Non-Fiction Reviews


Vital Signs 2002-2003

The trends that are shaping our future

(1997) Worldwatch Institute, Earthscan, 14.95, pbk pp214, ISBN 1-85383-918-3

We all know that there are environmental and biological problems that need addressing. Population growth, atmospheric carbon dioxide build-up, encouraging renewable energy, getting the meat and grain balance in the global diet so that we reduce obesity, deforestation, tackling AIDS etc., etc. But how exactly has the population grown since the beginning and end of the last century? Ditto atmospheric carbon dioxide? How many tonnes of meat was produced last year? How much artificial sweetener was bought? What was round wood production? How many hectares of forest was lost? Have the number of those acquiring AIDS peaked? Need to know? Well Vital Signs is an excellent annual series of key global data from the Worldwatch Institute in the US. Much of the book contains a page of description opposite a page of tables and graphs. This means that the reader can either have an in-depth explanation as to what is going on or can quickly visually scan the hard data. Each annual volume of Vital Signs has its regular features and each has its special features. The 2002-2003 volume has a raft of special features on: the environment; economics and finance; resource economics; health; and social features. An appendix at the back tells you in which editions there have been other special features so if you do build up your own series (or go to the library) you can quickly find a range of information. Vital Signs is especially useful for those not only into environmental issues, and wish to discuss them authoritatively, but wish to write environmental science fiction with authority, as armed with this volume you will have a body or research already done for you. Alternativel, as a dry read, the book's statistics paint a picture of current human ecology. And in case you are wondering, yes, it is a little frightening. Grain production per person has peaked the passed couple of decades and is in decline; oil and gas consumption is increasing as if there is no tomorrow; renewable energy generation is growing exponentially; about 25 million have died of AIDS since 1983 while the cumulative total of infections is around 63 million; and car production is close to the 2000 peak of 41 million. But you'll have to get Vital Signs to get a more complete picture.

Jonathan Cowie


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