G. K. Berrie, A. Berrie and J. M. O. Eze
ISBN 0-582-64705-3; 410 pp.; 1987
Longman Group Ltd., Essex, UK.
Rather than a work about “Tropical Plant Science” this book can be identified as a general one about plant science illustrated throughout with examples from the tropics. The structure of this book and the order of the chapters are very well designed and so allow the reader to have an easy and understandable overview. In addition, all chapters contain a good list of keywords divided into subject categories, a short summary, a set of questions and each section in the book clearly states its objectives at the beginning and ends with references for further reading. The text assumes a basic knowledge of biology, with important and fundamental concepts printed in bold, drawing attention to them. It is however a shame that the species names in the index do not systematically refer to their locations in the text. As a consequence when looking up a Latin name the reader finds fewer references than actually are there in the book. Next to that it would have been very helpful to find a special list with all common names used, together with their Latin names.
The book is divided into six sections starting with a brief but clear introduction to plant science, in particular taxonomy and systematics. The second section deals with ‘Structure and Function in Flowering Plants’ and constitutes the main bulk of the book. This section is made invaluable by clear drawings often combined with black and white pictures and by frequently drawing attention to the exceptions from the botanical world. Almost all the relevant subjects are in this section from plant morphology to water relations, translocation and mineral nutrition. Instead of listing them all I emphasise some particular aspects. The explanation about plant cells and the different kinds of cells and tissues are proficient aids to which the reader can often refer while proceeding with the rest of the chapters. Although the chapter on the ‘Structure and Function of Stem, Leaf and Root’ could be quiet tough to read for beginners it provides a very good contribution not only to the ecological anatomy of these structures but also to how the tissue structure varies with special adaptations relating to certain ecosystems. Within the discussion on ‘Growth and Development’ environmental factors have been dealt with in a very interesting way. The chapter about ‘Respiration and Photosynthesis’ is well explained with no unnecessary biochemical details. Also the alternative pathways such as C4 , CAM and photorespiration provide the reader with essential data. The fertilization of flowering plants is well explained but there are no illustrations which could have been useful in understanding the procedure from the landing of pollen on the stigma down to the organisation of the cells in the ovary after fertilization. The chapter about the systematic classification of flowering plants is rather disappointing. It does discuss the main plant families including the economically important species but almost nothing is mentioned about the orders to which the different families belong. Furthermore no mention is made of alternative or new family names e.g. nothing can be found on Fabaceae or Poaceae, among others, although their former names Papillionaceae and Graminae respectively are present. In a future edition of this book I would suggest these important systematic references should be included. There should also be systematic consistency in the suffices of the Latin names, even though this is a contentious issue in both plant and animal sciences. Proceeding with the third section very complete contributions can be found on other plant forms such as algae, bryophytes, pteridophytes and gymnosperms, with clear representations about their life cycles for each of them, which can easily be compared to that of the other plant types. In section D even bacteria, viruses, fungi, lichens, mycorrhizae and root nodules are discussed under the perhaps badly chosen common divisor of ‘Plants without chlorophyl’. The fifth section contains chapters which contribute to the field of ‘Genetics and Evolution’ and provide basic knowledge about the different concepts associated with these fields, including a particularly well documented discussion about plant evolution. The final section which deals with ‘Plant Communities’ is far too short in my professional opinion. Although ecology is almost a science in its own right, a good discussion about its different aspects is fundamental to a general book about plant science. Furthermore too little space is devoted to tropical coastal vegetation. Mangroves, which are among the most important tropical coastal plants, should have been dealt with much more extensively, especially in the context of Plant Communities; seagrasses are not even mentioned in the book.
for the few lacunas there is no doubt that Tropical Plant Science is very
interesting, particularly for students. Although
it was written especially for universities in Africa, I think readers from all
over the world would benefit from reading this work.
Published in : International Journal of Environment and Pollution 6 (2/3): 345-346 (1996).
ISBN 0-907151-93-0; pp. 277; 1996.
Publishing Ltd., London, UK.
the forgotten habitat” is an unprecedented piece of art in the available
literature dealing with mangroves. The
author has succeeded in explaining the complexity of mangrove forests by
combining basic scientific knowledge about this ecosystem, anecdotes and
extraordinary photographs covering a wide range of plants, animals and mangrove
sceneries. Important plant features
such as salt excretion, flowers, propagules and seeds are presented in close-up.
