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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Could it be that it is already too late?, 21 May 2013
Dennis Littrell (SoCal/NorCal/Maui) - See all my reviews
This review is from: State of the World 2013: Is Sustainability Still Possible? (Paperback)
"We have not inherited the earth from our fathers, we are borrowing it from our children." --Native American proverb (p. 5)

Not to be flippant but the answer to the question in the title, "Is Sustainability Still Possible?" is blowing in the wind (like so much topsoil after a brush fire). As pointed out by Jennie Moore and William E. Rees in the chapter on "Getting to One-Planet Living":

"System collapse is a complicated process. Ecosystem thresholds are not marked with signs warning of impending danger. We may actually pass through a tipping point unaware because nothing much happens at first." (p. 40)

The whole planet is the ecosystem and we are just part of it.

Also complicated is this book on the "State of the World 2013" with over 400 glossy pages and 34 chapters on subjects as diverse as cultural change and climate change, biodiversity and the morality of using more than we need, Rapa Nui and the petri dish. And perhaps the Really Big Question: Is it already too late?

Seems extreme to put it that way, doesn't it? But given that "humanity is currently consuming the ecological capacity of 1.5 earths" (see the endnote on page 382 and elsewhere in the book) with more consumption to come and no way to put the brakes on, it could be true and we wouldn't even know it. And consider this: "societies are unlikely to enact policies and programs that favor the future (or nonhuman life) at the expense of people living in the present, especially the poorer among us." (p. 8) In fact it's a very real moral dilemma, and as a practical matter it's hard to believe that people living today are going to voluntarily lower their standard of living for people yet unborn. Most people I suspect believe that the future can take care of itself, and besides who's to say what science and technological advances are to come that will clean up the mess we leave and restore a depleted planet?

Consequently it is my position that the problem is human nature. Until and unless we are able to come to grips with the not very nice nature of our limbic systems--perhaps through cyborg add-ons or genetic engineering, or even in the long run through human evolutionary change brought about by thousands of years of system collapse and system rebuilding--until and unless we can overcome our shortsightedness and become stewards of the planet we may be doomed.

You'll forgive me for sounding extreme. The book itself is not extreme. It is carefully written by experts from many fields who express their concerns and make their arguments with facts and deep thought supported by 51 pages of endnotes. Their words are balanced between dread and a cautious hope. They are realistic and not as pessimistic as I am.

In Chapter 10 Erik Assadourian notes that "consumerism" has become "the dominant paradigm across most cultures" in the world today. Nurtured by "business and government leaders over the past few centuries" many "people are defining themselves first and foremost through how they consume..." His point is that "consumerism is not a viable cultural paradigm on a planet whose systems are deeply stressed and that is currently home to 7 billion people..." (p. 113)

Adding some serious gloom is the fact that fossil-fuel based carbon dioxide emissions (a result of more consumption) show a steady upward trend, again with no end in sight considering that the vast populations of China and India not to mention sub-Saharan Africa are only going to consume more fossil fuel energy as they move toward a higher standard of living. It would appear that nothing can stop the irrepressible drive to dig up all that buried sunlight. Worldwatch Institute President Robert Engelman remarks, "This trend leads some scientists to suggest it may be too late to stop future warming in a safe temperature range for humanity" The endnote on page 382 cites BP (that's British Petroleum) itself as the source for this 1965-2011 trend.

And this thought brings me to make this suggestion: bribe the fossil-fuel companies into becoming part of the solution instead of being in the vanguard of the problem by giving them financial incentives to get out of the fossil fuel business and into something sustainable. They have an enormous capacity for research and development. If we can get them to put their resources into finding ways to economically develop renewable energy we could perhaps solve our problem. All they want to do is make money. If we make it profitable for them to do it some other way they will.

Putting my perspective aside, we can perhaps see that it all comes down to education, knowledge, and understanding. If the contents of this deep, dense and very wise book were somehow to become public knowledge, something that everybody knows, then we could expect (in the world's democracies at least) giant steps being taken toward sustainability. In Chapter 24, "Teaching for Turbulence" Michael Maniates makes the metaphorical point that we are facing "a white-water turbulence of climate instability, ecologic decline, and attendant economic and political dislocation, with winners, losers, and persistent inequality." The solution? Better environmental studies and science (ESS) programs in our universities. I would take that a step further and insist that ESS be a mandatory part of the high school curriculum with an awareness of the need for sustainability beginning in elementary school.

And yes it would be wonderful if we could somehow get members of congress and the White House to read as least some parts of this book. But I take the cynical and somehow sanguine view that if humans continue to trash the planet and go the way of the dodo that's just an ephemeral problem in the long run since surely some other perhaps wiser creatures will evolve in a few million years or so. Well, that is if global warming leading to a runaway greenhouse effect doesn't turn the planet into another Venus.

Oops, did I use the "alarmist," politically incorrect, and frankly verboten (and not found in the book's index) phrase "runaway greenhouse effect"? Yes, I did.

--Dennis Littrell, author of "The World Is Not as We Think It Is"
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Good collection of essays, 23 July 2013
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I think this is a good collection of essays including some excellent thought provoking ones. I can recommend this book.
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State of the World 2013: Is Sustainability Still Possible?
State of the World 2013: Is Sustainability Still Possible? by The Worldwatch Institute (Paperback - 30 May 2013)
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