Product Reviews from a Scientific Perspective

Monday, January 24, 2011

Book Review of The Constant Economy, by Zac Goldsmith - Part I

Book Review and Summary of The Constant Economy by Zac Goldsmith
conservative environmentalism
Zac Goldsmith, editor of the Ecologist magazine and current Conservative prospective parliamentary candidate in Britain, outlines a number of political policies designed to move industrialized countries (focusing on Britain in particular) towards a more sustainable economy. In addition, he compiles many critical facts that demonstrate the absolute necessity of change. His book, The Constant Economy, incorporates these facts and ideas into one practical vision for an economically-stable, environmentally-sustainable economy.

As a British politician, Goldsmith goes into detail into fixing Britain’s particular problems through Britain’s particular governmental structure. However, I’ve generalized his ideas for the purposes of this review.
One of the themes of Goldsmith’s recommended policies is the idea that governments should set
standards, but not regulate the specifics of how these standards should be met. Some of these mechanisms include increasing taxes on heavier polluters or simply fining them. Government should also set up a commission to assess our progress in important areas regarding the environment. Goldsmith exemplifies Germany as a country that sets standards and, due to the lack of regulation allowing for greater innovation, achieves those standards far faster than Britain has.

Goldsmith also criticizes GDP, noting that it does not account for quality of life, nor factor in the loss of natural resources as a subtraction from its bottom line. [Click here to hear Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz talk about why GDP is actually harmful to use]. This mentality spreads to how we conceptualize our food supply; we produce many cheap grain crops, which lack the nutritional benefits of vegetables and fruits. This type of diet in turn potentially causes many behavioral problems, as studies show that proper dieting improves behavior in prisoners.

Another cornerstone of Goldsmith’s recommendations is a shift of taxes and subsidies away from harmful business practices and towards greener business practices.

Goldsmith also debunks many myths regarding food supply and population demands. For one, organic farming can actually produce more than three times the crop yield of industrial farming. In addition, while industrial farming destroys the land, organic farming does not. The only drawback is that organic farming is more labor intensive than industrial farming, requiring the payment of more workers, leading to less profit for the corporate farmer. Furthermore, genetically-modified foods do not actually increase crop yield, and are no solution to the mythical overpopulation problem. [Given these facts, I argue that there is indeed no overpopulation problem, and such a myth was perpetuated by corporate farmers and companies that develop sell pesticides, genetically-modified foods, and other agricultural technologies, to sell products and obtain government subsidies.]  In fact, genetically-modified foods have not been adequately tested for health and ecological problems. “It is known, for instance, that more than 1% of 3-year-old American girls show signs of puberty. Could that be linked to GM soya-based infant formula which has raised levels of oestrogen? We don’t know, and without rigorous studies, we will never know. Incidences of food-related illness in the US have doubled since GM was first introduced.”

Goldsmith presents important facts that link our health to the amount of pollution in our environments. For example, there has been a steady increase in cancer, which is not due to longer lives; childhood cancers have been increasing by 1% each year since the fifties. In contrast, cancer rate is near zero in peoples who live a more traditional, ‘primitive’ lifestyle. There are currently 100,000 man-made chemicals used in the environment, with 1,000 added each year. These chemicals also have synergistic reactions with each other that are unpredictable, yet we obviously do not test them. We find these chemicals everywhere, including blood, raindrops, house dust, breast milk, and in unborn babies. Goldsmith concludes that these chemicals should be considered guilty until proven innocent.

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