Living Planet, a review

Living Planet: The Web of Life on Earth by David Attenborough, is a republication of a title first published in 1984. It’s not just a reprint however. Attenborough has updated the book, firstly to represent the scientific developments that have come about over the past (almost) 40 years, and also to ensure that this book is actually different to the first. Attenborough went through and altered the examples of flora and fauna he used. He mentions instead less commonly known species, which I really appreciate as it means the “old” book is still worth reading in it’s own right as well as teaching me about more species!

But now onto the actual book. This is, if you weren’t aware, an environmental non-fiction written by a beloved Naturalist. The book is split into 12 separate chapters which all discuss different aspects of our planet. These all interlink with each other and culminate in a final chapter on how humans interact with this environment.

This first chapter was all about volcanism so I was obviously in my element here! I loved learning more about the ecology present at volcanic sites and about some species I’d never heard about before. It does also discuss volcanoes themselves, nothing new for me here but I still love reading about it (cause I’m a giant nerd 😂).

Chapter two is all about frozen climates. I liked learning about the similarly evolved to penguins birds in the north (auks). I didn’t realise that the sea level would rise about 55m if Antarctica melted! I enjoyed the discussion on how the Inuit survived the harsh climate. Of course this section had a fair bit of discussion around global warming, a lot has changed.

The third chapter was on slightly less northern climes, this time focusing on northern forests. It was really interesting to learn more about the similarities across continents and also the slight differences that appear as you move towards the equator!

Chapter four was on jungle environments in Asia, Africa, and South America. I’ve been in the South American rainforest and it was so cool to read Attenborough talking about some animals and birds I was able to see in real life as well as their companions on different continents!

For the fifth chapter it was all about the grasslands and the animals that developed there. That naturally then lead to discussions on how colonisers massacred many species when moving into these areas, despite the native populations being able to maintain equilibrium for centuries. It’s interesting to see how these species develop the same characteristics separately from each other across the planet.

Chapter six was about desert environments across the planet, super interesting to learn about the different adaptations in the different variations of desert and the Tassili paintings are amazing and the evidence they give us is invaluable! I can’t believe I’d never heard of them before.

Chatper seven now and this chapter was on the creatures that spend their time in the sky. I loved Attenborough explaining how the flight mechanics of birds is so similar to that of airplanes. I also had no clue that little butterflies could be swept so high up into the sky! And now I really want to go in a hot air balloon and experience that world for myself!

Sweet Fresh Water is chapter eight, this chapter was all about the life that’s supported by rivers and lakes. I *really* am not keen on aquatic life (phobia level not keen) so this wasn’t my favourite chapter, but it was super interesting and I loved learning more about otters, beavers, and birds that utilise the rivers and lakes.

Chapter nine was on The Margins of the Land and as someone who’s studied (a little) about mangroves at university, I found learning about their environments and revisiting them really fun. These creatures that live in the margin worlds are able to tolerate such a vastly changing environment that it’s fascinating to learn about them.

Chapter ten was “World’s Apart” talking about island nations and landmasses with uniquely evolved species. I loved learning about this unique adaptations from places like New Zealand and Hawai’i to remote atolls barely touched by humans. I also appreciated the discussions on how humans impacted these environments when they reached them, both from European colonisers but also the people who first reached these land masses.

A fascinating but (for me) deeply disturbing section: Open Ocean is the eleventh chapter. Despite this chapter being filled with my phobias, it’s still so incredibly interesting to learn about. Especially the comparisons between “similar” environments on land, and also the various adaptations of the deep. But I can’t lie, I’m glad the fish-y sections are over!

The final, twelfth, chapter was on new worlds, all about how humans have altered the species around us for all of our existence. 10,000 years ago all the way up until now. I enjoyed learning more about the ancestral changes (which were bigger than I’d expected) but also appreciated the discussion about the havoc we’re wrecking on our planet in the modern day.

On CAWPILE I rated this: Research: 10, Uniqueness: 9, Readability: 10, Personal Impact: 8, Intrigue: 8, Informativeness: 9, Enjoyment: 10, giving a score of 9.14 and a 5* rating!

I’m so glad that I deeply enjoyed reading this book and I definitely want to pick up more of Attenborough’s non-fiction in the future. Have you read anything from David Attenborough? Or even watched his documentaries? I highly recommend them!

