Fourth Estate, £14.99, 276pp. £13.49 from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030

The God Species: How the Planet Can Survive the Age of Humans, By Mark Lynas

The spiel on the back of this book promises that it is "no depressing lamentation of eco-doom" and that the author is "ripping up years of 'green' orthodoxy". So he is. So much so that when I looked on Amazon to check a detail, and found that the book had been withdrawn because of a customer complaint, I assumed that an outraged orthodox environmentalist had successfully gamed its complaints system.

A rapid Twitter campaign, putting pressure on Amazon, saw the book back on sale within a day. Although the explanation seems to be automated cock-up rather than conspiracy, The God Species will outrage many of the readers at whom it is aimed. For its argument is that technological solutions, including nuclear power and genetically modified crops, are essentialto prevent catastrophic environmental change.

In fact, Mark Lynas is even more radical (from the usual green perspective) than this. He argues that the reality of aspiration to all comfortable mod cons must be accepted. "I reject the implication that carbon reduction should be held hostage to a wider ideological programme seeking to change people's lifestyle's and patterns of behaviour. Similarly, if it is to succeed in helping us to meet the climate change planetary boundary, the environmental movement needs to become comfortable with centralised technologies and big corporations." Wow.

Lynas also firmly rejects the green movement's desire to overturn the market economy and bring about an end to growth. He writes: "The alternative to growth in a modern market system is painful contraction, unemployment and political instability, as numerous recessions since the 1930s have demonstrated... Zero growth is not a viable option."

This is not at all what I expected. For one thing, Lynas is well-known for flinging a cream pie in the face of Bjorn Lomborg, the controversial author of The Skeptical Environmentalist, and cavorting in a bio-hazard suit in experimental fields. Yet it turns out he is one of the growing number of green campaigners who are advocating investment in previously taboo technologies. These include George Monbiot and James Lovelock, both now pro-nuclear.

This is a significant intellectual trend. For as long as I've been an economist, the environmental movement has seemed foolishly romantic in rejecting the scope for using economic tools – including switching to new technologies – to address environmental problems effectively. As for hoping people en masse will turn away from economic growth, this is surely a fail-safe recipe for political inaction. On the other hand economics, although pragmatic, was slow to accept the scale of the environmental challenges to be addressed. This has also started to change.

So The God Species should find a receptive audience in both disciplines, while perhaps angering many other readers. The book is structured around the description of nine planetary "boundaries", of which climate change is one. Others were entirely new to me, such as the nitrogen boundary: the destabilisation of the nitrogen cycle by increasingly intensive agriculture to feed the human population.

A boundary is the point beyond which human activity tips one of the Earth's complex but self-correcting natural cycles into instability. The miracle of our planet – originally described in James Lovelock's "Gaia" hypothesis – is that, so far, in every aspect of nature there have been feedback mechanisms that keep the whole system in a reasonably stable condition. Stable enough for life, especially ours, to flourish. Now, in three of the nine categories identified by Lynas, we have crossed the boundary and can expect increasing instability. The feedbacks have become counter-productive. It's like a high-stakes game of Jenga, where we have perhaps removed some of the key wooden blocks that will bring the whole tower tumbling down.

The three breached boundaries are: the massive loss of biodiversity; the carbon cycle and climate change; and the removal of nitrogen from the atmosphere due to farming. Before reading this book, worrying about biodiversity had seemed a chattering class luxury to me, even though it would have been entertaining if Australia were still home to a gigantic horned turtle as big as a car, to two metre-high, half tonne flightless birds, six-metre long snakes and seven-metre predatory lizards. This chapter convinced me that there could be serious consequences for the planetary system as a whole, given the present rate of loss of species.

Lynas writes: "Living systems keep the air breathable and the water drinkable for themselves and us, but to continue to perform these vital services they need to retain their complexity, diversity and resilience. Once humans start to pick off component parts, an ecosystem may appear to function as normal for a while – until some unpredictable tipping point is reached and collapse occurs." To preserve against further loss of species, he advocates introducing markets for biodiversity: financial mechanisms to reward farmers or landowners who safeguard endangered species.

Equally contentious to many green campaigners will be Lynas's advocacy of GM crops to help fix nitrogen in the soil without the use of nitrate fertilisers. Without a new agricultural technology, he argues, the human population cannot be fed without destabilising the Earth's nitrogen cycle.As he points out, farmers in developing countries – supposedly the people campaigners were going to save from the depredations of big business, forcing them to sow crops with "terminator" genes – have been keen adopters of GM seeds. They like the improved yields and the costs reduced by lower fertiliser requirements.

Just as bad, from the romantic green perspective, is the book's support of nuclear power generation to bring CO2 levels in the atmosphere to anything like safe levels. The case for nuclear as the only plausible low-carbon energy-generating technology that can satisfy enough of our demand for electricity to bring emissions targets within reach seems compelling to me. (I am a member of an advisory panel for EDF Energy, which plans to build new nuclear plants in the UK, where we currently get approaching a fifth of our electricity from nuclear.)

But it seems unlikely that the arguments set out here will convince many of those who instinctively oppose technologies that they have for so long demonised. Emotion is a stronger force than reason in this debate. It will be quite a while, in these anti-market times, before the green movement as a whole embraces economic growth and big business. Let's hope this does not postpone for too long effective responses to the breaching of natural boundaries described in The God Species. Otherwise, eco-doom is still on the agenda.

