I had recently read The Optimists Guide to the Future and this provides an altogether more academic viewpoint which is complementary. As an academic work is less accessible than the Optimists Guide which is a fun tour through the latest technologies. This book takes a much more grounded approach but it is still not the pessimism of some authors especially with regard to the major challenge of climate change.
The book identifies four crises that are affecting world progress. These are climate, demographics, economic and finally governance (the ability to address the other 3 crises). It takes a less optimistic view of technology and change than the naive optimists who believe that something will come up because it always has and shows that the current capitalist model cannot be relied upon to come up with the solution on its own - it might not work. So we need to take new approaches if we are not going to be carrying on more of the same in Petropolis which is just an extension of what we have now that is not robust to the crises such as climate change (Katrina and New Orleans are the example). We need to try and move to one of the other possibilities, which include a green-washed version but most positively an unknown version where we throw away the rule book. This is where the book is optimistic, it is more pessimistic (apparently realism and not pessimism is the antonym of optimism according to Microsoft) about what happens if we are less bold. The realistic models show that we will find it hard to escape disaster particularly because of the problem of weak governance - nobody wants to make the changes we need for the long-term future.
I found it is a very interesting and enlightening book, but it is not for everyone and the academic style might put people off. The one thing that annoyed me was the use of TLAs (Three Letter Acronyms) - see how annoying they are. Sometimes plain language is more helpful and then we don't have to use them.
on 31 January 2014
In this meticulously researched book, the authors examine what sustainability really means and how to get cities working from the ground up. It uses the device of looking a series of possible model cities of the future, (Petropolis, Cyburbia, and the Distributed City) with a preference for cities where businesses respond to the needs of locals: it is above all businesses rather than anything more Utopian that will be at the heart of the success or failure of our cites. One model could be Barcelona’s, with its 12 “fab labs” where small factories deliver local jobs as well as answer local need: one such 'fab lab' is near a hospital and makes 3D-prints hearing devices and prosthetic lathes and employs former factory workers locally. The book is full of other innovative ideas which would improve our quality of life as the whole world edges towards living in town. In Austin, Texas, the latest smart power grids have heating systems which communicate wirelessly with solar panels to make energy consumption efficient. Highly recommended and read in a sitting by this gripped reader.
on 21 November 2013
This is a no holds barred description of the civilisation challenge ahead. Economics is brought to life as the authors draw out three scenarios of how business and governance could interact with a view to creating a resilient future, but not before the pitfalls of business as usual and techno havens are explored in detail.
Not since reading three Gladwell books over a week have I relished a book so much, and the concepts they reveal will be equally as useful. From the power of 'liquid democracy' to the awesomeness of 3D printers, this is an agent for change. Right I'm off to find me one of those 'Fab Labs'......Inspirational.
Don't be put off by the fact that this book is something of a polemic. Sometimes this approach is needed and if skilfully handled can be highly effective (although in my experience the opposite does tend to be the norm). And let's be honest Oxford University Press is the biggest - and probably best- academic publisher in the world with a team of editors who know what they're doing. What makes this book interesting is it views the subject of sustainability through a business lens. Erudite, well researched and well written. Highly recommended.