Having spent the last month, enjoying all the wonderful diversity and beauty our planet has to offer, I found this particular post quite disturbing and depressing to write, but the issues are so important and so urgent that they have to be aired and addressed! I have grouped the books according to their main subject matter: Warning Bells; Growth Economics; Disconnect From Nature; Climate Change; Australia; Overpopulation; and The Big Picture.
Silent Spring by Rachel Carson 1962
One of the first very famous books to sound a warning bell about the state of our environment, especially in relation to the use of toxic chemicals in agriculture.
In her book, Rachel documents the detrimental environmental and physiological effects from the indiscriminate use of synthetic pesticides, herbicides and fungicides. Once these chemicals enter the biosphere, not only are the bugs killed, but the poison works its way up through the food chain, threatening bird and fish populations and ultimately, human health as well.
Examples include the death of large numbers of birds from aerial spraying of DDT to control mosquitoes and fire ants; the bio-accumulation of herbicide, Aminotriazole, in cranberries; the banning of milk from dairy farms in upstate New York after aerial spraying to eradicate gypsy moth; and the link between pesticides and cancer in humans.
The book raised a new awareness of humanity’s potential to wreak havoc on nature; the interconnectedness of all living forms; and ecology in general. It also raised the ire of major chemical companies, who launched a vitriolic campaign of personal attacks against her, but fortunately, she had some strong support from John F Kennedy and in the end, the national pesticide policy was reversed and DDT was banned in agricultural use nationwide. The book also inspired the environmental movement, leading to the creation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
A very important book, it has sold over 2 Million copies worldwide over the past 55 years and is regarded as a landmark book of the twentieth century and the environmental text which changed the world, although in my opinion, the world still has a long way to go!!!
Collapse: How Societies Choose to fail or Survive by Jared Diamond 2005
A fascinating book, this is also a timely reminder that past societies foundered, when they failed to limit their resource use to the sustainable productivity of natural systems.
Part One looks at the current environmental problems of South-Western Montana, while Part Two examines the collapsed civilizations of : Easter Island, Pitcairn Island and Henderson Island; the Native American society of the Anasazi in South-Western USA; the Mayans of MesoAmerica; and Norse Greenland, all underpinned by a five-point framework: environmental damage; climate change; the loss of friendly trade partners; the rise of hostile neighbours; and most importantly, the society’s response to its environmental problems.
Part Two finishes with a brief examination of three successful past societies by way of contrast: Iceland; Tikopia and the New Guinea Highlands; as well as the Tokugawa Era of Japan.
Part Three returns to the modern world with an in-depth look at the Rwandan disaster; a comparison of the Dominican Republic and Haiti, which both share the island of Hispaniola; the enormous environmental problems of China; and finally, the fragility and uniqueness of Australia, a country which holds a special place in Jared’s heart.
The last section of the book extracts practical lessons from all these case studies and examines the role of modern businesses and the types of environmental dangers facing the modern world.
The book is supported by further readings listed in the back, as well as suggestions for positive action, which an individual can take to address our major environmental problems.
2. Growth Economics
Small is Beautiful: A Study of Economics As If People Mattered by EF Schumacher 1974
If you cannot get hold of the book, you can read a pdf version at: http://www.colinalexander.info/files/pdfs/Schumacher.pdf, as well as some of his famous quotes at: http://www.centerforneweconomics.org/content/small-beautiful-quotes.
An environmental classic and bible, this little book is one of the 100 most influential books published since the Second World War, according to The Times Literary Supplement, and it certainly made a big impact on my husband! The three major points he gleaned from the book are that the current growth-based economic system of the Western world is actually detrimental to people; takes no account of the environmental costs; and that smaller enterprises are far more efficient and people-friendly than larger corporations.
Schumacher, a British economist, published his critique of Western economics during the 1973 energy crisis and the emergence of globalization. While his figures are now out-of-date, his message is still as vitally important today, as when it was first published.
He argues that:
The modern economy is unsustainable;
Fossil fuels and other finite, non-renewable natural resources should be treated as capital rather than expendable income ;
Nature’s capacity to absorb pollution is also limited;
Gross National Product should not be used as a measure of human well-being; and that
Materialism should be secondary to ideals like justice, harmony, beauty and health.
He challenged mass production and statements like: ‘Growth is good’ and ‘Big is better’ and believed that governments should focus on sustainable development; the appropriate use of technology; the decentralization of large enterprises; and more people-centred economics of a human scale, addressing human needs, as if people mattered!
In his book, Schumacher predicted many of the issues we are now facing today: a reliance on imports and exports; the energy crisis; and issues with oil consumption and dual economies in developing countries.
