There are a couple of ways that the title of this collection of 34 articles misses the mark. First, most articles focus less on the "state of the world" as it is in 2013, than about how it might be in the future. And (spoiler alert) the overwhelming majority of articles answer the title question in the affirmative. Unfortunately, I'm not sure a reader will wind up with a better idea of what "sustainability" is after reading this book than she or he had beforehand; at least, I didn't.
Nonetheless, even though I've been researching and writing in a this general field for a while myself, there were maybe 10 or so articles I found that made very good points new to me, or made their points unusually well. Most of these articles had a narrower focus than talking about how to change the whole world at once. Roughly an equal number of chapters had me madly scribbling critical comments in the margins. The remaining, slightly biggest chunk were at least pretty good overall. My star score reflects this average. (DISCLOSURE: Before you read further I should mention that the publisher contacted me and offered to send me a copy of the book if I would agree to write an honest review. Based on my impression of other books from this publisher, I accepted. This is my first invited review out of more than 200 reviews I've posted on Amazon to date. Should there be a recurrence, I will highlight the fact again.)
While I'll have more specific remarks below about the contents of some of the chapters, the absence of some important topics was also notable. First, none of the chapters engaged seriously with *finance.* Several chapters were critical of GDP and production; but the economy of goods and services, which is what's measured by GDP, is several times smaller than the financial economy, both in the US and globally. (This might sound paradoxical, but it's not: capital gains, such as from the sale of stocks on the stock market, aren't included in GDP statistics.) One author proposed in his conclusions that corporations shift to becoming "capital factories" (Chapter  @ 152), which sounds like an expansion of finance. Another seemed to suggest that the expansion of debt runs into trouble on account of the Second Law of Thermodynamics (@76), but the Marxist characterization used to justify this inference, that debt is a claim on future production (id.), seems rather out of date in an economy based on exchange rate speculation, derivatives, etc. This characterization of debt is repeated in a subsequent chapter about de-growth , whose authors wisely shy away from making any explicit connection between compound interest and "matter-and-energy throughput." While a section of chapter  does engage with the US monetary and banking systems, the focus in that passage is more fiscal (i.e., about taxing and spending) than financial. A whole menagerie of financial services products and practices, such as high-frequency trading, simply slip under this book's radar.
Second, none of the articles talked about *regional conflicts,* especially ones that have historical, political or religious bases. Since more than a few authors talked with at least guarded optimism about solutions at the global scale, the failure to engage with this issue made it hard to take their analyses seriously. E.g., it's lovely to propose that environmental groups form alliances with the world's religious communities ( @ 316), but what about the fact that some of the world's religious communities are killing each other in large numbers, over quarrels that go back many centuries at least? Or about the fact that, e.g., political tensions are rising in East Asia, and are likely to remain so during most of our last window of opportunity to cooperate about the environment, namely, the current century? Why should any reader believe there's even a ghost of a chance that everyone is suddenly going to hold hands?
A third missing topic is *treaties.* I mean especially of the free trade type, not the Kyoto Protocol type. Treaties such as those relating to the World Trade Organization, plus various intellectual property treaties that impact agriculture, actually can make it very difficult for countries to adopt many of the measures discussed in the book, because the countries can be punished if they try to do good things. The timeline of 2012 events at the front of the book mentions one example: in May 2012, the WTO outlawed "dolphin-safe" labels on tuna as being unfair to Mexican fishermen. Especially because there are thousands more bilateral treaties in the world than anybody can humanly keep track of (such as ones that allow Japan to ship nuclear and medical waste to certain poorer countries, but not vice versa), this topic is to sustainability like the iceberg was to the Titanic -- huge, (potentially) fatal, and still lurking in the dark.
Finally, and this is maybe a more technical objection, I was surprised not to find any mention of Nobel economist Robert Solow or of his notion of "weak sustainability," which has been the dominant notion of sustainability in mainstream economics to date. Weak sustainability assumes that natural capital is interchangeable with man-made capital and financial capital. To paraphrase Solow, it's the height of arrogance for us to presume that those in the future will prefer trees to concrete. This book seems to favor a stronger idea of sustainability -- i.e., that these different forms of capital are NOT substitutable for each other -- but some argument against the prevailing contrary view might have been fruitful.
Probably most readers with an interest in sustainability will find at least some useful articles in this book. But for some articles you should keep a lot of salt handy. I mention some highlights and lowlights below, grouped according to the book's three main divisions:
I: Introduction plus The Sustainability Metric [1-9]
Most of the articles in this section were pretty solid. I particularly liked the ones about planetary boundaries , resource impacts of renewable energies , and conserving nonrenewable resources , though the articles on fresh water  and fisheries  might also be useful for those new to those topics. A future article about nonrenewable resources might mention something about research in alternative materials using high earth-abundancy elements (materials science being another topic quite missing from this book overall). I also wished the fisheries article were more specific about some countries and regions that are exacerbating the problem.