Figures from various sources have been blended to make them more
appealing and understandable for a wide public.
outline of this book is very simple, yet it covers almost all aspects of the
mangrove ecosystem. After a short
introduction to the book and a brief first exploration of the mangrove forest,
the author discusses the flora, the fauna and the human being in this
first of these three main chapters not only embraces a variety of plant species
but starts right from the definition of mangroves and their world-wide
distribution up to big mangrove issues such as zonation and succession.
Types of mangroves, morphological adaptations, reproduction, etc... are
treated in this chapter, but also environmental variables (soil, light,
salinity) and even associated communities are well discussed.
However, fungi are hardly mentioned).
A unique feature of this chapter - and of the book as a whole - is the
list of mangrove plant species, be it far from complete, but with mention of the
common names. On the other hand it
is regrettable that these common names, and not the scientific names, are used
throughout. This makes it difficult
on the mangrove researcher, who is more familiar with the Latin nomenclature,
and may lead to some confusion. Yet,
it is probably easier for a wider public.
faunal taxa are touched in the chapter on the animals of the mangrove forest,
but illustrations of the fauna can be found in every section of this book.
The discussion on crabs, being among the most conspicuous fauna present,
tends to focus on the genus Uca
(fiddler crabs). There is no
real mention of the impact that crabs or other animals (e.g.
insects) might have on mangrove regeneration, for instance by means of
human dimension” in mangroves is the closing chapter of this book.
It presents a very useful table of the traditional uses of mangroves for
many individual species or genera. Furthermore,
it discusses the important anthropogenic impacts by which mangroves are
adversely affected. Though short,
this chapter well emphasises the environmental problems in mangrove forests and
ends with a convincing motivation for all those who did not yet fully appreciate
broad public will learn something about this forgotten habitat indeed, but also
specialised mangrove scientists in all existing fields will enjoy this book both
as an educative publication and as an invaluable scientific reference.
Farid Dahdouh-Guebas & Nico Koedam
Published in : Belgian Journal of Botany 130(1): 117-118 (1997).
0-86542-804-2; 396 pp.; 1996
Science Ltd, Oxford, UK.
is biodiversity ?” is a key question, and at the same time the initial
chapter of this book. It introduces
a variety of definitions for the ‘variety of life’ and discusses different
divisions and points of view made in the framework of biodiversity.
book is divided in three sections. The
first section starts with an outline of different types of variation.
The measurements of intra- and interspecific and -populational
differences are discussed, including their application to natural populations.
Also the definition of ‘species’ and the advantages and disadvantages
of adopting certain species definitions are handled.
A complete chapter is dedicated to character diversity (genetic,
phenotypic and functional) and how it can be used as a diversity indicator.
A presentation of character evolution is done through genealogical trees,
allowing prediction of character distributions.
Also the measure and measurement of species richness is debated
extensively with special focus on the basis on which species are distinguished,
the importance of factors such as scale and time, and the sampling strategy
(sample based or surrogacy methods). Functional
diversity is analysed starting from various contexts.
The author addresses several hypotheses relating biodiversity and
functional diversity on one hand, and the relationship of ecological function to
taxonomic or species diversity on the other hand.
The measurement of functional diversity is explained through an example
of trophic relationships. The
concluding chapter of the this section is concerned with diversity and higher
levels of organisation, seeking to reflect dynamics of co-occurring species in
space and time.
in Biodiversity, the second section, echoes the main themes of the previous
section. Some of the key-issues are
: factors responsible for the loss of genetic variation within and among
populations and means for preventing this; latitudinal, longitudinal and
altitudinal gradients in diversity illustrated with many pictorial examples;
modelling of phylogenies at different rate levels; contribution of species to an
ecosystem; evidence of ‘ecological engineering’ of e.g.
the bison, with its effects on ecosystem structure, function and dynamics.
last section is dedicated to conservation and management and reveals itself
particularly appealing. Starting
with some issues in the valuation of species, either as sources of marketable
commodities or as non-marketable goods and services, it analyses to which extent
biodiversity does matter. Priorities
for the conservation of biodiversity are identified and placed in a suitable
framework for action. The book is
concluded with a chapter on how to manage biodiversity including socio-economic
issues, and a review on the approaches that have been used to analyse the
consequences and impacts of global environmental change on ecosystems.
