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The Big Ratchet : How Humanity Thrives in the Face of Natural Crisis
by Ruth Defries


Overview - Our species long lived on the edge of starvation. Now we produce enough food for all 7 billion of us to eat nearly 3,000 calories every day. This is such an astonishing thing in the history of life as to verge on the miraculous. "The Big Ratchet" is the story of how it happened, of the ratchetsthe technologies and innovations, big and smallthat propelled our species from hunters and gatherers on the savannahs of Africa to shoppers in the aisles of the supermarket.  Read more...

 
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More About The Big Ratchet by Ruth Defries
 
 
 
Overview
Our species long lived on the edge of starvation. Now we produce enough food for all 7 billion of us to eat nearly 3,000 calories every day. This is such an astonishing thing in the history of life as to verge on the miraculous. "The Big Ratchet" is the story of how it happened, of the ratchetsthe technologies and innovations, big and smallthat propelled our species from hunters and gatherers on the savannahs of Africa to shoppers in the aisles of the supermarket.
The Big Ratchet itself came in the twentieth century, when a range of technologiesfrom fossil fuels to scientific plant breeding to nitrogen fertilizerscombined to nearly quadruple our population in a century, and to grow our food supply even faster. To some, these technologies are a sign of our greatness; to others, of our hubris. MacArthur fellow and Columbia University professor Ruth DeFries argues that the debate is the wrong one to have. Limits do exist, but every limit that has confronted us, we have surpassed. That cycle of crisis and growth is the story of our history; indeed, it is the essence of "The Big Ratchet." Understanding it will reveal not just how we reached this point in our history, but how we might survive it.
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Details
  • ISBN-13: 9780465044979
  • ISBN-10: 0465044972
  • Publisher: Basic Books (AZ)
  • Publish Date: September 2014
  • Page Count: 273
  • Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.3 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds


Related Categories

Books > History > World - General
Books > Social Science > Agriculture & Food
Books > Technology > History

 
Publishers Weekly Reviews

Publishers Weekly® Reviews

  • Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
  • Review Date: 2014-06-30
  • Reviewer: Staff

Columbia professor and MacArthur fellow DeFries (Ecosystems and Land Use Change) follows the trajectory of the human species by tracing how we meet our most basic need—feeding ourselves. DeFries frames humanity’s relationship to the environment in three-step cycles of pivots, new innovations that allow us to stave off hunger by extracting energy from nature more efficiently; ratchets, the population increase that this new bounty allows; and hatchets, obstacles that arise when the innovation has reached a limit that lead to the invention of new pivots. Her history of agriculture tracks our path from hunter-gatherers to farmers to city dwellers: in each successive stage we have grown more reliant on the efforts of fewer people to feed more, and have utilized sources of energy which steal fewer of the calories by moving from human power, to animal power, to the power of fossil fuels. Neither technophile nor doomsayer, DeFries sees today’s hatchet not in overpopulation but in the uneven distribution of access to new methods and in the declining quality of the human diet. DeFries places her faith in human creativity as a primary means to our survival, an appealing point of view for the hopeful but concerned reader. B&w images. (Sept.)

 
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