I had more difficulty with "Defining a Safe and Just Space for Humanity"  and "Energy as Master Resource" . The former is written in the utilitarian jargon of mainstream neoliberal economics, e.g. equating human well-being with property rights (specifically, "a claim on the resources [a person] need[s] to live a life of dignity and opportunity," @30). The entire sphere of politics is reduced to a single dimension ("voice") in an 11-dimensional set of "social foundations" (@32). And we are told that "sure, the direction of GDP still matters" (@38), i.e. that economic growth should continue, without a good case being made for why.
The energy article brings up a number of not-quite-accurate physics-based arguments. (I've earlier critiqued most of these in detail in my Amazon review of Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen's "The Entropy Law and the Economic Process," including the comment thread thereto.) The biggest problem I had with it was that it repeatedly portrays what are essentially political or practical constraints as if they were mandated by the laws of physics. For example, the laws of physics allow us to send up huge solar panels into geostationary orbit, where even current technologies operate at higher efficiency thanks to the extreme cold, and to beam power back to earth via microwave. That would make the supply of "low entropy" fuel sources on earth (see @75) much less of an issue for a very long time, and allow us to use the entire terrestrial insolation for economic growth. As Freeman Dyson pointed out roughly 50 years ago, we could even build a sphere around the sun to capture almost all of the solar output, not just the fraction that reaches us here at earth. Whether we would want to spend to money and effort on this, or suffer other consequences of shielding the world with a geostationary disco ball -- fat chance to both -- are practical and political matters, not issues of the Second Law. Similarly, the Energy Return on Energy Invested metric is portrayed as identifying an "Energy Trap" that we "cannot build our way out of" (@ 81); actually, though, there isn't any stable consensus on how EROI is to be computed, and the "trap" is again a political and economic one, not a physical one. It was also puzzling to read that "alone among disciplines that aspire to the status of rigorous science, economics alone remains relatively unaffected by the reconstructive impulse of thermodynamics," instead "retain[ing] its roots in the Newtonian mechanism" (@75). The author should read Phillip Mirowski's well-known historical work, "More Heat than Light" (1988), which shows that mainstream economics has been *very heavily* influenced by thermodynamics (albeit not by the Second Law).
One last issue with this section of the book is that it doesn't live up to its promise of describing a "sustainability metric." Many metrics are proposed -- e.g., EROI , "living within boundaries" , "1-planet living" , and various other "dashboards"  -- but no attempt is made to synthesize or reconcile them.
II: Getting to True Sustainability [10-23]
Books like this tend to be filled with "top-down, expert-led, apolitical managerialist schemes and technological fixes" ( @ 166). This section broke the mould a bit by having a few articles with a more political focus. For me, the stand-out article in this section was , "Keep Them in the Ground: Ending the Fossil Fuel Era," which not only made a great case for shifting the focus of the climate change struggle from CO2 emissions to fossil fuel extraction, but was very up-front and insistent about the inherently political nature of such an effort. "Pathways to Sustainability: Building Political Strategies"  and "Moving from Individual Change to Societal Change"  are less intense and more optimistic about the future, but each makes a good point often forgotten by other authors. The first reminds us that with all the talk about "deliberative democracy" and the like, it's all too easy to overlook who is framing the agenda for the deliberations. The second emphasizes that small individual actions "are a fine place to start. But they are a terrible place to stop." ( @ 245.) Also interesting were a pair of chapters on agriculture (, ), and a very practice-oriented chapter about the impact of energy-saving improvements on the real estate market .
Another good chapter is "Building a Sustainable and Desirable Economy-in-Society-in-Nature" , by an all-star team of 9 heterodox economists who are individually outspoken critics of economic growth (including Herman Daly, Tim Jackson, Juliet Schor, Peter Victor and others). This is the chapter in the book that's most up-front about the need for wealthier countries to abandon economic growth. If you're new to that idea, it's well worth your reading this essay. It does suffer somewhat from doses of "top-down, expert-led, apolitical managerialist" vocabulary, as well as from what seems to be a universal occupational hazard of economists (maybe J.K. Galbraith excepted): overstating the centrality of economics. E.g. it talks about "sustainable governance" (@131), and about how a strong democracy builds "social capital" and "helps to satisfy myriad human needs," thereby casting the political in economic terms (@135). A sentence in the next paragraph beginning, "If society instead adopts the central economic goal of sustainable human well-being, ..." (@135), had me wondering why should this be solely an *economic* goal? And one of its recommendations, that "all of the internal and external costs and benefits, including social and ecological, of alternative decisions concerning the use of natural and social capital should be identified and allocated, to the extent possible" (@132) almost certainly can't be achieved. Cost-benefit analysis is an inherently slippery exercise, easily manipulated by advocates for one position or another: new costs and benefits can be identified at will by anyone with enough imagination and motivation. Though CBA uses the language of economics, it's essentially a rhetorical and political tool. Nonetheless, despite my fussing over some details of this chapter, you should read it anyway.
