Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Earth Then and Now: Amazing Images of Our Changing World - Fred Pearce

Summary: Nothing is without cost. Environmental change, industrialization, urbanization, war, travel and tourism, natural disasters: all have a profound effect on our planet.

In 300 stunning before-and-after images Earth Then and Now records the staggering transformation of our world over the past century. On one page a photograph of a part of the world as it was five, twenty, fifty or even 100years ago. On the facing page is the same place as it looks today. The stark visual comparisons tell compelling stories while concise captions explain the facts and leave us to draw our own conclusions.

Thought provoking and unassailable, Earth Then and Now is an important testament to this critical moment in the life of our planet and an alarming reminder of how radically Earth is changing, not necessarily for the better.

My review: Earth Then and Now is packed with “before” and “after” pictures of world-wide locations that have been affected by environmental change, urbanization, land transformation, forces of nature, war and conflict, or leisure and culture. In fact, each of these topics is a section of the book. Pearce gives a small introduction at the beginning of each chapter and then captions the following photographs with little tidbits of information. Earth definitely catalogs what we, the human species, are capable of creating and destroying in regards to our environment. In that respect, it’s a rather depressing book comprised mostly of “look what we did” and “what were we thinking” pictures of environmental changes that ranged from disappearing lakes, dying coral beds, retreating glaciers, and suburban sprawl to mining, land reclamation, deforestation, natural disasters, the effects of tourism, and the ravages of war. While there were a few positive, restorative projects thrown in every now and then--they were few and far between.

I’m going to say this once, and people are going to jump all over my case for it, so get ready. I’m not sure I buy the whole global warming thing. WHAT!??!!? (you ask) HOW CAN SHE NOT BUY IT!?!?!? IT’S GOING TO DESTROY THE EARTH AND WE’RE ALL GOING TO DIE! Oh, I believe that we’re experiencing a warming trend, and we’re definitely responsible for a lot of what’s going on, but I’m just not entirely sure that it’s as all-fired bad as it is getting portrayed by our lovely and entirely unbiased media. That having been said, this book is the closest that I’ve ever come to buying it. The pictures provide seemingly incontrovertible proof of a massive global warming trend. There. I said it. That kind of stung.

One issue I have with this book (and this only applies to certain sections) is that by having only a “then” and “now” picture, you are only plotting TWO points on the graph. If we’re talking about something like smog, ice, or water temperature, I need to know if, in the years between Point A and Point B, there was any other activity. Perhaps the water temperature has gone up and down and Pearce just caught it on a bad year, or in the wrong season. I think that while two points may indicate a change, you must have more points plotted to PROVE it.

I couldn’t help but feel that the author heartily disapproved of many of the modern conveniences like bridges and roads. Nearly every landscape alteration was considered to be “our fault” (okay, most actually were) and if we didn’t do them directly, then they were attributed to something that we did—ie. natural disasters are our fault because of what we have done to destabilize the Earth. It seemed Pearce would prefer for us all to live in little huts and bicycle to work on small dirt paths. While I understand the need for conservation of and responsibility for our resources, I am not necessarily of the zero carbon footprint mentality. It sounds an awful lot like the “let them eat cake” of Marie Antoinette. It’s asking for something that just won’t ever happen. Any time a person builds something in nature, there will be some sort of effect and displacement. So either we all just kill ourselves now, or we find some way to co-exist within our environment. I think our job, as human beings, is to limit the effect we have on the environment and try to balance the scales in terms of our own eco-responsibility.

Finally, I was also a bit let down by any lack of concluding remarks. Like having no conclusion to your thesis paper...it felt oddly unfinished. Still, this book was full of fascinating pictures that I've never seen before and tidbits of historical information and, though it’s not an upper, it’s definitely worth thumbing through.

My rating: 3 Stars. An interesting book, worth at least a one time read (or look).

Sum it up: Look what we have done. We're all going to die. It's not going to be pretty.


Sweet Em said...

So, how much of this book had to do with the "debatable" global warming issue and how much had to do with other environmental impacts that humans have had?

I think people get so caught up in the global warming issue and forget that even if THAT is a total farce we still have a responsibility to be stewards of this land. The environmental effects humans have had may not CAUSE the end of the world, but we certainly are going to have some explaining to do...

Sounds like an interesting book. I am nearly finished with a book about 3rd world slums that I thought wouldn't fit on this blog, but perhaps I'll review it here, nonetheless.

MindySue said...

Pages 20-66 were Environmental Change (pretty much all attributed to global warming). It was stated as fact and not so much as a possibility.
66-117 was Urbanization and it's effects on the earth
118-161 was Land Transformation (how we've physically changed the landscape to better suit our needs)
162-207 was Forces of Nature (any weather related phenomenon and their increase was attributed to global warming or something similar)
208-245 War and Conflict (no real global warming discussed here
246-280 Leisure and Culture (how we've changed the landscape to accommadate our need for a good vacation spot...and thus ruined good vacation spots.

You thought your book about third world slums wouldn't fit on this blog?!?!? I'm seriously (well not SO seriously) offended. All kinds of book are welcome. EVEN your erotica. ;)

Sweet Em said...

I bought the book at the American Institute of Architects Convention book store. That pretty much guarantees most people wouldn't be interested in it. That I didn't consider it for this blog is actually a compliment :P

MindySue said...

then I will take it as such!!!


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