Biodiversity : a biology of numbers and difference is a book in which the authors bravely affront the various definitions of widely accepted terms, their misuses and the words with which they are often confounded. Therefore this publication is characterised by long “monologues” providing insight in various issues of biodiversity. However, it is a pity that no glossary is offered for general definitions which are never defined in the book, such as genetic erosion, drift or pollution. Many practical examples are proficiently dealt with in order to illustrate the complex discussions. Rather than for searching an appropriate way to analyse a particular set of data for biodiversity purposes, this book will reveal its qualities for the critical analysis of existing methods.
Farid Dahdouh-Guebas & Ludwig Triest
Published in : International Journal of Environment and Pollution (2/3): 316-317 (1998).
Man and the Biosphere Series, Volume 18, UNESCO, Paris, France / Parthenon Publishing, Carnforth, UK.
This book gives an excellent image of the on-going research dealing with tropical rain forest tree seedlings. The book is divided in two sections which complement each other very well : a first section reviewing different fields of tropical rain forest seedling ecology, and a second section in which research papers are presented. The recognition that this book is dealing almost exclusively with rain forests, and not with tropical forests in general, is trivial during the lecture. Tropical dry forests or mangroves are hardly taken into account, although in the latter seedling ecology is also an intense discussed issue. The absence of any research involving genetic diversity within the ecology framework of this book might be another shortcoming.
I will now resume the different chapters in the two sections, with some keywords and key phrases for the review articles :
A review of some aspects of tropical forest seedling ecology with suggestions
for further enquiry. Set of
observations on establishment, survival and growth of seedlings. Light conditions, morphological and physiological changes in
acclimating to a lighter or darker light climate. Nutrient and water availability.
Actual state of knowledge with general conclusions.
Photosynthetic responses to light in tropical rain forest tree seedlings.
Influence of light on carbon dioxide fixation and water-use efficiency.
Interactions with nitrogen supply. Gap
regeneration dynamics. Discussion
on how photosynthetic responses can be related to the ecology of tropical rain
Functional morphology of tropical tree seedlings. Valuable review on the development of seedling classification
on one hand, and aspects of functional morphology on the other hand.
Phanerocotylar or cryptocotylar, epigeal or hypogeal and folacious or
reserve storage is elaborated under seedling classification.
Life forms, regeneration strategy, seed size, germination, dispersal mode
and habitat are dealt with in the discussion on the distribution of seedling
types within forests. Under
seedling morphology and functions the author analyzes seedling development and
establishment, energetic reserve utilization, the first photosynthetic organs
and a variety of other seedling functions which need further study.
Demography of tropical tree seedlings : a review. Investigates to what extent the local abundance of a tropical
tree species is constrained by factors such as herbivory or fecundicity of
parent trees, with studies focussing on both population level and assemblages
Seedling ecology and tropical forestry.
Persistence in a tropical understorey : clonal growth in Psychotria
Seedlings, saplings and tree temperaments : potential for agroforestry in the
African rain forest.
Cotyledon functional morphology, patterns of seed reserve utilization and
regeneration niches of tropical tree seedlings.
Differential responses to nutrients, shade and drought among tree seedlings of
lowland tropical forest in Singapore.
Seedling growth of Shorea section Doona (Dipterocarpaceae) in
soils from topographically different sites of Sinharaja rain forest in Sri
The significance of seedling size and growth rate of tropical rain forest tree
seedlings for regeneration in canopy openings.
Seedling demography in undisturbed tropical wet forest in Costa Rica.
13°/ Rates of mortality and growth in three groups of dipterocarp seedlings in Sabah, Malaysia.
addition to subjects already covered in the first part, the second part of this
book presents in-depth studies involving edaphic and agroforestry aspects of the
seedling ecology, as can also be deducted from the elaborate titles above.
Some papers put forward complex questions but deal with them
proficiently. Lack of long-term
studies on tropical rain forest regeneration is evident from this book.
reviews constitute part of this book, in my opinion it is not accessible as
general literature about the ecology of tropical rain forest tree seedlings.
Specialists in this field, however, will find in this publication a
treasure of valuable information on overall issues, such as the morphology,
physiology and demography of seedlings, and on more focussed issues like the
responses of seedlings to the availability of resources, particularly light,
nutrients and water.
Published in : International Journal of Environment and Pollution (2/3): 329-331 (1998).