My pencil wasn't so busy while reading most other chapters in this section, but I did notice a few unfortunate metaphors. The title "Valuing Indigenous Peoples"  makes it sound as if the people themselves are being valued monetarily, even though the article doesn't propose anything of the kind, and was generally good (if perhaps too categorically optimistic about the democratic proclivities of indigenous peoples). "Respecting" or "Empowering" might have been a more appropriate verb. Dynamism and stability seem to clash in the title "Transforming the Corporation into a Driver of Sustainability" ; metaphors aside, the article's vision of "Corporation 2020" as being simultaneously a "factory" of "financial capital," a "community" and an "institute of learning and skills training" sounded both too good and too inconsistent to be true. The ultra-rational-sounding title "Re-Engineering Cultures to Create a Sustainable Civilization"  was more indicative of the article's culturally insensitive content -- I suspect I won't be the only reader to be turned off by the article's rather Spock-like argument for why we should give up our pets.
III: Open in Case of Emergency [24-31]
The author of the pet diatribe would have done well to heed the excellent article, "Teaching for Turbulence" , that kicks off this final section of the book -- specifically, its observation that "a politics of guilt can never mobilize and inspire." (@261) The article also has an excellent critique of the attitude that a catastrophe would be a welcome occasion to convince people to finally act (an attitude that is also trendy in Europe, particularly among French authors). Although the article was ostensibly aimed at university environmental studies and science (ESS) programs, its insights have much wider application. I thought it was easily one of the top 3 articles in the book.
I was also pleasantly surprised by "The Promises and Perils of Geoengineering" , which was remarkably even-handed. An article about Cuba's ability to do more with less was also very stimulating , even if a reader is left with the suspicion that more discussion about civil rights under the current regime would have made for a more nuanced portrait of Cuba's sustainability.
Unfortunately, this section of the book was a hotbed of articles that spoke of politics via the neoliberal notion of "governance": , , , . "Governance" is a concept whose modern origin is in the management of private corporations; it's not a substitute for democracy or for politics, nor is "deliberation" a substitute for real power. (Canadian political scientist Alain Deneault has recently published a book criticizing "governance" from literally 50 different perspectives; I don't think it's yet come out in English, but if you can read French I recommend it: « Gouvernance: Le management totalitaire » (Québec: Lux 2013).)
A chapter about community response to catastrophes  was marred for me by rather ignorant and offensive characterizations of Japanese culture and of the March 2011 events in Japan, where I live. For example, the accident at the Fukushima nuclear plant, which to date has resulted in a handful of deaths, is likened to the "annihilation" of Hiroshima and Nagasaki (@370), while no mention at all is made of the roughly 20,000 people (if not 1.5x-2x as many, as some have estimated) who truly were annihilated by the tsunami. We are also told that Japanese culture "rewards conformity and eschews challenges to authority," but no mention is made of the numerous anti-nuclear protests following the accident. (Moreover, when one considers Japan's whole history, rather than only the past 30 years, that comment is fantastically off base.)
I had been looking forward to the concluding essay by science-fiction writer Kim Stanley Robinson , whose Mars novels I enjoyed some years ago, but it didn't break the book's terminal string of strikeouts. Naïvely proposing that science can be a form of political action, and that "scientizing" economics can lead to sustainability, it is far below the level of sophistication of the rest of the book.
Despite a number of good essays, at the end of the day the book does nothing to sharpen one's understanding of what sustainability is. In particular, it doesn't improve on current political and economic discourse, in which "sustainability" connotes continued growth done better ... somehow. The book does occasionally mention de-growth (i.e., opposition to continued economic growth, or at least to the prioritization of growth as a matter of policy), and no doubt the editors had good intentions by being so inclusive. But those mentions are a mixed blessing, or perhaps no blessing at all, when it comes to advancing the cause of de-growth. Better to distinguish it from sustainability more sharply, rather than to allow it to get sucked into a cloud of ambiguity by being presented as *a form* of sustainability.
The copy I read was printed on coated paper, similar to what's often used in art books. This seems a gratuitous choice, since the book doesn't have any color illustrations, and as part of an annual series it will be superseded soon enough. That paper choice, though, adds significantly to the book's heft, and thus to the fuel expenditure needed to transport it -- a bit ironic, given the subject matter. And sorry to say, but the endnotes are devilishly poorly designed. They occupy more than 50 pages, but no guidance about pertinent chapters or text pages is given in the top margins. Worse, when the notes to one chapter end and those for the next begin, the title of the new chapter is presented in a lighter-colored font than that of the notes themselves. As a result, it's almost impossible to identify to what chapter any bunch of notes pertain, without continually losing time in annoying searches (unless, I suppose, you're fanatic about reading all chapters and every single footnote in sequence). Of course, this minor vexation shouldn't impact your decision about whether to read this book, a forest that doesn't quite hang together but that does contain some attractive trees.