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Jeremy Williams (Luton)

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Prosperity without Growth: Economics for a Finite Planet
Prosperity without Growth: Economics for a Finite Planet
by Tim Jackson
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £70.00

85 of 88 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Re-imagining the world on the other side of economic growth, 14 Jan. 2010
"An economy predicated on the perpetual expansion of debt-driven materialistic consumption is unsustainable ecologically, problematic socially, and unstable economically" writes Jackson, before explaining three reasons why the growth model of economics is impossible to sustain. Firstly, it assumes that material wealth is an adequate measure of prosperity, when it is actually pretty obvious that a life worth living is much more complicated than that."Our technologies, our economy and our social aspirations are all mis-aligned with any meaningful definition of prosperity"

Secondly, growth is unevenly distributed, and so is doomed to fail at providing a basic standard of living for everyone. Globally, the richest fifth of the world takes home 74% of the income, while the poorest fifth gets just 2%. And thirdly,"we simply don't have the ecological capacity" says Jackson. "By the end of the century, our children and grandchildren will face a hostile climate, depleted resources, the destruction of habitats, the decimation of species, food scarcities, mass migrations and almost inevitably war."

By way of solutions, Jackson prescribes a "new ecologically literate macro-economics" and "shifting the social logic of consumerism", and this is where Prosperity Without Growth comes into its own. It's easy to lament the unsustainable nature of growth economics. It's slightly harder to re-imagine it on the other side. Hardest of all is to detail the transition, how you get from growth to a steady state without breaking the economy. That's the missing piece, and Tim Jackson has boldly stepped into the breach with a book that is clear, balanced and free of political bias. This isn't a blueprint for such a transition, but it does show that it is possible. For that, Prosperity Without Growth has got to be one of the most important books of the year.

Obviously this is a book that will draw strong reactions, and many will dismiss it as environmentalist or socialist nonsense without ever reading it. I'd suggest that's not good enough. If growth is unsustainable, then we need to move beyond it whether we like it or not. "The clearest message from the financial crisis of 2008 is that our current model of economic success is fundamentally flawed" Jackson writes in his conclusion. "For the advanced economies of the western world, prosperity without growth is not a utopian dream. It is a financial and ecological necessity."

On Guerrilla Gardening: A Handbook for Gardening without Boundaries
On Guerrilla Gardening: A Handbook for Gardening without Boundaries
by Richard Reynolds
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Join the horticultural insurgency, 14 Jan. 2010
Richard Reynolds founded a few years ago, giving a name and a face to a hobby/movement that's been rumbling on for decades, if not centuries - Reynolds mentions Gerard Winstanley and the diggers as early pioneers, right back in 1649. This volume collects lots of stories of projects around the world, picking up common themes and challenges. It's also a manual, detailing what to plant, where to plant it, and how to avoid getting caught, because as Reynolds points out early on: if you have permission, it isn't guerrilla gardening.

The simple definition of guerrilla gardening is `the illicit cultivation of someone else's land', and there's lots of reasons why you might choose to do it. You may not have a garden yourself, but want to grow things. There may be ignored or neglected patches of land in your neighbourhood. You might want to make your street prettier, grow some food for yourself, or make a political point about urbanisation or land distribution. All of those are legitimate reasons for secret gardening, although some are more important than others - for many, this is a subversive hobby. For others, especially in developing countries, it is a matter of survival.

Reynolds covers all types. There are hippies planting flowers, Londoners decorating roundabouts, Honduran peasants reclaiming agricultural land from the Chiquita banana company. There are some great stories. I liked the `phoenix gardens', the miniature gardens planted in the ashtrays in Vienna's stations after the smoking ban came in, or the vegetable plots that cropped up along the central reservation of Kenya's highways, making use of the only patches of land left in the heavily built up areas.

The book is full of such stories, from huge projects involving dozens of people to those who just scatter wildflower seeds out their car windows as they drive down the motorway. It's easy to see how you could get started, and it's given me lots of ideas, to my wife's consternation. For someone like me who doesn't know a whole lot about plants, it's also very practical. The sections on what to plant in dry or shady spots is particularly useful.

I haven't decided if and how I will strike, but reading On Guerrilla Gardening has certainly inspired me to look at the streets around me differently.

