Book review: Given half a chance, by Edward Davey

“Given half a chance, nature is wonderfully capable of recovery and restoration” says Edward Davey in this hopeful and wide-ranging book about ‘ten ways to save the world’.

Davey is a project director at the World Resources Institute, and a well travelled campaigner and humanitarian. Becoming a father for the first time, he has thought about the kind of world his son will inherit, and outlines ten important themes for action. These ‘ten paths to a bright future’ are renewable energy, forests, soil, water, biodiversity, ocean, cities, waste, people and action.

Each chapter takes one of these paths and explores some of the solutions, highlighting businesses, policies and projects that are making a visible difference. The book doesn’t shy away from serious questions and worrying statistics, but the solutions are to the fore.

The book is commendably international. Since all of these themes are global in scope, it draws examples from everywhere. We’re in the Maasai Mara in one paragraph, then Svalbard in Norway the next, or Costa Rica or Indonesia. Davey recognises the importance of China and India in particular, and they get plenty of attention.

In between the case studies and projects, we also get insights from relevant thinkers and leaders. Davey has interviewed about 50 of them from the book, including well known figures such as David Attenborough, Christiana Figueres, Nicholas Stern, and Paul Polman. Considering the high profile nature of some of these interviewees, it’s interesting that they don’t actually get much page space. Davey is much more concerned with on the ground realities, and the book is low on theory and high on practical demonstrations – including many projects that I’ve written about here.

Davey is an interesting character himself, which adds an extra dimension to the book. He has spent time in a monastery in Tibet, volunteered with adivasi activists in India, advised the Colombian government on forestry and observed elections in Yemen. Stories of personal experience pepper the chapters, and Davey uses these well. They ground our international whistlestop tour in real places and among real people, putting names and faces to what could otherwise be big and abstract global ‘issues’.

Given Half A Chance is low on detail and makes no attempt to be comprehensive. But at a time when the bestselling environmental titles are notably gloomy about our prospects, the book brings a whole list of hopeful stories and promising solutions. We need those books that tell us the honest truth of about where we are. We also need those that look beyond and see where we could be, and this is one of those.

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