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State of the World 2013: Is Sustainability Still Possible? [Kindle Edition]

The Worldwatch Institute

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"This edition forges a new path for the [State of the World] series, and for environmental thinking in general.... A pivotal book that marks a defining moment for our species."
--Richard Heinberg "Senior Fellow Post Carbon Institute; author of"The End of Growth" and " "

"This is a book of hope for a world in profound crisis. It gives honest assessments of the enormous challenges we face, and points us toward institutional and cultural changes that are proportional to our dire situation. "State of the World 2013" reaffirms that we are not helpless, but that we have real choices, and that transformation is both possible and desirable."--Reverend Peter S. Sawtell "Executive Director, Eco-Justice Ministries "

"Every elected official in the world needs to read this book. Mass denial is no longer an option. An 'all hands on deck' approach to transforming our culture and economy is the only path to a safe, resilient future. This book is the blueprint for that safe path forward."--Betsy Taylor "President, Breakthrough Strategies & Solutions and Founder, Center for a New American Dream "

""State of the World 2013" is a powerful collection of articles, and the vision behind it is impressive. Here is a book that gets beyond 'sustainababble' and asks the tough, essential questions. It should make readers more determined than ever to do their part in avoiding planet-wide disaster and better informed about how to do that."--Peter Singer "Professor of Bioethics, Princeton University, and author of "Animal Liberation" ""

"This edition forges a new path for the ["State of the World"] series, and for environmental thinking in general . A pivotal book that marks a defining moment for our species."--Richard Heinberg "Senior Fellow Post Carbon Institute; author of "The End of Growth" and "The Party's Over" ""

""State of the World 2013" cuts through the rhetoric surrounding sustainability, providing a broad and realistic look at how close we are to achieving it and outlining practices and policies that can steer us in the right direction . A must read for those seeking authentic sustainability."--Hunter Lovins "President of Natural Capital Solutions and author of "Climate Capitalism" ""

""State of the World 2013" cuts through 'sustainababble' with crisp coverage that puts the news of the year in context and provides an expert survey of today's and tomorrow's big issues. It's a perennial resource for everyone concerned about our common future."--Karen Christensen "publisher of "Berkshire Encyclopedia of Sustainability" "

""State of the World 2013" assembles the wisdom and clarity of some of the Earth's finest thinkers, visionaries, and activists into a dazzling array of topics that merge to offer a compellingly lucid and accessible vision of where we are and what is the wisest and healthiest course for the future."--Nina Simons "co-founder, Bioneers ""


Every day, we are presented with a range of “sustainable” products and activities—from “green” cleaning supplies to carbon offsets—but with so much labeled as “sustainable,” the term has become essentially sustainababble, at best indicating a practice or product slightly less damaging than the conventional alternative. Is it time to abandon the concept altogether, or can we find an accurate way to measure sustainability? If so, how can we achieve it? And if not, how can we best prepare for the coming ecological decline?

In the latest edition of Worldwatch Institute’s State of the World series, scientists, policy experts, and thought leaders tackle these questions, attempting to restore meaning to sustainability as more than just a marketing tool. In State of the World 2013: Is Sustainability Still Possible?, experts define clear sustainability metrics and examine various policies and perspectives, including geoengineering, corporate transformation, and changes in agricultural policy, that could put us on the path to prosperity without diminishing the well-being of future generations. If these approaches fall short, the final chapters explore ways to prepare for drastic environmental change and resource depletion, such as strengthening democracy and societal resilience, protecting cultural heritage, and dealing with increased conflict and migration flows.

State of the World 2013 cuts through the rhetoric surrounding sustainability, offering a broad and realistic look at how close we are to fulfilling it today and which practices and policies will steer us in the right direction. This book will be especially useful for policymakers, environmental nonprofits, and students of environmental studies, sustainability, or economics.


  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • Dateigröße: 13022 KB
  • Seitenzahl der Print-Ausgabe: 465 Seiten
  • ISBN-Quelle für Seitenzahl: 161091449X
  • Verlag: Island Press; Auflage: 1 (15. April 2013)
  • Verkauf durch: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Sprache: Englisch
  • ASIN: B00C4Y9AYM
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5.0 von 5 Sternen Are we compatible with the longterm metabolism of the planet? 5. Juni 2013
Von David L. Hicks - Veröffentlicht auf
Format:Taschenbuch|Verifizierter Kauf
Worldwatch Institute has been writing the very best environmental analyses and global projections for over 30 years. 'Sustainability' is the current ecological catchword, thrown everywhere with great abandon and little precision. Each themed annual volume in this 'State of the World' series is written by a team of disciplinary experts supported by young interns fresh from the world's best universities. Copies of these reports are presented annually to legislators around the world.