The Pantanal of Poconé : biota and ecology in the northern section of the world's largest pristine wetland
0-7923-4863-X; 622 pp.; 1998
Academic Publishers, Dordrecht,
with the documentary film Pantanal,
Brazil’s Forgotten Wilderness (© VIC BANKS PRODUCTIONS, Chicago, 1997)
this book is an invaluable scientific contribution to the knowledge of the
Pantanal. It is the only book
available that offers a survey of the flora and fauna of the region, making it
particularly interesting for researchers in biodiversity and the biogeography of
the Neotropical Region. Besides a
survey on all major taxa of plants and animals, a good introduction of the
region and well designed ‘epilogue chapters’ looking at the Pantanal from a
more holistic approach embellishes this publication.
A general Introduction gives a concise overview of the region we are dealing with, emphasising that taxonomy of the Pantanal is still in a pioneer stage, with too often small publications on single species with insufficient reference to their behaviour and ecology. Then follows a series of five chapters (Geography, Geology, Climate, Hydrology and Water Chemistry) introducing different natural scientific aspects of the Pantanal. In the Geography chapter a first glance of how well the vegetation of the Pantanal is elaborated in this book, is displayed when the author is discussing the different vegetation types. Also the lack of endemism in the Pantanal is discussed here. Classical geologic issues such as soils, ancient and recent geological history and geological events are treated in the chapter on Geology. The seasons Enchente, Cheia, Vazante and Seca, are introduced for the first time in the Climate chapter, and will prove to be very important points of discussion which will be viewed in different lights in following chapters. The Climate chapter also deals with some general findings on temperature, pH and oxygen concentration in the water. The chapter on Hydrology continues these findings by adding data on water level and its yearly variations, electrical conductivity of the surface waters and morphology of the river systems. Without any redundancy, the Water Chemistry chapter substantially adds to the understanding of the water quality by analysing pH, dissolved oxygen, COD, total hardness, carbonate hardness, calcium, soluble iron and aluminium salts, chromium ions, chlorosity, fluoride, ammonium, nitrite, nitrate, phosphate, sulfate, hydrogen sulfide and silicon compounds using the classical materials & methods - results & discussion format.
Then two taxonomic chapters follow dealing with Flora and Fauna of the Pantanal. They are very detailed and with each name on species level the name of the author who first described the species is included, which makes this book also an excellent taxonomic encyclopaedia for the Pantanal. Unfortunately, for part of the floral taxonomy old botanical names are used, for instance Compositae instead of Asteraceae, Leguminosae instead of Fabaceae, Graminae instead of Poaceae and so forth.
another series of five chapters (Biotic Communities, Seasonal Succession,
Ecosystem Dynamics, Human Impact and Conservation) the author establishes links
between the different biotic and abiotic components of the Pantanal introduced
in the previous chapters. The
section on Biotic Communities comprises natural communities such as plankton,
benthos or interrhizon species on one hand, and artificially modified species
aggregations such as pastures, the Transpantaneira Highway or gold mines on the
other hand. The four seasons are
considered again in detail in the chapter on Seasonal Succession, more particularly when dealing with which
species are dominant in which season. The
reader can get a good picture of the trophic relationships in each of the
seasons as well. Also nutrient
availability, water levels and ethologic events such as animal mating are
discussed briefly. The section on Ecosystem
Dynamics takes in a very important place in this book, since it is here that
the putting together of the different pieces of the Pantanal puzzle is virtually
completed. First it is elaborated
how certain organisms have high primary productions in certain seasons, such as
algae and macrophytes during the enchente.
A list of abundant primary producers with their main season of vegetative
growth, nutrient source and a standing stock rate is provided.
The nitrogen, phosphorous and carbon cycle during the course of a year
are discussed in detail, those of sulfur and silicon briefly.
The chapter also examines nutrient cycles and their functioning during
the different seasons and the conservation of nutrients through action of
aquatic vegetation. Secondary
production and nutrient recycling is dealt with as well.
Logically, after the producers also the primary and secondary consumers
as well as the saprobic community is analysed.
Finally some interesting food webs are shown including saprobic organisms
responsible for breaking down detritus, micro-organisms and small invertebrates
in shallow pools, fishes, pseudoterrestrium and interrhizon communities.
In the chapter on Human Impact
fishing, tourism, illegal activities and endangered species are briefly
introduced. Then a discussion on
the Pre-Columbian civilisations is followed by one on the arrival of European
settlers to start off with the anthropogenic impacts. It
is somewhat pitiful that in none of the chapters mention is made on historic
expeditions into the Pantanal, such as the Langsdorff Expedition 178 years ago
or those of other explorers, be it to illustrate the originality of the site or
the anthropogenic intrusion. Introduction
of cattle, horses and other domestic animals, poaching, fishing, hunting and
gold mining constitute the list of human activities which brought about recent
changes such as organic pollution and disease.
