Non-Fiction Reviews

Vital Signs: The Trends That Are Shaping Our Future 2003/4

(2003) Worldwatch Institute, Earthscan, 14.94, pbk, 153 pp, ISBN 1-844-07021-2

Since its launch in 1992, the Vital Signs series of annual profiles of key statistics fundamental to the well-being of our global society, hence planet, continues to prove most popular. Indeed in recent years (since the 2001 edition) the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has been associated with its production. If you are not familiar with the series, each volume consists of an introductory overview followed by double page spreads which dominate the book. On the right hand page graphs (and associated tables of data) are reproduced of key indicators, while on the left hand page there is a summary explanation as to why the graphs are shaped the way they are. There are several key indicators so covered in half a dozen sections. Sections include: agriculture and food; the economy; energy and atmosphere; the environment; and society and human well-being. Within these sections indicators include: population; grain production; global economy; fossil fuel use and so forth.

If you are familiar with the series then you will know that each edition has a number of specials (special sections) and sometimes updates of previous specials that ran a few years earlier. Consequently while it is possible to miss the occasional edition in terms of the regular features, the specials do add value to each edition. This year's specials include: bird species decline; islands threatened by sea-level rise; farm subsidies; alternative medicine; maternal deaths; harvesting of illegal drugs, military expenditure, and AIDS orphans. All in all, both specials and regulars, some 38 key indicators as to the state of the planet are measured in addition to more detailed indicators within each category.

The series is well worth having by anyone capable of appreciating quantitative data, who have a concern for our planet and where our global society is going. Yes, I'm sure you know the broad picture, but are you aware of the detail as to exactly where we are and where we are going? Vital Signs is most useful if you are writing SF that concerns itself with our current (and possible future) global development. But be warned, your interpretation may well be scarier than a Stephen King novel.

Jonathan Cowie

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