The planetary perspective is evident in the 50 pages of current references following the text. Every major environmental issue is examined in detail as it relates to the growing demands of 7+ billion inhabitants. Millions more become middle class consumers every week. What can we anticipate in the next decade or so with regard to agriculture, energy, forests, fisheries, pollution, cities, rate of species extinctions, indigenous peoples, climate change, and cultural resilience?
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4.0 von 5 Sternen Generally good assortment of articles, with some significant blind spots (3.5 stars) 19. August 2013
Von A. J. Sutter - Veröffentlicht auf
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 [12] @ 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 ([7]@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 [11], whose authors wisely shy away from making any explicit connection between compound interest and "matter-and-energy throughput." While a section of chapter [11] 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 ([28] @ 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 [2], resource impacts of renewable energies [8], and conserving nonrenewable resources [9], though the articles on fresh water [5] and fisheries [6] 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" [3] and "Energy as Master Resource" [7]. 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 [7], "living within boundaries" [2], "1-planet living" [4], and various other "dashboards" [3] -- 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" ([14] @ 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 [14], "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" [22] and "Moving from Individual Change to Societal Change" [23] 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." ([23] @ 245.) Also interesting were a pair of chapters on agriculture ([17], [18]), and a very practice-oriented chapter about the impact of energy-saving improvements on the real estate market [16].

Another good chapter is "Building a Sustainable and Desirable Economy-in-Society-in-Nature" [11], 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" [19] 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" [12]; 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" [10] 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" [24], 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" [29], which was remarkably even-handed. An article about Cuba's ability to do more with less was also very stimulating [30], 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": [25], [26], [32], [33]. "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 [33] 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 [34], 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.
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5.0 von 5 Sternen A Major Contribution -- Perhaps the Finest Book Yet Offered 11. April 2013
Von Robert David STEELE Vivas - Veröffentlicht auf
UPDATE 20 April 2013: I am struggling to get through this book. Small print, dense pages, 34 chapters. Further impressions:

Positive: this is an extraordinary cast of characters and a superb "architecture" for addessing the core issue of sustainability.

Negative: the endeavor lacks a whole systems (holistic) analytic model and even though Herman Daly is represented, "true cost" is not a concept ably brought forth here.

On balance, so far, this is absolutely a 5 star book, but it needs a companion "executive" version, much much shorter, with more pictures, and the three colors average people can understand (red, yellow,m green). It needs a scorecard approach that can be very specific about what policies we need to adopt across each domain (agriculture to water), right now all that is buried in the fine print and too time consuming to dig out.

- - - - - - -

This is a preliminary review. I got this book today in Washington DC and at first glance consider it quite extraordinary. Although the Worldwatch Institute (not to be confused with its founder Lester Brown who left them in 2001 to establish a separate Earth Policy Institute) is in my view one of the most prolific and consistent publisher in the field of whole systems sustainability studies, this book does not quite make the leap to six stars (my top ten percent) because it lacks a comprehensive architecture and a related cost picture for "the whole enchilada." This is a MAGNIFICENT work with 34 chapters by different individuals, each clearly a masterpiece within its domain. The figures -- over 40 of them -- are the most up to date and therefore a priceless resource for anyone striving to understand both the insanity of what governments and corporations do now, and the enormous prospects of rapidly doing great good if we could simply "get a grip."

This week-end I will consume the book in detail, but seeing a lack of review now I am moved to post this preliminary review. Use "Inside the Book" by clicking on the cover above to see the detailed table of contents and selected other items -- I always check the index as well.

I also want to emphasize the price value -- between ethical pricing by the publisher, clearly making this book affordable in the public interest, and Amazon's discounting their share to move the book in larger volume, this is as good a value as anyone could hope for in the non-fiction world.

Below are other books I recommend that have made similarly extraordinary contributions, each unique in its own right.

High Noon 20 Global Problems, 20 Years to Solve Them
A More Secure World: Our Shared Responsibility--Report of the Secretary-General's High-level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change
Plan B 4.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization (Substantially Revised)
The Future of Life
Designing a World That Works for All: How the Youth of the World are Creating Real-World Solutions for the UN Millenium Development Goals and Beyond
Designing a World that Works For All: Solutions & Strategies for Meeting the World's Needs
Enough Is Enough: Building a Sustainable Economy in a World of Finite Resources
Too Big to Know: Rethinking Knowledge Now That the Facts Aren't the Facts, Experts Are Everywhere, and the Smartest Person in the Room Is the Room
Empowering Public Wisdom: A Practical Vision of Citizen-Led Politics (Manifesto Series)
Full Planet, Empty Plates: The New Geopolitics of Food Scarcity

