Science offers 'state of the planet 2006-2007' to explore global challenges

The challenges are many and deeply interrelated, and with increasing worldwide frequency they are at the top of the news: diminishing biodiversity, declining fisheries, threats to the quality of our air and water, climate change and sustainability. But with policymakers and the public often uncertain about environmental science, the result is political discord or paralysis.

Now the journal Science, published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, is offering a new book that provides clear, accessible scientific assessments of the environmental threats confronting Earth. "Science Magazine's State of the Planet 2006-2007" [Island Press, June 2006, 201p; $16.95 soft/$32 hard] contains three dozen essays and news stories written some by some of the world's most respected researchers, policy experts and science journalists.

The essays explore a range of crucial issues: human population; freshwater and marine resources; energy; air pollution; food security; chronic disease and climate change. The Earth's resources are closely connected to the health of the environment, Science Editor-in-Chief Donald Kennedy says in the book's introduction. The quality of fresh water depends on the condition of watershed forests. Agriculture depends on the vitality of surrounding ecosystems that are home to bees and birds. Climate change affects the distribution of plants and animals in the wild.

"To the editors of Science, these relationships--and the changes in them as humans continue to alter the world--compose the most important and challenging issues societies face," Kennedy writes. "Without scientific understanding, those who will make policies in the future will be forced to do so without the most essential tool they could have."

The new book is a compilation of essays and news stories previously published in Science and recently updated, plus an introduction and three new summary essays by Kennedy. At the heart of the book is a landmark 1968 essay in Science, "The Tragedy of the Commons," by the late Garret Hardin, formerly a professor of human ecology at the University of California at Santa Barbara.

"Where have we come in 38 years?" Kennedy asks. "The population/resource collision has only grown more important since Hardin's Science essay. Earth's population then was about 3.5 billion; it has since grown by a factor of nearly two, to 6.3 billion. That growth, amplified by global increases in affluence and the power of technology, has brought escalating pressures on commons resources….such as air, fresh water, and ocean fisheries."

Other essays in the new book originally were published in Science in November and December 2003 as part of a series called "The State of the Planet."

The book is organized into three sections: Living Resources, Physical Resources and The Commons, a term that describes the environment shared by all of life, and which all of life depends on. In addition to Hardin, the volume features an international roster of researchers considered among the best in their fields:

  • Robert T. Watson, chief scientist and director for Environmentally and Socially Sustainable Development (ESSD) at the World Bank, writing on climate change and Kyoto Protocol;

  • Hajime Akimoto, director of the Atmospheric Composition Research Program at the Frontier Research Center for Global Change in Yokohama, Japan, writing on global air quality;

  • Martin Jenkins from the World Conservation Monitoring Centre of the United Nations Environment Programme in Cambridge, U.K., writing on the prospects for biodiversity. Jenkins is co-author of the "World Atlas of Biodiversity"; and

  • Joel E. Cohen, an award-winning researcher, prolific author and head of the Laboratory of Populations at Rockefeller University and Columbia University in New York, writing on population.

Another of the essays, "The Struggle to Govern the Commons," won the 2005 Sustainability Science Award from the Ecological Society of America. It was written by Thomas Dietz, director of the Environmental Science and Policy Program at Michigan State University; Elinor Ostrom, co-director of the Center for the Study of Institutions, Population, and Environmental Change at Indiana University; and Paul C. Stern at the Division of Social and Behavioral Sciences and Education at the U.S. National Academies in Washington, D.C.

"The big question in the end is not whether science can help. Plainly it could," writes Kennedy, who served earlier as commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and president of Stanford University in California. "Rather, it is whether scientific evidence can successfully overcome social, economic and political resistance."

In addition to Kennedy, several other editors at Science played a central role in assembling the book: Brooks Hanson, deputy editor for physical sciences; Andrew Sugden, international managing editor, Science International; Caroline Ash, senior editor, Science International; Jesse Smith, senior editor; and Colin Norman, news editor.

A new volume of "Science Magazine's State of the Planet" is planned for 2007-2008.


Island Press is the only nonprofit organization in the United States whose principle purpose is the publication of books on environmental issues and natural resource management. Founded in 1985, Island Press' growing list of titles reflects a commitment to bringing the best of an expanding body of literature to the environmental community throughout North America and the world.

Journalists who wish to request review copies from Island Press or to arrange an interview with Donald Kennedy can contact Alex Schoenfeld at 202/232-7933 x12 or via email at [email protected].

The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) is the world's largest general scientific society and the publisher of Science. AAAS was founded in 1848, and serves some 10 million individuals through 262 affiliated societies and academies of science. The non-profit AAAS ( is open to all and fulfills its mission to "advance science and serve society" through initiatives in science policy; international programs; science education; and more. For the latest research news, log onto EurekAlert!, (, the premier science-news Web site, a service of AAAS.

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 30 Apr 2016
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