Book review: Vital signs: volume 20 from The Worldwatch Institute

11th February 2014

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Vital signs: volume 20

The Worldwatch Institute / Island Press / £11.99 / ISBN: 978-1-6109-1456-7

This book is the latest in a series launched in 1992 by The Worldwatch Institute. It brings together articles published online to summarise global trends under broad headings covering energy, climate, food, economy, resources and society. Written in plain English, the bite-sized chapters are easy to read and understand.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the book reveals that trends in production and consumption continue upwards, despite recent financial turmoil. While this may suggest cause for celebration at our ability to improve resource efficiency, some of the supporting statistics are startling. Milk output per cow in the US, for example, has increased threefold over the past 50 years, and 72% of global poultry production is now in concentrated animal feeding operations.

Such statistics are underlined by an analysis of the negative consequences of these developments on the climate, the natural environment, public health, social justice and animal welfare.

Underpinning the entire book is a call to reconnect production with local communities and the natural world to ensure real and lasting sustainability.

Vital signs will interest decision makers in business or government, as well as those engaged with sustainability. In particular, I recommend it to anyone whose commitment to sustainability may waiver in the face of the day-to-day challenges necessary to bring about positive change.

Caroline Coyle, AIEMA, is a consultant

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