Best wishes to all,
Robert David STEELE Vivas
INTELLIGENCE for EARTH: Clarity, Diversity, Integrity, & Sustainability
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4.0 von 5 Sternen Can we achieve the goal of "living cleanly and well on a healthy biosphere?" 29. September 2013
Von STEPHEN PLETKO - Veröffentlicht auf

"This year's 'State of the World' aims to expand and deepen discussion of the overused and misunderstood adjective `sustainable,' which in recent years has morphed from its original meaning into something like `a little better for the environment than the alternative.' Simply doing `better' environmentally will not stop the unravelling of ecological relationships we depend on for food and health. Improving our act will not stabilize the atmosphere. It will not slow the falling of aquifers or the rising of oceans. Nor will it return Arctic ice, among Earth's most visible natural features from space, to its pre-industrial extent."

The above comes from the first essay or chapter of this very interesting book by The Worldwatch Institute. This Institute is an environmental research organization based in Washington, D.C. It helps to inform policymakers and the public about the complex links between the world economy and its environmental support systems.

The book itself is comprised of 34 essays by just over 50 authors. (Some essays have more than one author.) It has 30 text boxes (that is, information boxes that are set apart form the main narrative of a particular essay), almost 15 tables, and almost 30 black and white figures . There are also black and white photographs throughout.

The authors are quite diverse in what they do and the majority of them have more than one occupation. The greatest percentage of authors by far are professors, followed by directors, fellows, founders, researchers, presidents, and authors & writers. Then there is a teacher, lecturer, administrator, associate, accredited professional, account executive, college senior, astronomer, anthropologist, and consultant. Those authors actually associated with The Worldwatch Institute in some way account form about 19% of the overall authorship of this book.

When reading this book, I asked myself three main questions:

(1) Is the state of the world for the year 2013 adequately covered?
(2) Is sustainability still possible (this book's subtitle), at least, hypothetically?
(3) And perhaps most important: Is sustainability still possible with continual population and economic growth?

For the first question, the state of the world is adequately covered. A vast array of topics is discussed: examples include energy and energy alternatives, fisheries, resources, planetary boundaries, fossil fuels, climate change, and agriculture.

The second question is also adequately focused on. In fact, this entire book is structured around the concept of sustainability. The first part of this book, "The Sustainability Metric" (8 essays) details exactly what a rigorous definition of sustainability (or environmentally sustainable) should be, helping to make this important concept both measurable and meaningful. The second part, entitled "Getting to True Sustainability" (14 essays) explains what we should be doing now to make progress toward it. "Open in Case of Emergency" is the title of the third and final part (11 essays). Here, we're told how we might cope if we fail to achieve true sustainability.

The third question posed above is linked to the second question but is more specific and applicable to modern times. Both population growth and economic growth are major limiting factors to sustainability. I felt that these two limiting factors were discussed too briefly.

Thus, my final rating for this book is based on how adequately the three questions indicated above were answered. For question (1), this book deserves 5 stars. For question (2), 4 stars. For question (3), this book gets 3 stars. My final rating is an average of these three individual ratings.

My favourite three essays were as follows:

(1) the stand-alone essay (#1) entitled "Beyond Sustainababble." It was written by Robert Engelman, the president of the Worldwatch Institute.
(2) the last essay (#34) entitled "Is It Too Late." This was written a novelist and science fiction writer.
(3) the 30TH essay that has the title "Cuba: Lessons from a Forced Decline" written by two authors, a research director and an executive director. Forced by the Soviet Union's collapse, Cuba suffered a period of harsh adjustment but has scavenged a culture with a small environmental footprint and high levels of nonmaterial well-being. Note that this country has a relatively small population (with its population growth rate being negative) and a economic system not based on capitalism.

Finally, I appreciated the diversity and number of authors who contributed to this book. (In fact, we're told this edition has "more contributors than ever appeared in a previous edition.") However, I felt that perhaps there were too many authors thus not giving the book continuity with respect to the book's subtitle "Is Sustainability Still Possible."

In conclusion, this book tells us how we can achieve the sustainable goal of "living cleanly and well on a healthy biosphere, sharing Earth with the rest of the creatures who rely on it."

(first published 2013; acknowledgements; A Year in Review timeline, December 2011 to November 2012; stand-alone essay/chapter: "Beyond Sustainababble;" 3 parts or 33 essays/chapters; main narrative 380 pages; notes; index)

<<Stephen PLETKO, London, Ontario, Canada>>

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5.0 von 5 Sternen Could it be that it is already too late? 21. Mai 2013
Von Dennis Littrell - Veröffentlicht auf
"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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