Three generations left: human activity and the destruction of the planet: review by Caroline Whyte
This review was first published on the FEASTA website.
The author of this book, Dr Christine Parkinson, was first inspired to write about climate change while visiting social missions organised by women around the world in 1994. She was very troubled by the great haze of pollution that she noticed hovering over the cities that she visited, and equally disturbed by the extreme poverty that she witnessed.
But as with so many of us, she became preoccupied with dealing with other challenges in the intervening years. Now the time has come tor her to examine the causes of these problems in more detail and to look for solutions.
The book particularly emphasises the relationships between the severe problems we’re facing. Each of the first seven chapters focusses on a different challenge, with the final two chapters looking at solutions. There’s a helpful summary at the end of every chapter, in a table format, and much evocative use of graphics and other images.
So what are these severe problems? Climate change is high on the list; the first chapter describes how we’ve severely disrupted the ‘harmony of nature’. The title of the book refers to the grave risk we now face of wiping ourselves out in the near future. Other chapters examine the role played by the industrial revolution; the concepts of progress and unrestricted freedom; trading systems, deficits and the concept of growth; world human population; conflict, weaponry and war; and the economy.
There was much useful information in these, some of which I hadn’t come across before and some of which I was happy to find in a condensed form that will make it easy to refer to. There were also good insights sprinkled in along the way.
Among the gems of information there was a discussion of the relationship between Australia and the UK, and how that has coloured the UK’s relationship with the EU right from the beginning. Apparently Australia was strongly opposed to Britain joining the EU when this was first mooted, as it believed its own trade with the UK would be affected – which is true – and the Australian-owned rightwing press in the UK has continued over the decades to push a virulently anti-EU agenda, lately with considerable success.
Of course, as Parkinson points out, all overseas trade needs to be critiqued because of the effect it has on emissions and other environmental damage it causes. Countries need to work on developing self-sufficiency in goods that are vital to survival. Trade, she points out, has had as strong an influence on the climate as industrialisation.
Another helpful section for me was the overview of the UN and its attempts to regulate climate action and other kinds of environmental protection. I was glad to see that the COP-21 got some fairly strong criticism. Parkinson suggests that, given the UN’s failings, another body may have to take on the role of climate guardian on a global level.
The global climate commons trust, which members of the Feasta climate group are promoting as part of our CapGlobalCarbon initiative, would play exactly this role. I was happy to see that CapGlobalCarbon gets a mention in the book, along with many other good initiatives, and that Richard Douthwaite, the late co-founder of Feasta and one of the earliest to examine and critique the idea that economic growth is a good in itself, gets several mentions. There’s even a lengthy citation from his book The Growth Illusion.
I thought there were a few inconsistencies here and there in the book. It makes a good case in chapter 4 that economic growth does not equate with progress, yet continues to refer here and there to growth in a way that implies that it’s inherently desirable. There’s also some ambiguity in the discussion of population and income and their relative effects on climate change. And finally, the term ‘market economy’ is often used in a spirit of criticism but I had the impression that the author isn’t against all trade, certainly not locally-based trade. It would have been helpful to tease this out more.
I also would have appreciated more exploration of the roots of human violence. Parkinson criticises the media, particularly Hollywood, for equating male sexuality with violence, but it would have been useful to discuss other forces at work here too, including a lack of conflict-resolution skills and general emotional immaturity. Similarly, the suggestion crops up here and there in the book that greed is a universal human condition which can only ever be tempered (presumably by means of some kind of obligation or force) – it can’t be got rid of altogether. But greed – and violence – can also be regarded as a type of addiction which, like other addictions, is symptomatic of mental illness and needs to be treated as such.
The book ends with a powerful quote from Devinder Sharma on the effects of climate change in India, which vividly evokes the reality which many people are already facing. It provides a helpful grounding to all of the more abstract facts discussed in the book, concentrating the mind on the need to find solutions – fast.
All in all, this book provides a very useful summing-up of the problems we’re facing and helped me to focus on how we can move on.
Three generations left: human activity and the destruction of the planet by Dr Christine Parkinson. New Generation Publishing, 2016.
Featured image: drought affected area in Karnataka, India, 2012. Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Drought_in_India#/media/File:Drought_affected_area_in_Karnataka,_India,_2012.jpg
About the author
Caroline Whyte collaborated with Richard Douthwaite on an online update of his book Short Circuit: Strengthening Local Economies in an Unstable World in 2002-3 and went on to study ecological economics at Mälardalen University in Sweden in 2005-6, writing a masters thesis on the relationship between central banking and sustainability.
She compiled the conclusion for Feasta’s 2011 book Fleeing Vesuvius and was a contributor to the Feasta Climate Group’s book Sharing for Survival in 2012. She lives in central France, from where she edits the Feasta website.