His book also inspired a number of offshoot organizations :
The Schumacher Institute (http://www.schumacherinstitute.org.uk), a think tank addressing many of these social, environmental and economic crises. Members use ‘systems thinking’ to determine sustainable solutions and promote convergent globalisation for a more equal distribution of wealth.
The Schumacher Centre for a New Economics (http://www.centerforneweconomics.org), which offers lectures, conferences and seminars on new economics; the annual EF Schumacher Lectures; an online collection of lectures and publications, including the Manas Journal and Lindisfarne Tapes; an e-newsletter; and the use of the Schumacher Library (also available online). It also offers programs like the Commons (Community Land Trust), Local Currencies and Berkshares, Community Supported Industry and a Curriculum for New Economics.
The Schumacher Circle (http://www.schumacherinstitute.org.uk/about-us/schumacher-circle/), a collection of organizations inspired by his philosophy and writings, including: the Centre for Alternative Technology in Wales, which we visited in 1994; Jeevika Trust; New Economics Foundation (another think tank and a different organisation to the Centre for New Economics discussed above); the Resurgence and Ecologist Magazine; the Soil Association, of which my brother-in-law was a member for many years; Practical Action; and Schumacher College.
Schumacher College (https://www.schumachercollege.org.uk/), a wonderful educational institution for nature-based courses, personal transformation and collective action.
Short courses like Sacred Activism; Nature Renewal; Agroecology; Leadership and Facilitation; Transitioning to an Ecological Civilisation; Ecological Restoration and Design; Nourishing the Soul; The Power of Local; and the Gross National Happiness Master Class;
Post graduate courses like Ecological Design Thinking; Ecology and Spirituality; and Holistic Science; and
Vocational courses like Sustainable Horticulture and a wide variety of crafts from cheese-making to kiln building, spoon-making, brewing beer and dressmaking.
See later entries on Vandiva Shiva (this post) and John Lane (next week’s post), both of them highly involved with this college.
Prosperity Without Growth: Economics for a Finite Planet by Tim Jackson 2009
Written by a British professor, who was a sustainability adviser to the UK government at the time, the book supports the view that the only way to sustainability is an economy, which is NOT based on growth. Exponential economic growth, based on ever-increasing production and consumption, continues to deplete our dwindling finite resources, threatening the very ecosystems that sustain our economies.
He identifies key problem areas like the scarcity of oil, minerals and productive land, as well as sink problems, the capacity of the planet to assimilate the environmental impacts of economic activity, the major one being climate change, caused by the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and accelerated by human activities, especially the burning of fossil fuels.
Backed up by lots of evidence and figures, this book is not all gloom and doom and suggests a myriad of potential options for a green recovery and societies, which can still flourish, but within limits. A very important and readable book!
The Mystic Economist by Clive Hamilton 1994
Another book, written by an economist, which examines current economic theory and its detrimental impact on our lives, despite its claims to the contrary, and which argues for a more holistic approach to our economic system!
Quite a heavy book philosophically, it is well worth taking the time to read it, as there are lots of pertinent observations like the futility of materialism to buy happiness or give our lives meaning; the time-money debate (the trade off between work and leisure); and the huge gap in world views between Western capitalist societies and traditional indigenous peoples, the latter further explored in the following books:
3. Disconnect from Nature
Harmony by HRH The Prince of Wales, Tony Juniper and Ian Skelly 2010
As you will no doubt have surmised from a previous post (https://candeloblooms.com/2017/05/16/inspirational-and-dreamy-garden-books-part-two-books-about-specific-gardens/), I’m a bit of a fan of Prince Charles, who has been very prominent in his support of organic farming (as practised firsthand at his wonderful garden at Highgrove) and the ecological movement, as well as beauty in architecture, spirituality and the traditional arts.
In 2004, he even founded his own school, The Prince’s School of Traditional Arts (https://www.psta.org.uk/), which offers a variety of courses in the traditional arts of all the great civilizations of the world.
Traditional Methods and Materials of the Master Painters of the 14th to 17th Century;
Painting techniques from Byzantine Icon Painting to Indian and Persian Miniatures and Chinese Brush Painting; and
Ceramic Plate and Tile Making;
Carving Wood, Stone and Plaster;
The Alchemy of Colour.
Theoretical study is integrated with practical application, with an emphasis on an awareness of: ‘the holistic nature of the traditional artist, whose inspiration derives from the highest sources and whose skill and dedication creates masterpieces, which we can all recognize as part of our world heritage’.
There is a Postgraduate Academic Program (Masters and Doctoral level), including an Outreach Program in 20 countries over 5 continents, as well as an Open Program for the wider community and, for a younger audience, a Harmony Schools Program, in which mathematics, geography, history, science and art are integrated.