Diane Coyle is the author of 'The Economics of Enough: How to run the economy as if the future matters' (Princeton)

Arts and Entertainment
Tate Modern chief Chris Dercon, who will be leaving to run a Berlin theatre company
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Tasos: 'I rarely refuse an offer to be photographed'
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Girls on the verge of a nervous breakdown: Florence Pugh and Maisie Williams star in 'The Falling'
Film
Arts and Entertainment
Legendary charm: Clive Owen and Keira Knightley in 2004’s ‘King Arthur’
FilmGuy Ritchie is the latest filmmaker to tackle the legend
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Festival-goers soak up the atmosphere at Glastonbury

music

Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars creator George Lucas

film

Arts and Entertainment

music

Arts and Entertainment
A shot from the forthcoming Fast and Furious 7

film

Arts and Entertainment
The new-look Top of the Pops could see Fearne Cotton returns as a host alongside Dermot O'Leary

TV

Arts and Entertainment
The leader of the Church of Scientology David Miscavige

TV

Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

Arts and Entertainment
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Arts and Entertainment
Serial suspect: the property heir charged with first-degree murder, Robert Durst
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Igarashi in her

Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression

Arts and Entertainment
Could Ed Sheeran conquer the Seven Kingdoms? He could easily pass for a Greyjoy like Alfie Allen's character (right)

tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros

Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce, Boris Johnson, Putin, Nigel Farage, Russell Brand and Andy Murray all get the Spitting Image treatment from Newzoids
tvReview: The sketches need to be very short and very sharp as puppets are not intrinsically funny
Arts and Entertainment
Despite the controversy it caused, Mile Cyrus' 'Wrecking Ball' video won multiple awards
musicPoll reveals over 70% of the British public believe sexually explicit music videos should get ratings
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister and Ian Beattie as Meryn Trant in the fifth season of Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment

book review
Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Proving his metal: Ross Poldark (played by Aidan Turner in the BBC series) epitomises the risk-taking spirit of 18th-century mine owners

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Far Right and Proud: Reggies Yates' Extreme Russia

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West was mobbed in Armenia after jumping into a lake

music
Arts and Entertainment
The show suffers from its own appeal, being so good as to create an appetite in its viewers that is difficult to sate in a ten episode series

Game of Thrones reviewFirst look at season five contains some spoilers
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Major medical journal Lancet under attack for 'extremist hate propaganda' over its coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

    Lancet accused of 'anti-Israel hate propaganda' over coverage of Gaza conflict

    Threat to free speech as publishers of renowned medical journal are accused of inciting hatred and violence
    General Election 2015: Tories and Lib Dems throw their star names west to grab votes

    All noisy on the Lib Dems' western front

    The party has deployed its big guns in Cornwall to save its seats there. Simon Usborne heads to the heart of the battle
    How Etsy became a crafty little earner: The online market has been floated for £1.2bn, but can craft and capitalism coexist?

    How Etsy became a crafty little earner

    The online market has been floated for £1.2bn, but can craft and capitalism coexist?
    Guy Ritchie is the latest filmmaker to tackle King Arthur - one of our most versatile heroes

    King Arthur is inspiring Guy Ritchie

    Raluca Radulescu explains why his many permutations - from folk hero to chick-lit hunk - never cease to fascinate
    Apple Watch: Will it live up to expectations for the man or woman on the street?

    Apple Watch: Will it live up to expectations?

    The Apple Watch has apparently sold millions even before its launch tomorrow
    Don't fear the artichoke: it's a good cook's staple, with more choice than you'd think

    Don't fear the artichoke

    Artichokes are scary - they've got spikes and hairy bits, and British cooks tend to give them a wide berth. But they're an essential and delicious part of Italian cuisine
    11 best men's socks

    11 best men's socks

    Make a statement with your accessories, starting from the bottom up
    Paul Scholes column: Eden Hazard would be my Player of the Year – but I wonder if he has that appetite for goals of Messi or Ronaldo

    Paul Scholes column

    Hazard would be my Player of the Year – but I wonder if he has that appetite for goals of Messi or Ronaldo
    Frank Warren: Tyson Fury will be closely watching Wladimir Klitschko... when he wins it'll be time to do a deal

    Frank Warren's Ringside

    Tyson Fury will be closely watching Wladimir Klitschko... when he wins it'll be time to do a deal
    London Marathon 2015: Kenya's brothers in arms Wilson Kipsang and Dennis Kimetto ready to take on world

    Kenya's brothers in arms take on world

    Last year Wilson Kipsang had his marathon record taken off him by training partner and friend Dennis Kimetto. They talk about facing off in the London Marathon
    Natalie Bennett interview: I've lost track of the last time I saw my Dad but it's not because I refuse to fly

    Natalie Bennett interview: I've lost track of the last time I saw my Dad

    Green leader prefers to stay clear of her 'painful' family memories but is more open about 'utterly unreasonable' personal attacks
    Syria conflict: Khorasan return with a fresh influx of fighters awaiting the order to start 'shooting the birds'

    Khorasan is back in Syria

    America said these al-Qaeda militants were bombed out of the country last year - but Kim Sengupta hears a different story
    General Election 2015: Is William Cash the man to woo Warwickshire North for Ukip?

    On the campaign trail with Ukip

    Is William Cash the man to woo Warwickshire North?
    Four rival Robin Hood movies get Hollywood go-head - and Friar Tuck will become a superhero

    Expect a rush on men's tights

    Studios line up four Robin Hoods productions
    Peter Kay's Car Share: BBC show is the comedian's first TV sitcom in a decade

    In the driving seat: Peter Kay

    Car Share is the comedian's first TV sitcom in a decade. The programme's co-creator Paul Coleman reveals the challenges of getting the show on the road