Earth's planned family

Geographies of Global Change - Land Mosaics
March 8, 1996

These two books belong to distant parts of the spectrum of "think globally, act locally". The edited volume is concerned in the main with global-scale views of how the human-led processes of the world can be seen and explained at a global level; while R. T. T. Forman's book is concerned with how the mosaic of land cover at the regional and local scale might best form the human habitat. Neither reaches out to the cosmic nor to the microscopic: we are comfortably in the normal realm of the geographer, the landscape architect, the planner and most ecologists. There are other similarities between the two books as well; the one most keyed to current debates being the concept of sustainability. But the differences are more obvious than the similarities.

Apart from scale, the books' purposes are different. The edited volume aims to provide the undergraduate student in geography with a set of short accounts of how the world is changing at a time when the emergence of global processes is holding the attention of many scholars. Forman is not explicit about his aims, but one can infer that they are an attempt to introduce the lessons of the ecology of natural and semi-natural ecosystems into planning human economies and settlements.

His book is devoted to producing a case for landscape ecologies at regional scale, with most examples and data taken from the temperate zone of the industrialised world. It is aimed directly at the landscape and planning professionals: it has for example 1,961 references, mostly to primary literature. This will make it a bit long for most practitioners; we might wonder how any of the valuable insights in this work will find their way into practice. I think that the Town and Country Planning Association's book, Planning for a Sustainable Environment, edited by A. Blowers, would be a better introduction for practitioners.

The edited volume communicates more directly with its target audience. Given that the short essays cover the geoeconomic, the geopolitical, the geosocial, the geocultural and the geoenvironmental, it would be a rash reviewer who claimed competence to judge them all. But my view is that there is a nice balance between the specialism of the author and the author's sense of where his specialism fits into a map of the world: in their introduction, the editors talk of "the spirit of holism which is central to our argument and, in our view, is geography's only legitimate raison d etre in any case."

As usual with collections, the contributions vary in quality. I award the "man (in this case) of the book" prize to Allan Findlay for his contribution on population growth, which is neatly tied to the idea of the Malthusian spectre. I was less happy with the chapter on resources which is confined to a crisis in minerals. In general, the editors have clustered the material around conventional economic activities: there is very little devoted to pleasure (not even shopping gets an index entry) and equally little to actual warfare (as distinct from its remembrance). While this may reflect the subject, it does less than justice to the world. Potential users ought also to be wary of the title, for there are very few conventional maps and those maps there are, fall almost entirely in two of the chapters.

In the end, though, this edited collection receives my warm approbation. It is exactly the kind of book which could form the basis for first-year tutorial classes (each essay is buttressed with selected further reading) wanting to explore the richness, diversity and challenge of our subject today. I wonder, though, if the book goes quite far enough in that direction? In a sense it traverses the terrain of both the applied natural sciences and the positivist and reflexive social sciences but avoids the humanities and the creative arts. Yet the reading of western philosophy and of the iconography of our visually dominated world is a feature of geography today.

To have incorporated such topics might have rendered this collection unusable, nevertheless there is an opportunity here for another set of such essays. If it reaches the standards of this volume, then it will be something to which we can look forward.

I. G. Simmons is professor of geography, University of Durham.

Geographies of Global Change: Remapping the World in the Late Twentieth Century

Editor - R. J. Johnston, P. J. Taylor and M. J. Watts
ISBN - 0 631 19326 X and 0 631 193 8
Publisher - Blackwell
Price - £45.00 and £12.99
Pages - 462

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