Why Your World is About to Get a Whole Lot Smaller: What the Price of Oil Means for the Way We Live
Why Your World is About to Get a Whole Lot Smaller: What the Price of Oil Means for the Way We Live
by Jeff Rubin
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £18.99

13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars the economics of peak oil, 3 Nov. 2009
Most peak oil theorists seem to be geologists, political commentators, or environmentalists, so I've read plenty on the geo-politics of peak oil. Jeff Rubin is an investment banker, which makes for a rather different angle. Forget picking dates and analyzing remaining reserves, it's the price of oil that really matters. What happens to the economy at $100 a barrel, or $150? At what point does the oil price begin to bite into world trade? How will this affect development? What becomes of the whole globalization experiment?

"Cheap oil gives us access to a pretty big world" says Rubin, and that's not just about holidays and travel. We can move production around to get the best labour price, as transport costs are negligible. This keeps our shops piled high with cheap consumer goods, from toys to furniture. Cheap oil has also given us access to all kinds of foods, both cheaper everyday products, and a broader range of luxuries and international delicacies

When oil prices rise, transport costs suddenly have to be factored in, and at this point the global economy no longer makes economic sense. Transport costs will rise to the point that importing goods is prohibitively expensive. At $150 a barrel, the energy price increase "offsets all the trade liberalization of the last three decades". There are both good and bad aspects to this. On the one hand, everything becomes more expensive, consumption drops away, and the growth rate of the economy slumps. On the plus side, offshoring production is no longer economic, and industry will start to `come home'. Factories will re-open for local markets, as the savings on labour in poorer countries will be cancelled out by the transport costs. That peak oil could be the saviour of the US rust belt is not a side of the debate that gets much attention, it has to be said.

There's a lot here that you won't find elsewhere in peak oil texts. Rubin examines it as an economist, extrapolating the impacts of supply and demand in a very logical and plausible fashion, and doesn't shy away from the reality that "oil consumption and economic growth go hand in hand". This is a post-credit crunch book, which means there's some useful perspective on the outlook for the recession, and how quickly it will be over. "Recovery from recession will trigger a spike in oil prices that could provoke another recession" he warns. "What is at stake is nothing less than economic growth itself and hence our very standard of living."

Chapters on climate change are less useful. For one thing, Rubin seems to believe the US is a world leader on climate change, which is a bad place to start. No wonder then that he fixes on China as the main problem, particularly on their use of coal. Convenient, but he ignores the fact that China's emissions are our off-shored emissions, since much of it is for exports. He also ignores per-capita emissions. China is the world's largest country - of course its emissions will be huge. A bit more balance needed on these sections I think.

Overall however, this is an insightful contribution that broadens the debate considerably.

Rekindling Community: Connecting People, Environment and Spirituality (Schumacher Briefing)
Rekindling Community: Connecting People, Environment and Spirituality (Schumacher Briefing)
by Alastair McIntosh
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.00

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars an unusual blend of cross-disciplinary thinking, 21 Oct. 2009
This Schumacher Briefing looks at how to connect `people, environment and spirituality'. It draws on psychology, theology and sociology in an unusual blend of cross-disciplinary thinking. It's quite technical, and a little advanced compared to what I normally read, but it did begin to click into place after two or three chapters.

McIntosh's premise is that we are disconnected from each other and from the earth, because our modern world has talked itself out of metaphysics. We don't even have a shared language any more for the soul, the spiritual, the deeper ties that give us our sense of identity and of place. And yet, community is built on three strands: soil, soul, and society. It requires all three, and "the breaking of friendship between any one of these three ruptures the fabric of reality."

In order to restore community, we need to acknowledge the role of the spiritual - what McIntosh refers to as teaching `psycho-spiritual literacy'. Out of this inner work, understanding ourselves better, the outer signs of community can then flow. We can begin to take responsibility for ourselves and for others, learn to share feelings of both joy and sorrow, create and nurture shared values.

Those interested in stimulating community may find this book a little dry, long on theory and short on practice. If you're looking for practical ideas you might need to look elsewhere, but if you enjoy psychology, this is a fascinating and unusual book.

Money Matters: Putting the eco into economics - global crisis, local solutions
Money Matters: Putting the eco into economics - global crisis, local solutions
by David Boyle
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a highly accessible introduction to money and how to make it work better, 21 Oct. 2009
"We are all implicated, with our mortgages and pensions, in a bizarre system that operates ostensibly in our name" says David Boyle. "It is complicated, more than a little insane, and it functions in a dream world above people's ordinary lives - both useless and irrelevant to them and corrosive of them at the same time."

