Review: State of the World 2010–Transforming Cultures–From Consumerism to Sustainability

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5.0 out of 5 stars Top of the Fives, A Bold Departure Elegantly Executed

August 25, 2010

Erik Assadourian et al

I’ve become someone jaundiced about the State of the World series, while always respecting the persistence of Lester Brown (Peter Drucker called people like us “mono-maniacs” essential as change agents), but this one knocked me off my seat just with the table of contents. From there I went to the Notes and saw a number of books new to me. You can visit Phi Beta Iota the Public Intelligence Blog to see the 1,600+ that I have reviewed, sorted into 98 non-fiction categories.

My first note:

A triumph, the most interesting, diverse, and relevant of the series to date. A bold departure, “just in time.”

The book opens with a timeline over multiple pages with illustrations, and the notes are worthy. The timeline is compelling broad view that I found very helpful, and would like to see more of.

There are 50 pages of notes, and this is where I spent my first 40 minutes or so. While the notes do not range as widely as I have, they are solid and do not overlook Herman Daly as well as Paul Hawkins, but they do miss Paul Ray and a few other Cultural Creative icons.

The book in one long line: Culture is critical, traditions can help, education’s new role is to teach holistic systems and sustainable values, business must go green, government must design cities and life in general to be sustainable, media integrity must be restored (in part by teaching media literacy, memorably cast as the literacy that matters in our time), and power of social movements.

Five examples of marketing-driven idiocy: bottled watter, fast food, disposable paper products, personal vehicles, and pets (buy the book, I am not going to touch pets and their methane and consumer habits here).

QUOTE (15): Perhaps the greatest critique of schools is that they represent a huge missed opportunity to combat consumerism and to educate students about its effects on people and the environment. Few schools teach media literacy to help students critically interpret marketing; few teach or model proper nutrition, even while providing access to unhealthy or unsustainable consumer products; and few teach a basic understanding of the ecological sciences–specificially that the human species is not unique but in fact just as dependent on a functioning Earth system for its survival as every other species.

QUOTE (23): Pan (Vice Minister of China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection) realizes that the ecological crisis is also a crisis of culture and of the human spirit. It is a moment of re-conceptualizing the role of the human in nature.

QUOTE (55): For a shift away from consumerism to occur, every aspect of education–from lunchtime and recess to class work and even the walk home–will need to be oriented on sustainability.

Overall this book provides a really fine overview of the possible roles of religion (as well as where it does not go). It addressess population policy as a likely non-starter but notes the effect of education and prosperity on declining birthrates. Most importantly, it clearly identifies the low-hanging fruit: 2 out of 5 pregancies are unwanted, that is where we can focus right now.

The section on sustainable agriculture summarizes much of what Francis Lappe Moore and Alan Yoeman and others have been telling us for decades, but it is a good bottom line: less meat, buy local, go organic. I personally believe we need to end absentee land ownership and also nullify all federal regulations for any enterprise that is state-based and only sells within the state.

The Gund Institute for Ecologicial Economics is featured across that secton.

QUOTE (85): All these crises can be traced back to one overarching problem: we have failed to adapt our current sociological regime from an empty world to a full world. Here I have to mention two books and point to the Complexity & Catastrophe section at Phi Beta Iota (and see also the Complexity & Resilience section):

Acts of God: The Unnatural History of Natural Disaster in America
The Next Catastrophe: Reducing Our Vulnerabilities to Natural, Industrial, and Terrorist Disasters

The authors observe that too many (virtually everyone in a position of power) still favors “growth” as the solution to economic pains, rather than sensibility for sustainability. Five recommended goals in this section:

1. Redefine the well-being matrix.
2. Ensure the well-being of populations during the transition.
3. Reduce complexity and increase resilience.
4. Expand the “commons sector.”
5. Use the Internet to remove communication barriers and improve democracy.

Okay, am going to have to list three books here, two of them published by Earth Intelligence Network and also free online:

The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid, Revised and Updated 5th Anniversary Edition: Eradicating Poverty Through Profits
Collective Intelligence: Creating a Prosperous World at Peace
INTELLIGENCE for EARTH: Clarity, Diversity, Integrity, & Sustainaabilty

See also the briefing, “Hacking Humanity” as delivered at Hackers on Planet Earth (HOPE) 2010, at Phi Beta Iota.

The book touches on the need to change business charters, but does not make the more obvious and necessary point that all businesses operate under public charters. We should not be allowing businesses to flourish with multiple sets of books while externalizing costs and introducing toxins with abandon.

Other very provocative aspects of the book includes discussions of rituals, the need for new or restored taboos, the trade-off inherent in “stuff” versus time.

The education section merits further distribution as a stand-alone. Among other things it recommends the introduction of outdoor education and the teaching of integrated Earth Studies at every level including professional schools. It recommends that campuses be redesigned to walk the walk. The core objective is to have all schools help students understand and remediate our own self-destructive behavior as a species.

The seven R’s (59): Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Respect, Reflect, Repair, and Responsibility.

I learn for the first time about the Millenium Assessment of Human Behavior (MAHB) but I also note that the book fails to reflect the critical integrity failure of the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and appears oblivious to the far more thoughtful findings of the UN High-Level Panel on Threats, Challenge, and Change, free online and also published as A More Secure World: Our Shared Responsibility–Report of the Secretary-General’s High-level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change.

A separate discussion of the need for Earth jurispudence is interesting, and places this topic roughly where human rights were in the 1980’s.

The section on government focuses on the neglect of the environment and the Earth as clients with legal standing, and the need to expand our concept of security to include disease, disaster, unemployment, and non-renewable resources. I prefer the treatment in The Search for Security: A U.S. Grand Strategy for the Twenty-First Century and in Environmental Security and Global Stability: Problems and Responses.

Media, music, and social movements round out the book. I am left wanting more, one reason this is a solid five, but does not make the leap to Six Stars and Beyond.

E O Wilson, author of Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge gives this book a strong review, and that is just one more reason to buy it. The WorldWatch Institute has taken a very important step with this book–we need “more like this.”

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