Reading list: June and July / by Simmon Li

I forgot to post my reading list for June, oh my. Here's what I read in June:

Peak Everything, The Omnivore's Dilemma and The Plundered Planet.

Peak Everything

Pretty interesting book. It was a bit more research paper oriented than a lot of the other books I've read. A lot of interesting studies, and facts. He advocates a switch away from non-renewable to renewable sources of energy. One interesting thing is that he lumps nuclear as an non-renewable source. It put nuclear into a new light for me. If you think about it, uranium is a non-renewable resource. The advantage of nuclear right now is that it doesn't add to the CO2 emissions problem that we have right now. He was very interested in the whole move away from oil and carbon based energies but the book doesn't really provide a solution to the problem. He talks about the whole boomer generation, and how they used a lot of fuel. There was an interested paper he included on (more or less) the politics (or words) of the switch away from oil heavy energy consumption. The book itself is very well researched and written, but there is a lack of a clear conclusion. I drew from the book that we've got to change the way we think about energy consumption (psychological), and how we act about it (political). Other than that, it wasn't a very exhilarating ending. Kind of reminds me of the ending for energy obesity, except that book had a bit more of a clear "let's do this!". I will say, however, this book was very well researched and an excellent read none the less.

The Omnivore's Deliemma

This book was very fascinating. I couldn't put it down, actually. Basically, Pollan follows the food chain of 4 meals that you can get. This book was a very eye opening experience. From the corn that fuels the meat industry, to the struggle of big vs small organic, and finally, his adventure hunting. The most telling part of the book was the whole meat industry part. The idea that corn underpins most of the meat that we get was a little disturbing to me. The nice thing about this book was that Pollan kind of gives people a way into a better way of eating in this book. With the local, organic food movement, he talks about urban families pooling together to buy in bulk, thus making the farmer's trip worth it. He talks about farmer's markets, and other initiatives to get local, organic food to people. Anyway, a very very excellent read, I loved this book.

The Plundered Planet

The second Paul Collier book I've read now. I have to say this book was fantastic. It still deals with the issue of poverty in Africa, but it puts an interesting spin on the whole thing by mashing it with the whole sustainability movement that's going on. He makes some fantastic points about how oil and natural resource rents are mis-appropriated and how we are leaving nothing for the future of Africa. In the end, I felt the book focused more on the economics side of the coin than the climate change side of the coin. While he does offer some suggestions to make the development of Africa more green, the general idea of the book I got was that while oil and natural resources are finite, if we use them responsibly, we can eventually ween off of them, and begin to develop sustainable alternatives to them. For example, the natural resources business: Collier suggests that governments should exploit them in such a way that invests in the future. It's interesting, Paul talks about the 3 big romanticisms that is holding back development for Africa. The first one stuck with me: the idea that local, organic farming is better than industrial agriculture. On this one, I am a bit torn. I feel as though the scale of the farms is important. He mentions that he and another researcher named Hans Binswanger disagree on the scale. I'm with Hans on this one, I think the smaller the scale, the better for the local economy. I do understand Paul's point though. Larger scale farms can leverage economies of scale, and produce more food. However, I think it's important to remember here that production isn't everything. Underlying the smaller farms is the idea of a more local community, and what Hans says, it leads to more fulfillment.  The second: the ban on genetically modified foods, and how they may we unhealthy. On this one, I'm with him. I think the ban on genetically modified foods is silly. The last romanticism is the idea that bio-fuels will get us out of this oil mess. I agree with him. Using corn to make bio-fuel cuts into food supply, and quite frankly, bio-fuels are like the tar sands of the oil industry. In fact, I'm not even sure (as I haven't read up on anything) that they are a positive return on net energy. Anyway, I thought this book was interesting. Paul is decidedly a realist when it comes to the development of Africa, and I liked that he was encouraging the responsible investment of natural resources. To paraphrase Paul: while Africa drilling for oil isn't the best thing in an ideal world; in an ideal world, Africa would be developed. Anyway, a good read if you're interested in the African poverty issue, not so much an environmentalist book, though he does a good enough job of appealing to that side of the coin.

Up for July:

The World is Flat. It's a monster of a book, so I'm going to take it slowly. Seems really interesting so far.