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Difficult to plod all the way through
on August 6, 2008
I had read Roberts' earlier "the end of oil" and had forgotten how difficult it was to read through. This book is slightly less interesting despite the more interesting topic, which in theory should be more malthusian than the end of oil, but Roberts treats every issue with a very vacillating, politician-like ambiguity. It's surprising for example that he doesn't make more out of the peaking of fossil fuels in relation to fertilizer for food production. Every time he comes near to making a point he hedges and describes the optimistic and pessimistic viewpoints without really taking a stand.
Typical of his writing style as well is his tendency to travel all over the globe interviewing random peasants, farmers, executives, etc., as if a travelogue somehow makes the subject more accessible. Presumably this is because he is a journalist, not an expert per se in the issue of agriculture or food. But after so many round the world trips interviewing a farmer in china for ex. and his woes the reader begins to get tired of his peripatetic descriptions.
In summary I found it hard to really get a grip on any of the issues he presents except in a very vague way and I found it equally hard to get all the way through to the end without giving up. And this is not because I don't find the issue serious-- if anything, I think he is far too optimistic: the lack of freshwater supplies, peaking of fossil fuels, lack of arable land, increasing loss of topsoil, increasing population pressures, will probably result in some kind of malthusian crisis.