal have played in reducing oil consumption throughout the world. He seems also to have given no weight to the role that global recession (of the late 1970s and early 1980s) has played in reducing energy consumption.
Furthermore, Flavin's praise for renewable energy sources in meeting world energy needs seems to overlook the fact that 19 mmb/d equivalent of wood fuel and agricultural and human waste consumed in the world are both denuding the global environment and keeping valuable nutrients from being returned to the soil. Likewise, by using statistics for high hydropower generating years, he neglects to note what happens in drought years in many parts of the world or that many hydro-units need back-up thermal-power units to provide reliable generation. His systematic neglect of the major contribution of nuclear power to global energy supplies is a serious omission.
"Reforming the Electric Power Industry" (Chapter VI) suffers similar difficulties. By not addressing the implications of falling oil prices on the economics of many small scale power generators, the analysis is seriously flawed.
Most puzzling is the inclusion of a chapter on the health hazards of tobacco. The chapter takes on a crusading bent and often becomes so excited that it makes scientific statements of fact that, while perhaps true, have been challenged in other studies. On balance, the inclusion of this chapter in such a broad-based study seems out of place.
"State of the World," while of analytical interest, screams out for better organization and more efficient utilization of an editor's pen.