How to Avoid a Climate Disaster by Bill Gates

When I got the email through from NetGalley I almost ignored it. I try not to request too many books, I have a massive tbr as it is! But something in the tag line caught me, and I opened the email up. A book about climate change? Well now this is right up my alley, I can’t not request it! I was so excited that I requested it via ebook and also audiobook, and I got both! I mainly read the book via ebook as I knew I’d want to see the graphs, but I’ll also mention the audiobooks qualities.

Lets start with the audiobook. Now you might be thinking, you just mentioned graphs, why would I want to listen to this via audiobook if I’m able to use another option? Well, Gates and the publishers thought of this! For those of you who use audiobooks due to visual impairments, the graphs are explained well and you will be able to understand the data in them from the way the information is described. For those who listen to audiobooks merely out of preference, this audiobook actually comes with a digital booklet that shows the graphs. Now not only is that pretty cool, but the “text” of the book is also a little different in the audiobook in order for it to reference those graphs and tell you to go hunt them out. I liked this little change that technically doesn’t matter, but it makes the experience of listening to the book that much more immersive. And who doesn’t love those little bits of attention to details!

Bill Gates himself reads the introduction of the audiobook, with Wil Wheaton reading the majority of the book. I personally preferred Wheaton’s reading voice, which was good for me, but I liked that this includes Gates’ voice as well. It allows you to be able to envisage the different inflictions and his tone of voice throughout the rest of the book, as well as adding a level of intimacy and relatability.

Moving away from the audiobook, but sticking with the voice of the book, Gates has a very interpersonal style throughout. It very much feels like he’s sat down for a coffee with you somewhere, going over the data that he has and making an impassioned argument. I think this was a great choice as it will stop those unfamiliar with the subject from feeling as though they are being spoken down to. It also allows for moments of humour and self-clarity which allow you to connect with the author and be more invested in the points he’s making.

Now, onto the guts of the book.

This was such an incredibly interesting read. As someone who has studied climate change from an environmental perspective I’ve always had views and opinions about what needs to be done and the steps that are currently being taken. I’d never, however, seen anything from a business perspective that was actively encouraging taking steps to go green. That? Well that was the biggest takeaway for me from this book. This book not only goes into what can be done about climate change on various levels (more on that in a moment) but it breaks it down to the respective costs, compares this to the costs of how the current methods run, and then talks about the green tax that is present and how this can be reduced through innovation and legislation.

The clear breakdown of the cost of these carbon neutral methods, as well as a clear comparison to current costs, really brings the reality of the economic side of this proposal to light. The reality is that without the backing of those with economic power, it will be all but impossible to reach carbon neutrality. Therefore, these steps which encourage and motivate greener alternatives are so important to implement. The importance of governments, on a local, national, and international level, is clearly demonstrated. With Gates even going as far to provide examples of how they could and should act in order to bring us closer to carbon zero.

In terms of those steps that can be carried out in order to reduce the carbon that is emitted into the atmosphere, these are split up into clear steps. Showing the emitters and what can be done about these. From manufacturing, to farming, to transport and more. Each polluter is mentioned, their impact demonstrated, and various options for how these can be tackled are brought to the table. The weaknesses of the solutions is also mentioned, as without those the arguments aren’t worth a penny. Gates also proposes solutions to these. Sometimes these are concrete, actual options (including options for greener concrete!), and sometimes it is simply stating that we need to carry out more research in these areas. That there needs to be more funding.

Of course Gates has been known to invest in many a start-up or a R&D opportunity. In order to reduce his bias, he doesn’t mention these companies by name throughout the book. I’m sure with a little bit of sleuthing you’d be able to match up the companies that he’s talking about to his investments, but the intent is clear. Regardless of his economic investment in these companies, his investment in the issue itself is just as strong.

This is a book that I wish more people would read. For those who state that they don’t care about the environment I believe it could offer some clarity. For those who are economically focused it could also explain not only why they should care but also how they could benefit from these changes. And overall it would raise awareness. I went into this expecting just a simple little book. I should’ve expected more from Gates. This was an in depth, well researched non-fiction that establishes many useful ground points that can be built upon in order for us to avoid a climate disaster.