Page 6, 9th June 1972

9th June 1972
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Page 6, 9th June 1972 — Debunking the horror story
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Debunking the horror story

The Doomsday Syndrome, by John Maddox (Macmillan, £2.95) Only One Earth, by Barbara Ward and Rene Dubos (Andre Deutsch, 12.95 and Penguin Books, 45p) 'ARLIER this year, when L'A "Blueprint for Survival" came out. it was taken up as their standard by the radical ecologists who, with all the intolerant enthusiasm of converts to a new religion. were forthright in their condemnations of those who had gone before them.

Prominent among their targets was the scientific journal Nature.

Now that the dust of battle has cleared a bit, the many deficiencies of the Blueprint have been observed, and even so well known an ecologist as Sir Frank Fraser Darling has voiced fears of an environmental backlash. Chiming in appropriately enough with this more balanced atmosphere of debate comes a chance for the editor of Nature, John Maddox, to defend his views on the dangers to, and prospects of, the world we live in.

Mr. Maddox has little patience with many of the prophets of doom. To Dr. Paul Ehrlich's horror story of "the cancer of population growth" he retorts that "the pressures of the growing population of the world on . . . natural resources and the environment will grow, but there is nothing to suggest that they will be insupportable."

To forecasters of famine, he rejoins that they "can be taken seriously only by choosing to ignore the evidence now accumulating that the next few decades are likely to be decades cf plenty."

Mr. Maddox even raises the alarming suggestion of a pessimist establishment, relying on doom to ensure its survival. For example, he accuses the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation of having "in its time, done as much as anybody to cast a baleful influence on public discussion of food supply . . . More recently the FAO has fortunately been more willing to look its own facts ... in the face."

The FAO might, he continues, have been quicker to claim success if it had appreciated more clearly that "its own existence does not inextricably depend on the perpetuation of hunger."

Environmental forecasting is still an inexact science, of course, and the doomsters may be right; but it is 'encouraging to see some authorities willing to defend the right of the world to hope. Only One Earth is an enjoyably thorough and wellwritten background book to this year's United Nations conference on the human environment, one of whose co authors, Barbara Ward, represented the Vatican at UNCTAD in Chile, earlier in the year.

It offers an unusually cornpact, yet comprehensive, conspectus of the whole industrialtechnical revolution, through, which man has moved from "the Arcadian simplicities of farming and colic" to his modern metamorphosis into "a new species of centaur half man, half automobile" and to situations where the fate of rivers "along which lovers might formerly have wandered" depend on "A bold economic equation that balances the increase in sewage costs against the decline in lyric poetry."

These quotations are typical of the brisk, refreshing style with which the authors have taken the trouble to make readable, immediate and relevant a crucial subject which others, unfortunately. seem anxious to make the preserve of a private. ecological oligarchy.

These three authors are to be congratulated, David Crawford




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