Money Matters sets out to explore how the money system works - what is money? How is it made? Who controls it? Why is there never enough to go around? It does so in simple terms, and is very readable. Each chapter is only a couple of pages, so you don't get bogged down in detail. There are little introductions to famous names such as Adam Smith or John Maynard Keynes. Lots of bullet points, and at the end of every chapter there's a book or website to look up if you want more information. It's the most accessible book on economics I've come across, by a considerably distance.

The book begins with the problems, from from tax havens to the monopoly of the `big four' accountancy firms, subsidies, or the fact that the "greedy 24 year olds" of the City make more money out of instability than stability. The later sections deal with the solutions, and this is where David Boyle really hits stride. Local money, community banking partnerships, swapping, time banking, co-ops, there are dozens of examples of good, practical, real-life alternatives.

If money confuses you, or if you know somehow that it isn't working but couldn't say why, this is the book for you.

Local Food: How to Make it Happen in Your Community: How to Unleash a Food Revolution Where You Live (The Local Series)
Local Food: How to Make it Happen in Your Community: How to Unleash a Food Revolution Where You Live (The Local Series)
by Rob Hopkins
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.95

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars all the information you need to get started in local food, 21 Oct. 2009
Local food does what it says on the cover - it sets out all the principles and ideas you'll need to set up local food projects in the place where you live, from garden sharing and allotments to community orchards and co-ops.

There's a brief introduction explaining why local food is important, and then the book cuts straight to the practical bit. Each chapter introduces a concept or type of project, and then gives two or three real life examples, simply telling the story of what people tried to do, how they did it, and how it worked out. Each section then closes with tips for setting up your own project, contributed by people who have already done it.

Full of ingenious ideas, Local Food is a great source book for generating new projects, and it should also be a useful reference. There are lots of further sources of information listed at the back, including funding bodies.

All in all, Local Food is practical, inspiring, and while it never pretends that food projects are easy to set up and run, it does make them sound very worthwhile, very rewarding, and very possible.

Embryonic [Standard]
Embryonic [Standard]
Price: £7.99

29 of 30 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Noisy, bold, and satisfyingly odd, 16 Oct. 2009
This review is from: Embryonic [Standard] (Audio CD)
I think there must have been a turning point for the Flaming Lips sometime in early 2008. Perhaps it was when they realised they'd just recorded a song for the romcom `Good Luck Chuck'. This is a band that used to fill an upturned cymbal with lighter fluid and play the drums on fire, who have performed gigs on car stereos in a car park, and released an album on four disks that had to be played simultaneously. What on earth were they doing on the Spiderman 3 soundtrack?

`Embryonic' swiftly puts things right, throwing a large spanner in the works of their mainstream appeal. From the first minutes, it's clear that their superstar status is no obstacle to making awkward music again. `Convinced of the Hex' begins in sharp stabs of electric guitar, before sloping off into a deep, rattling chug. It's a thousand miles from the layered, crisp sounds of the most recent Flaming Lips albums.

Hot on its heels comes the buzzing, crunching `The Sparrow looks up at the Machine'. Melodically, it could sit alongside any of the quieter moments on `Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots', but the production here is muddy, clunky, rough around the edges. As if to emphasize their creative freedom, yelps, screams, hoots and barking noises punctuate the gaps between the lyrics.

At this point, fans who picked up on the Lips post-Yoshimi may well be turning off, but the album has its moments, its flashes of tenderness and humour. `Aquarius Sabotage' offers a little glimpse of beauty, `Gemini Syringes' is a telephoned in astrophysics lesson over primitive bass and twinkling keyboards. There's always more going on than you first think, if you can bring yourself to take a second listen.

Overall however, `Embryonic' is a bit of a cacophony. `Powerless' features a three minute guitar solo that goes nowhere. The orchestral moments that suddenly burst out of the static and crashing of `Scorpio Sword' are a genuine surprise, but the track is still two minutes of noise. Karen O from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs appears on `I Can be a Frog', only to make animal noises and laugh. There's nothing here that could even be a single, let alone a hit. It's long and shambolic, but it's also fun and exhilarating. Take it or leave it, it's an album you have to surrender yourself to.

