April 30, 1990 12:00 PM

Edited by Jeremy Rifkin

Author-activist Rifkin’s book, less than 200 pages long, is among the most provocative and sophisticated of the recent crop. Twenty-three environmental experts have contributed chapters.

World hunger specialist Frances Moore Lappé writes on why it’s important to eat low on the food chain. For instance, producing a one-pound steak that provides approximately 500 food calories requires the expenditure of 20,000 calories of fossil fuel energy and the same amount of water a typical household uses in a month.

Rifkin himself engages in a fascinating discussion about how man has been able to rationalize his environmental destruction by philosophically distancing himself from nature. In 1620 Francis Bacon, advocating what he called the scientific method, urged man to strip nature of any sacred value and to feel free to manipulate the environment to serve human economic interests.

“The term consumer,” Rifkin notes, “dates back to the 14th century and, in both its English and French form, has meant ‘to devour,’ ‘to lay waste,’ ‘to destroy,’ ‘to exhaust.’ ” As a preferable alternative, he suggests, “the term ecology comes from the Greek word oikos and means ‘the household.’ Ecological responsibility, then, begins at home and expands to fill the entire planet.” (Holt, paper, $10.95)

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