What's Really Happening to Our Planet? The Facts Simply Explained

A review of 'What's Really Happening to Our Planet? The Facts Simply Explained' by Tony Juniper (Dorling Kindersley, 2016, 224pp, _12.99)

Diana Korchien
Tue 24 Jan 2017

Serried ranks of gleaming vehicles at rest or on the move, gigantic jigsaw puzzles of industrial farming, spiralling smoke spewing from Indonesia's megafires, dramatically receding Arctic ice: these are all significant fragments of the big picture.

What's Really Happening to our Planet weaves together all of these fragments into a coherent 224-page expose of our existential predicament. There are three broad sections: 'Drivers of Change' (our escalating consumption of food, water, energy, 'things', greatly exacerbated by economic and population growth); 'Consequences of Change' (some good for humans, like cheap, instant communications and the democratisation of air travel, and many definitely bad for the planet, most notably climate change); and finally, 'Bending the Curves', on possible solutions.

Although a worthwhile addition to a school library, I have some reservations. The excessively hygienic infographics seem to favour a state of absolute emotional detachment from our planetary emergency - not a good idea if action is sorely needed. Disappointingly few pointers are given for any personal actions: clean energy providers and recycling have already been with us for years, and buying an electric vehicle is still well beyond the means of most.

On the plus side, I learned some unexpected facts, and in 'Bending the Curves', I discovered a concept that we Greens ought to keep at the forefront of every policy decision: 'doughnut economics'. From UK economist Kate Raworth, it gives equal weight to social and ecological factors.

With this latest effort to disentangle an immensely complex predicament, Juniper tries to kickstart a popular surge for positive change. He states: 'When the big drivers of change (such as population and economic growth) are placed next to the consequences of change (including negative ones such as climate change and positive ones such as on average better living conditions) then it becomes clear that while there is much to be celebrated from recent decades of progress, our present method of improving people's lives cannot continue' (italics mine).

But will the public and the politicians willingly submit to an end to the era of 'progress' as we know it? And if so, when?