Juniper is one of the sustainability movement's most important crossover voices. As well as being a tireless environmental campaigner, and the former executive director of Friends of the Earth, he also acts as an advisor to many international companies. This places him in a unique position in terms of how these two seemingly differing worlds connect and how they can increasingly work together.
His new book, What Has Nature Ever Done For Us? (yep, a play upon the Monty Python question, 'What have the Romans ever done for us?' from The Life of Brian) is a hugely empowering way to start 2013. It offers environmentalists, permaculturists and businesses alike a huge swathe of facts, figures and very real (and developing) stories as to our human impact on our local environments and the planet as a whole, 'Biosphere 1', and the value of natural resources.
On the macro scale he quotes: "It's been estimated that nature is worth as much as $100 trillion annually to the world economy – nearly double the global GDP." He uses similar jaw dropping figures to preface each chapter. It is a powerful way of framing environmental issues in a financial perspective. Juniper gives us a direct and easily understood language and set of facts to counter the misinformation being spread by the 'climate lobby'.
As readers we are aware of many of the beautiful and essential acts that nature undertakes each day, from our own humble bumblebees to the recycling miracles of the soil beneath our feet. We are also aware of the increasingly fragile state of many of these relationships as our climate changes. Some of Juniper's research is truly humbling; how the introduction of one drug for cattle in India has led to some 40 million vultures perishing (a 99.9% decrease in numbers) which in turn has led to dramatic increase in the dog populations and therefore incidents of rabies, at cost to the Indian economy of $34bn. The cost to the company who produced the drug was nothing.
Juniper has a penchant for gathering very particular stories from around the world. These make the book an engaging primer to what is a huge subject. He highlights the consequences of how we are farming both land and sea, and also the implications of our continued rise in population and concludes that "nature is not separate from the economy... Biosphere 1 still works and we can keep it that way, if we wish to". If you want to start off the year reading a book that will enable you to not feel overwhelmed but empowered to discuss economics and world affairs with climate sceptics, then this book is for you.
This review first appeared in Permaculture Magazine issue 75