Book review by guest writer, Eric Hirst of Bellingham
Thriving Beyond Sustainability: Pathways to a Resilient Society
by Andres R. Edwards, New Society Publishers, Gabriola Island, BC, Canada, 2010.
I can’t decide how I feel about this book, which discusses “five interrelated global trends: ecosystem decline, energy transition, population growth, economic disparity and climate change.” Is it a comprehensive, clear assessment of the many opportunities we face to convert the current crisis into a much better future for all living beings?
Or is this book naively optimistic about the likelihood of reversing the current course of human events, which is leading to the wide scale destruction of our environment and, therefore, of human civilization?
Much as I like the optimistic tone and can-do attitude of the book, it fails to address the major disconnect between the critical environmental problems we face (global warming, peak oil, depletion of water resources, loss of biodiversity, etc) and the lack of public and political will to tackle these problems in a meaningful way. For example, a majority of the American public no longer believes that global warming is a serious problem. The U.S. Senate, likely reflecting that public view, refuses to adopt any substantive policy to reduce U.S. emissions of greenhouse gases. At least in the United States, most people focus on private property rights, the individual (rather than the community,) and short-term economic gains. Ecosystem services (e.g., clean air and water and good soil) are considered free and abundant. China and India, although quite different from the U.S., also show great challenges in tackling these issues.
Although not addressed directly, the book raises important questions about how each of us can best spend our time and money on these major environmental issues. Should we focus on local, regional, national, or international solutions? Should we make changes in our own lives, work through nonprofit organizations, or seek political change?
As an example, if a benevolent philanthropist gives you $5,000 a year and asks you to spend that money to improve environmental quality, what would you do? Would you buy a more efficient car, get a new bicycle, and install storm windows and more attic insulation in your house? Or would you donate the money to an environmental organization? If you choose the second option, would you give the money to a local, regional, national, or international group? What other options for spending the $5,000 might you consider? Unfortunately, this book does not address these choices.
For me, the key issue is how to convince the majority of Americans that these are important problems we must address now. Too many people believe (1) the economy is what matters, and (2) the environment must take a back seat to our efforts to improve short-term economic performance. How can we demonstrate to them that the economy is part of the larger environment and cannot, in the long run, succeed without a healthy biosphere?
Nevertheless, this is a comprehensive, well written, and interesting guide to a broad range of activities and groups that are addressing today’s environmental challenges. To be practical, each of the eight chapters ends with a “Taking Action” list that suggests several modest and major steps readers can consider for adoption. Examples include:
- Learn about the cultural history of your home region.
- Join your local Chamber of Commerce and suggest ways to promote sustainability initiatives.
- Invite colleagues to a brown-bag lunch and discuss green initiatives for your workplace.
- Research and purchase green building materials for home improvement projects.
- Join a local, national or international environmental group. Participate in one of their campaigns.
- Design a website, blog or wiki that highlights sustainability events of projects in your community and welcomes public input.
- Support your local farmers market. If you don’t have one, start one.
- Develop a green jobs training/internship program with businesses from your community.
This small sample suggests the range and diversity of ways that individuals, acting alone and in groups, can affect positive change. It also shows how challenging and complicated these actions can be.