"The Nation of Plants" | Reviewed by Bill Schwab
In this short volume, plant expert and environmental activist Stefano Mancuso imaginatively introduces a set of principles for living in accordance with the botanical world. His whimsical, tongue-in-cheek but dead serious Universal Declaration of Rights of Living Beings is based on the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights which enshrines the rights and freedoms of all human beings. Mancuso inventively adapts that template in order to insist that plants deserve the same respect and deference as humans.
The book contends that Humanity is not the master form of life on Earth: Plants are. The author notes that humans behave as if they are the most important actors on earth but points out that humans arrived on the planet only 300,000 years ago and could not exist without plants. In the comparatively brief time humans have inhabited Earth they have inflicted unimaginable damage to all species of plants.
“Plants are what make Earth the planet we know. Without them our planet would very much resemble the images we have of Mars or Venus: a sterile ball of rock.”
The Universal Declaration of Rights of Living Beings presents eight pillars on which plant lives are built and describes how humans are threatening each pillar.
The pillars force the reader to ask who deserves moral consideration when the fate of one species is often reliant on the fate of another. They accuse humans of behaving “like children who wreak havoc” because of their “total incomprehension of the rules that govern the existence of a community of living beings.”
Botanist Mancuso recaps for readers that plant life exchanges carbon dioxide for oxygen and that plants are the source of their food and energy, all elements necessary for human survival. The Declaration cites humans for atmospheric emissions and other malevolent acts that make Earth a dangerous place to live. The pillars of the Universal Declaration include “the right to clean water, soil and atmosphere” and the prohibition of the “consumption of any resource that can't be reconstituted for future generations of living beings.”
The renowned scientist provides a simple strategy for slowing global warming by increasing the number of plants that can absorb CO2. “There should be just one simple rule: wherever it is possible for a plant to live, there must be one. Unlike many of the alternative proposals, this measure would require only negligible costs, would improve people's lives in myriad ways, would not demand any revolution in our habits, and would have a great impact on the absorption of carbon dioxide. Let's defend our forests and cover our cities with plants. The rest will not take long to follow.”
This concise volume provides a summary of the importance of plants and an implied call to action for sustaining life on Earth. The playful, mischievous approach to the threat human behavior inflicts on the globe will not appeal to everyone, but the lighthearted content is serious-minded. Each pillar of the Declaration builds on the idea that plants have evolved and thrived through interaction with other ecosystems but are threatened by the aggressive human system that abuses and destroys them. Mancuso warns: human disrespect for plants is unsustainable and will eventually lead to the extinction of homo sapiens.
About the Author:
Stefano Mancuso is an authority in the field of plant neurobiology which explores the signaling and communication of plants. A professor at the University of Florence, he has written three other books including “The Incredible Journey of Plants.” Other Press is the publisher of this 165-page book.