Wayne Coyne claims they had given themselves the `freedom to fail' on this album, and that's perhaps a defining phrase. Whether it fails or not is up to you, but I think not. I loved the last three Lips albums, so part of me wishes they'd followed them up with more of the same. Another part of me knows that I'd have been a little disappointed if they'd done anything so predictable.

The Flaming Lips have always had an imagination bigger than their music and even their medium, as their stage shows and films testify. It may be commercially cavalier, but in the broader perspective of their unusual career, `Embryonic' makes complete sense.

My Old, Familiar Friend
My Old, Familiar Friend
Offered by davidmorpurgo
Price: £7.79

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Welcome back, Brendan Benson, 11 Sept. 2009
This review is from: My Old, Familiar Friend (Audio CD)
Brendan Benson writes great pop songs with catchy melodies and intelligent lyrics, but since he has so many other projects on the go, his own solo albums seem to appear at four year intervals. It's a long time in music, enough for some bands to play out their entire careers. Fans have patiently waited while Benson palled around with the Raconteurs, and now their patience has been rewarded. My Old Familiar Friend is just what you'd expect from such a title: a new but instantly familiar collection of what Benson does best.

That timeless sound remains, apparently the result of obsessively recording on the oldest possible equipment. There are big tunes and harmonies, little touches of organ and synth, all played by Benson. It starts strong with A Whole Lot Better and Eyes on the Horizon, before bringing out the strings for Garbage Day. You Make a Fool Out of Me is a pretty acoustic lament, Feel Like Taking You Home simmers, Poised and Ready stomps, and if you can't say what you need to in three and half minutes, it isn't worth saying.

My Old Familiar friend wraps up in the blustery outro of Borrow, its 11 tracks over without a minute wasted. Let's hope Benson isn't away for quite so long this time.

All Will Be Well
All Will Be Well
Offered by best_value_entertainment
Price: £5.99

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An accomplished album and a welcome return, 13 Aug. 2009
This review is from: All Will Be Well (Audio CD)
It's been a long wait for fans of Custom Blue. Their last album, All Follow Everyone, was released in 2002. When commercial success failed to match critical applause, the band were quietly dropped by Island Records.

Seven years later, I had assumed the duo had given up and gone on to do other things, but then there was a little flurry of activity on their Myspace site, and now a new album. Despite the gap, it picks up right where the last one finished, with the same sound: chillout beats and acoustic guitars, the two members taking turns at vocals.

All Will Be Well begins strong, with rattling, driving opener Cobblestones, then drops a gear to the melancholy Not The Only One and Bruised You Too, two downbeat and beautiful songs. As before, the melodies are immediate, but there's always more going on under the surface of a Custom Blue song. There are twinkles of piano, elegant basslines, deep rumblings. Over Your Shoulder emerges slowly from washes and textures of electric guitar, Small Animals is essentially a folk song, and April Eyes wraps up an album that is laid back, engrossing, and better than the first.

The Transition Timeline
The Transition Timeline
by Shaun Chamberlin
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.60

16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The roadmap to a resilient, sustainable future, 1 May 2009
I read the Transition Handbook only a few weeks ago, so I was curious to see how this one differed. Apparently it was written with existing Transition initiatives in mind, particularly those working on `energy descent action plans' (EDAP).

The EDAP is the detailed masterplan for transitioning a community beyond peak oil and is the ultimate goal of any Transition project. It's a big task, and the hardest part is knowing what to include, and in what order?

The Transition Timeline answers these questions from the perspective of 2027, through a series of chapters on transport, energy, food and so on, each written from the future and showing how we got there. It incorporates local actions, cultural change, and international agreements on climate change and peak oil. Chamberlin also offers three alternative non-transition scenarios, ie the ones the government are pursuing at the moment, also viewed from 2027. Those timelines aren't so pretty.

The Transition Timeline answers a number of different and quite specific questions. While that makes it a useful source of inspiration to the Transition movement, it may seem a little unfocused to the uninitiated - along with the main timelines there are chapters that bring climate change and peak oil right up to date, ideas for group exercises, an introduction to systems thinking, and a section on climate change and peak oil in the UK context.

Most importantly though, this is part of the Transition movement's use of `back-casting' - deciding your destination, and then working backwards to see what you need to do to get there. The case for a local, resilient future is presented simply, and the consequences of choosing otherwise are obvious and undesirable:

"Our choice is between the different 2027s we have just considered", is Chamberlin's challenge. "We do, collectively, get to chose which of them come to pass."
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 16, 2009 1:24 PM BST

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