Following this chapter is one on the control of human activities to
prevent the loss of natural resources. This
implies a repetition of the list of the above mentioned impacts seen in the
light of Conservation. The discussions here are finely analysed as a
Problem-in-Context and proposes possible directives which can be used in the
framework of nature management and decision-making.
In addition some mammoth projects such as the Transpantaneira Highway,
with a clear reference to the “ruin of colossal proportions” that the
Transamazonica Highway is at present, and the potential disaster of the Hidrovia
project. The chapter concludes with
some general concepts for the protection of the Pantanal regarding species,
habitats and local human populations. The
book ends with a summary and some conclusions of which the declaration of the
Pantanal as a National Park probably surprises most since the reader would
expect this to be a fact already.
this most valuable publication will be an extra incentive to actually baptise
the world’s largest pristine wetland ‘Pantanal National Park’ and
preferably also make it a World Heritage Site.
In : International Journal of Environment and Pollution 11(3): 405-406 (1999).
J.A. Richard & X. Jia
363 pp.; 1999.
Springer-Verlag, Berlin, Germany.
book initiates with a comprehensive introduction on spectral wavelengths,
satellites (incl. orbital characteristics) and sensors (incl. technical
specifications). However, no
mention is made of satellites such as Ikonos (launched in the same year of
publication of this book) and their potential for the future of space-borne
remote sensing. Despite this
shortcoming, the rest of the optical and radar sensors are adequately covered
and internet references are given for this chapter, a useful type of reference
which is unfortunately limited to this chapter.
and geometric distortion are explained step by step in the second chapter, incl.
possible mathematical corrections, followed by image interpretation and
quantitative analysis (classification) as approaches to interpretation of
remotely sensed data. From here the
book entirely focuses on computerised analysis of image data and far too little
on photo-interpretation by a human analyst.
Therefore, contrary to the content description on the back cover of the
book, the title “Remote Sensing Digital Image Analysis” is misleading in the
sense that the book concentrates on the digital analysis of remote sensing
imagery (classification), rather than on the analysis of digital images from
remote sensing, an important nuance. In
addition, the book is strongly skewed towards classification of satellite
following chapters cover various enhancement techniques (radiometric /
geometric) and transformation techniques (multi-spectral / Fourier) for image
data, classification techniques (supervised / unsupervised) and feature
reduction. Although meant to be of
an introductory aspect aimed at non-specialists, these chapters go into much but
comprehensive mathematical detail, and covers all relevant topics.
The last two chapters (‘image classification methodologies’ and ‘data fusion’) are again much more accessible for a wider audience. They illustrate approaches using case-studies and briefly return to the invaluable and often forgotten topic of knowledge based image analysis (e.g. human photo-interpretation). In conclusion this book gives an overview of the digital analysis of remote sensing imagery, in particular classification, for inexperienced researchers, but, in my opinion, beyond the non-specialist level. More advanced users will find this book of invaluable nature as a comprehensive recapitulation of the capabilities and restrictions in the computerised analysis of digital remote sensing imagery.
in : International Journal
of Environment and Pollution 15(5): 580 (2001).
G.A. Schultz & E.T. Engman
483 pp.; 2000.
Springer-Verlag, Berlin, Germany.
publication gives a general and up-to-date overview of the available technology
in remote sensing and its application for water management purposes.
book starts with a very brief (maybe too brief) revisit of the currently
available satellite sensors.
Some generalisations in this chapter call upon an emphasis that this
introduction is probably intended as one in the framework of hydrology only, and
much less as a general introduction on remote sensing.
A brief description of physical laws involved in radiation, atmospheric
propagation and sensor principles is followed by an informative section on the
image processing systems including hard- and software considerations and remote
sensing data storage media.
The first overview chapters on basic principles above is ended with a
brief and clear step-to-step summary of the integration of remote sensing data
into geographical information systems.
second book section is on remote sensing applications to hydrological monitoring
After a first case-study on remote sensing based hydrological modelling
(runoff, watershed, soil moisture and water storage issues) a series of
case-studies treats the various water related factors that can be monitored
through remote sensing, namely : precipitation, land-use and catchment,
evaporation, soil moisture, soil erosion, surface- and groundwater, snow and ice
and water quality.
