The Challenge of Man's Future.

Brown, Harrison.

This book is a good example of the kind of writing more common in times past, where the author assumes the intelligence of his readers along with their interest in the subject and doesn't try to entertain them with humor. Not a page is wasted in assessing the future prospect of mankind as seen from 1954 and Brown is careful to explain his reasoning and how he arrives at his figures at all times. No wonder Albert Einstein endorses the book on the back cover of my paperback edition. You will be surprised by some of the predictions, the accuracy of some and the inaccuracy of others, but you won't be bored. Each page made me eager to read more. This author is not simply spouting opinions. The limits on resources are examined comprehensively, not just those most commonly found such as iron ore and coal but even the more unusual ones such as magnesium. The author makes no apology for advocating population control through birth control by looking at man's situation from the standpoint of a biological population that will be controlled by nature if the species does not act to control itself. His estimate of world population for the year 2000 is about a billion less than it has turned out to be. Brown wrote before anyone knew of the possibilities opened up by genetic engineering, so his concerns about the physical degradation of humanity from the failure of natural selection are, I believe, moot, when it looks like genetic problems will at some point be "curable" or eliminated through genetic modification. Environmental degradation is mentioned but by no means emphasized. In the discussion of food supplies it is suggested that carbon dioxide might be deliberately increased in the atmosphere (to the point of doubling it) in order to increase the growth of plants! The greenhouse effect is never mentioned. Interestingly, Brown speaks of the amount of coal that would have to be burned to double atmospheric carbon dioxide as an astronomical figure of 500 billion tons, "more than man has consumed up to now". I checked current statistics on coal consumption and the world is now using 1% of that amount every year. What irony that we are unintentionally doing what those in the past thought might be a good idea but that we now know is not. Solar energy is mentioned as a future hope. Since only thermocouples are brought up, photovoltaic solar cells appear to be a later development. Wind power is only mentioned in passing. Nuclear power is said to offer potential but as no commercial nuclear power plants were built at the time, the assessment is encouraging but speaks mainly in terms of the availability of uranium ore. Nuclear war was a serious prospect in those early days of Soviet - American confrontation. The author feels that the odds are in favor of an agrarian civilization in the future due to advanced civilization succumbing to devastating war. Again, this book came before the concept of nuclear winter was developed which questions the ability of agriculture to continue after a war with atomic weapons. A few charts and graphs are provided, one of which shows that the United States was far more the leader of consumption in the world of the 1950's than it is now. The point can easily be made that Americans have used a substantial portion of the resources of the earth, something to be kept in mind when the argument is heard that the United States should do nothing to conserve until other nations do too. As an elementary school pupil just after this book was written, I recall a mention of resource limits in a textbook. But since that time until relatively recently the whole subject seemed to drop beneath notice. This book is proof that there were thoughtful folks decades ago who recognized many of the challenges that were to come in the basic problem of resource consumption and population. Brown's book is by no means hysterical or even excited; he simply tries to look at known facts and project them into the future, something that unfortunately has been little practiced in the years that followed. Looking back on the book now, it's clear that steps could have been taken to ease the situation that presses upon us now. Unfortunately, little happened with the general public. Though business has pursued efficiency of production as a matter of course, we still have ended up waiting for high prices to force an issue that foresight could have helped us avoid. Harrison Brown made the effort to inform the public with this excellent book.

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