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New Agriculturist: Book reviews - A blueprint for a safer planet
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A blueprint for a safer planet

blueprint safer planet

By Nicholas Stern
Published by The Bodley Head
Website: www.bodleyhead.co.uk
2009, 246pp, ISBN 978 1 847 92037 9(Hb), £16.99

How to manage climate change and create a new era of progress and posterity is the sub-title of this book and it sounds like a present-day search for the 'holy grail', a worthy aim but an uncertain outcome. Yet Lord Stern, former Chief Economist at the World Bank and author of the Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change, believes that the objective is achievable. Indeed, he believes that we must manage climate change if we are to survive, and this new book is published to anticipate the UN climate change conference in Copenhagen in December.

Readers of New Agriculturist may wish to focus on how agriculture - already crippled by drought in Australia and parts of Africa - is likely to be affected by climate change, and how policymakers and agronomists must prepare for the changes already overtaking many countries. "For agriculture, a particularly important challenge is to develop climate-resilient crop varieties and techniques," he writes, and instances the need to use water more sparingly, not least in the cultivation of rice.

With Himalayan glaciers in retreat and water flow in the major rivers of Bangladesh, China and India predicted to halve, responding to this challenge alone is a matter of urgency. Using biochar, derived from the pyrolosis of biomass, as a soil additive and conditioner, is a promising technique for "increasing soil fertility by improving nutrient and water retention, lowering soil acidity and density, and increasing microbial activity." A bonus is that agriculture would be contributing to reducing atmospheric carbon since biochar's high carbon content would be locked in the soil.

Lord Stern spends time addressing sceptics; he believes that we can and will rise to the challenge of saving what he refers to as "a planet in peril" when individuals, firms, communities and politicians work together. It will be in all our interests if his optimism is justified and the outcome of Copenhagen in December will be a portent of future commitments to his blueprint or one very like it.

Date published: September 2009


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