Each of these case-studies is more less divided into a theoretical
introduction and general approach followed by a number of applications, which
include various ground-, air- and space-borne sensors (incl. RADAR, microwave
and thermal imagery), and most of these chapters have a review aspect rather
than a rigorously worked-out ‘case-study’.
third section of the book deals with remote sensing based water management.
Like the previous section, the chapters are rather designed as reviews,
but provide more details and are often situated into a general framework or
future research perspectives conclude the book, together with a list of current
and future remote sensing satellites and sensors that can be used for
applications in hydrology and water management.
Although the book deals with all relevant factors, neither the mathematical background nor the possible applications make this publication of encyclopaedical value, a fact that the authors also acknowledge by introducing this book as one providing ‘comprehensive information’, the latter of which is undoubtedly achieved here. For those seeking a comprehensive overview of what is available and what is possible in hydrology and water management this book must be recommended.
Published in : International Journal of Environment and Pollution 15(5): 585-586 (2001).
O. Schram Stokke & Ø.B. Thommessen
ISBN 1-85383-774-1; 384 pp.; 2001
Earthscan Publications and the Fridtjof Nansen Institute, London, UK.
Yearbook of International Co-operation on Environment and Development is not the
type of book that one reads from A to Z, but a publication of nearly
encyclopaedical value in which one finds clear overviews and fact files about
international agreements on environment and development and both
intergovernmental and non-governmental organisations.
As the title reveals, this book is an update (up to June 2001) and is
currently is in its ninth edition.
The book can be subdivided in a first critical section, and a second
critical analysis of theme issues in the first part of the yearbook provide
brief papers that make an evaluation the management state-of-the-art of a
selected number of environmental issues, such as UNO’s Fish Stocks Agreement.
Each of these cutting-edge issues is analysed with respect to its
achievements as well as its limitations.
descriptive section is further subdivided into four themes.
First, agreements on general environmental issues, the atmosphere,
hazardous substances, marine environments and living resources, nature
conservation, terrestrial and freshwater living resources, and nuclear safety,
second, intergovernmental organisations (IGOs), third, non-governmental
organisations (NGOs), and fourth, country profiles.
the first theme, marine & biodiversity issues receive most attention, and so
they should. It
describes global and regional marine conventions, conventions with the UNEP
Regional Seas Programme and conventions on marine, freshwater and terrestrial
living resources from the 1940’s till present.
These descriptions, together with 23 IGOs and 29 NGOs and other
networking instruments, cover objectives, activities, time and place of
establishment, finance, key publications, internet sources and many more
country profiles cover 29 out of the 30 countries of the Organisation for
Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and only 10 selected non-OECD
countries : two from South-America, two from Africa and six from Eurasia.
This selection can be identified as the major weakness of the yearbook,
as a majority of countries of interest to many readers, amongst which all
least developed countries, is absent from this selection.
In fact, the full encyclopaedical value of this publication will not be
achieved unless all countries in the world are included in such country
However, the author’s recommendation of the publication remains true : the
combination of independent, high-quality analysis and update reference material
makes this ninth issue of the Yearbook of International Co-operation on
Environment and Development indeed an indispensable guide for decision-makers in
government, international organisations, non-governmental organisations, and
industry as well as an essential source book for academic institutions,
students, and libraries serving the concerned public.
Published in : International Journal of Environment and Pollution 19(1): 97-98 (2003).
J. Hoorweg, D. Foeken, R.A.
ISBN 3-8258-3937-0; 527 pp.; 2000
LIT Verlag, Hamburg, Germany.
Published in : Current Science 86(2): 343-344 (2004).
J. Palmer & V.
ISBN 0-8213-5559-7; 166 pp.; 2003
The International Bank for Reconstruction and Development / The World Bank, Washington D.C., USA.
Contrasting some evolution scientists who are currently messaging that religion is a viral disease that should be eradicated, this book righteously shows the beauty of religion and how it can help to conserve nature and to function in an environmentally friendly way of life.
