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Book reviews - volume 6 issue 2

Book reviewed this issue are:

Nanotechnology: Risk, Ethics and Law
Edited by Geoffrey Hunt and Michael Mehta, 2006, Earthscan

ISBN 978-1-84407-358-0 (Hardback)

This book brings together the views of a collection of well-know experts in nanotechnology and related disciplines. The book focuses on ethics, risk and the legal system associated with this fast developing topic. It is written for a non-scientist or early stage researcher who is generally familiar with the global research ethos. It may also be useful for an environmental health specialist as an insight and introduction to this fast-developing discipline.

The book begins by reviewing in general the current nanotechnology challenges and puts these into context against similar high publicity-based science topics. The introduction covers topics from history to the much argued definition; ethics to impact into society. This collection of chapters although short, is to the point and well referenced.
The next set of chapters illustrates the complexity and wide ranging nature of the subject. Included are the future of microsystems, nanoscience and the highly topical issues of nanotoxicology are presented. In fact a case is made for nanology, which can be interpreted as the down-sizing and convergence of all the sciences, medicine and engineering. The point is well made that the highly disciplinary nature of the subject is one of its greatest strengths.

Part two of the book reviews and provides an insight into the capabilities, strategies and developments in nanotechnology within Japan, USA, Europe, Canada. In particular these chapters provide a view on how the subject is being regionally adapted and accepted. Investments are highlighted and cross-referenced against various sectors with various degrees of success being highlighted. The third part of the book brings together a set of very important views on benefits and risks associated with the implementation of market led products. The question is asked “can we learn from all the difficulties that biotechnology has encountered” and “can regulatory agents play an important role in developing highly specific guidelines, labelling and risk & safety strategies”. These chapters all emphasise the issue of getting it right the first time and why government-led action is needed now. The key topic of nanoparticles is specifically dealt with by detailing the issues of size, shape, material type and how these properties relate to the mobility of penetration into the body.

The last two parts of the book deal with the ethics, public understanding and legal issues associated with research, development and commercialisation of nanodevices,
nanoparticles and anything that involves the use of these size-related materials. Communication techniques on educating the public of the importance and applications of
this new science are reviewed and some implantable health-related issues are highlighted with regards to ethics.
With regards to patenting this book focusses mainly on US patenting laws and in chapter 18 the author believes that although most of the work is currently science based and difficult to file, there will soon be an increase in filing rates as the technology matures. The novelty of nanoscience is also discussed with a belief that it will have to demonstrate high capability to be deemed patentable. As you would expect in a book dedicated to nanotechnogy research this text focusses on the broad range of applications within this area. Consequently, this is no light-weight read but rather is a reference text for those whose principal function is researching the peripherals of this new science. Overall this is a good general text book providing good quality analysis of the very broad range of nanotechnology topics. This book recognises that considerable volumes of research in nanotechnology are multidisciplinary. The text is aimed at researchers around the fringes of nanotechnology who may be studying environmental heath issues or benefits related to emerging technologies.
The individual chapters are informative and enable the reader to develop a concise understanding of the principles and pitfalls associated with each area. Detailed referencing is presented in the chapters and some on-line resources to augment the material included in the text. Sections of most relevance and interest to environmental health may well be the chapters on risk management, nanotoxicity, law and regulation. Yes, I would buy it – even though I am involved in the science of the subject, it is also important to be able to represent a wide range of societal-impact issues especially relating to ethical and risk matters.

Reviewed by Professor Jim McLaughlin, Director of the Nanotechnology & Advanced Materials Research Institute, University of Ulster


How to live a low-carbon life: the individual's guide to stopping climate change

By Chris Goodall 2007, Earthscan

ISBN 978-1-84407-426-6 (Paperback)

This ambitious text starts with the assertion that the UK can reduce its annual carbon dioxide output of 12.5 tonnes per capita down to three tonnes per person, with
responsibility placed primarily on individuals, rather than governments or companies, for this ambitious reduction of greenhouse gases. While there is an expectation from the title and this assertion that the reader will be given a fullproof checklist for carbon reduction, the content goes further in a number of directions. Refreshingly, it concludes that some decisions are out of the hands of ‘the man in the street’, so that getting down to the three tonne target is not easy, but neither is it impossible. The need for behavioural change and personal environmental conscience lies at the heart of the arguments, with common sense solutions offered in many areas. Coverage of ‘hot topics for carbon reduction’ is comprehensive, as the author deals with 10 potential energy-reducing lifestyle-related areas, including heating, cooking, lighting, household appliances, car travel, public transport, air travel, food consumption, indirect greenhouse gas emissions and domestic use of renewable energy. A range of calculations is provided to justify the arguments, using a vast range of data, with more than 60 tables used to illuminate the arguments.

A fresh and stimulating read is maintained throughout the text by a non-standard approach to each area, but nevertheless, each chapter is introduced with a keynote statement of ‘how to achieve carbon minimisation’. Lateral thinking points the reader to consider a ‘cause and effect relationship’ for personal activity and energy consumption. This thought-provoking attack is well demonstrated in the car travel chapter, when reduction of the steadily increasing body weight of English males could be addressed by a programme of walking exercise which contributes to improved health and reduces the carbon footprint through fewer short car journeys; however, the author concludes that the additional energy needed to produce food required after additional exercise would outweigh the car travel carbon reductions – a fine example of ‘joined up’ thinking! The practicalities of achieving energy reduction is complemented by valuable insights into methods for cancelling out emissions, such as use of green electricity tariffs, zero-emission power generation, tree planting and other offset schemes. While the author has not listed a specific references list, he has provided an impressive 279 notes, which cover formal texts, statistics, corporation reports and a myriad of press and web quotes.

The text is compelling reading for scientists, engineers, economists, academics, corporations and government decision-makers, even though it sets out to inform
individuals. In a time of excessive public concern for and official statements on climate change, this book still stacks up as a source of vital information, primarily because of its fresh, stimulating and no-nonsense practical approach, concluding with a list of four steps for cutting direct emissions and eight steps for indirect emission reduction.

Reviewed by W Alan Strong, Senior Lecturer in Sustainable Development, School of the Built Environment, University of Ulster