The first part of the book starts with an example of scientists investigating loss of species diversity in Tanzania that have a lack of understanding the local communities around them and only focus on their own research. This reflects on many scientists and research programs and is further illustrated as the invaluable socio-economic or ethnobiological information that local people can provide to fundamental scientific research. Contrasting with this type of examples, the authors then continue over the next chapters with a series of anectdotically written case-studies on how successful conservation cases involving religions have been carried out. The case-studies cover for instance the abolishment of dynamite fishing by Muslim fishermen of the Tanzanian coast; the protection of the forest of Harissa of the Maronite Church in Lebanon, and other examples of sacred forests near monasteries, temples and pagodas; the eradication of the brown plant hopper using Hindu wisdom rather than chemical warfare; the Daoist philosophy in countering the devastating effect on wild species of traditional Chinese medicine, the world view of which is also based on the belief in the Dao and the nature of the universe; and the Mumbai raptor-breeding program to breed vultures, which are the only way to dispose of the dead according to Zoroastrian belief.
In each case-study the problem and/or improvement is viewed from another angle. Scientific, economic and legal documents with no mention of the spiritual, cultural, historic and emotional significance of an environment are discussed. The importance of pluralism as opposed to monolithic truth (both scientific and religious) is emphasized and illustrated by a case resting on the words of Indian Christians saying that "God is bigger than your thoughts, greater than your models, and wiser than your philosophies". In this discussion the diversity of species as an essentiality to evolution is taken as an example of how fundamental diversity of thoughts, beliefs, values and ways of life is in our world. The authors give examples of how traditional life has been broken down and replaced by a consumerist worldview, and show how consequently poor, vulnerable communities were targeted, rather than large multinationals (e.g. cows and industries both emit gases that contribute to global warming). Other attention is paid to how ancient religions are challenged and allowed to return to their roots in order to find a sustainable way forward. The artistic contribution of religions to environmental-conscious behaviour is illustrated by the power of story telling, with examples of Muhammad and the river (Islam) to preach against wasting, and that of Krishna and the serpent (Hinduism) to preach against pollution. Further artistic discussions are made in the light of images (with a Christian icon and a Buddhist mandala as examples) and architecture (with Islamic architecture representing unity). Unfortunate is that the two only figures (paintings) have not been shown in colour. Further insight is provided into the why of quiet places, pilgrimage and the contrast between celebration and discipline.
The second part of the book contains descriptions of scriptures, teachings, traditions and views on caring for nature for each of the 11 religions that are part of the 1995 founded Alliance of Religions and Conservation (ARC) : Baha'i Faith, Buddhism, Christianity, Daoism, Hinduism, Islam, Jainism, Judaism, Shintoism, Sikhism and Zoroastrianism. The statements for each of these faiths are prepared by major institutions within each faith and by people who believe in the religious traditions, rather than scholars who study them. For the first time in the 1,000 to 2,500 year-standing history of these religions, such statements have been brought together in a style (and I quote) 'reflecting the approach and attitude of the faith to both the notion of the written word and the notion of what is central in that faith'. In addition the statements are entirely copyright-free. Even taking into account that this book is only about the relation between religion and nature, there is absolutely no point in summarising or reviewing the essence of the 11 faiths, as this would violate the very purpose of the efforts put into each of the respective chapters. The statements are simply marvellous and make the reader hungry for more wisdom.
What I consider relevant and justified in the light of this review is a simple overview of themes that I experience as common to all of these religions after reading this book :
simplicity of life and of living
interconnectedness of all things and sensing the natural cycles and balances
brotherhood, sense of world citizenship and peace
altruism and promotion of universal well-being as opposed to ego(centr)ism
equality as opposed to categorisation
avoidance of greed and exploitation
respect for nature as opposed to consumerism and uncontrolled development
warnings over self-destruction and unsustainability
The minor negative aspects particularly pertain to the back matter of the book. The glossary is too short and not consistent : some Holy books are indicated (e.g. Islamic Qur'an), while others are not (e.g. the Bhagavad Gita), and the same is true for other definitions. There is also no references list. Instead a short 'Selected (Book) Bibliography' as well as internet sources are given for further reading and information. References to particular studies are indicated as footnotes on each page. However, these references are skewed towards deep source texts and, like the bibliography, towards books. There is a general under-representation of scientific papers in peer-reviewed journals, which are, however, available. Despite these few lacunae, and despite the low quantity of matter, the quality is overwhelming and the case-studies and religious statements are absolutely commendable for all scientists implicated in conservation efforts or in research in and around indigenous communities. This book is exemplary for many scientists that do not even realise the importance of a socio-religious or ethnobiological reality for many people, both in developing and industrialised countries.
in : International Journal of Environment and Pollution
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