I would love to be a student at this wonderfully inspiring college, but in lieu of this possibility, I thoroughly enjoyed his book, in which he outlines his philosophy, his concerns for the planet and human civilization and ways to redress the balance!
He examines the essential principles of harmony, defined as the active state of balance between human society and the natural world, and which we ignore at our peril, as neglect will eventually result in a collapse of our very life-support systems.
These principles include :
Cycles, rhythms and patterns;
A holistic view; and
The interdependence of all living things.
He sources examples from scientific evidence to views and ideas drawn from many different religions, cultures and traditional peoples throughout history, who lived in harmony with their natural surroundings, all backed up by wonderful photos.
It is such an interesting and important book! Dick Smith (see below) obviously shares our appreciation and has made a practice of buying a large number of copies of this book and sharing it with his many acquaintances.
A documentary based on the book was made in 2012. See: http://www.theharmonymovie.com/home.php.
This YouTube clip is a taster: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VeS2T4GnRe8.
The Sacred Balance: rediscovering Our Place in Nature by David Suzuki 1997
Another book by well-known environmentalist, David Suzuki, in which he compares our modern environmental challenges and current consumerist, nature-disconnected lifestyles with the traditional lifestyles and belief systems of indigenous peoples, which supported healthy environments and a sustainable form of living for millions of years.
He discusses basic human needs:
Physical: Clean air; Water; Fertile Soil; Energy; and Diversity;
Social: Love; and Connection; and
and how these needs are met or not met and the consequences.
I particularly loved Ashley Montagu’s list of the psychic needs of the growing child for full development of its potential (seen on page 164, as well as the photo below), as well as all the pertinent quotes and poetry throughout the book.
In his final chapter, Suzuki offers hope, with suggestions for meeting these basic needs and creating an ecologically sustainable, fulfilling life, as well as stories of people, who have put their beliefs into action to create such a life.
Since its first publication, 100 000 copies of the book have been sold.
David Suzuki also produced a three-part series called The Sacred Balance, which can all be seen at the following links:
The book has also inspired a beautiful four-part documentary (http://www.bullfrogfilms.com/catalog/sabas.html), each part accessible on this link and accompanied by teacher study guide (http://www.bullfrogfilms.com/guides/sabasguide.pdf).
If you want a taster of some of Suzuki’s quotes, here is another link: https://www.goodreads.com/author/quotes/145364.David_Suzuki.
4. Climate Change
Climate change would have to be THE largest challenge facing life on earth and yet politicians, corporations and the general public are often not facing up to the enormity or the urgency of this issue or are, in some cases, denying its very existence and bullying the messengers. I have always found it incredibly difficult to understand these attitudes, when all these people have their own children and grand-children and no one will be exempt from the effects of climate change! The next book looks at climate change denial and its implications for life on earth.
Requiem For a Species by Clive Hamilton 2010
Supported by video-clips of his book launch and speeches at these three sites: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2zQDBP4YClA
In this important book, Clive reiterates the facts about global warming and examines the many psychological barriers and reasons people stick their heads in the sand, as very cleverly depicted by this sculpture ‘No Climate for Change’ by Phillip Doggett-Williams from the Lorne Sculpture Show in 2011. Here is the artist’s succinct statement:
“We cannot hide from change. Dramatic social change, as is the global warming challenge, demands that individuals step beyond their political prejudices and self interest to build a collective wisdom that meets the challenges of the future with determination, persistence and optimism. The fundamental right of future generations is a right to a sustainable future.”
Here are Clive’s thoughts about the reasons people hide from the momentous changes ahead:
Firstly, there is wishful thinking! Yes, it is a very hard and frightening notion to comprehend, but it is only going to get worse if we don’t face up to it and do something about decreasing global greenhouse emissions!
Then, there is the disconnect from nature, already mentioned by the previous books. Farmers and gardeners are all too aware of the changing climate!
The consumer culture and growth economics play a major part in climate change denial, because acceptance would require major changes to our lifestyles, and then there is the very damaging role of political conservatism and active lobbying by the wealthy and powerful fossil fuel industry. What is even worse is that we do have alternatives to the latter, which are feasible and effective, and have known about this problem for the last 50 years and yet we have done so very little to address it until it is too late!
Current predictions are for a rise of up to 5 degrees Celsius by 2070 (unless there is a concerted attempt to reduce emissions) and that figure is probably conservative, as it is very difficult to determine the effects once tipping points are reached. And climate change doesn’t just mean rising temperatures, but more extreme and frequent weather events like severe cyclones, floods, droughts, heat waves and fires, resulting in major human suffering and enormous repair costs, not to mention rises in sea level with the melting of the ice sheets; displacement of peoples living in low lying areas; uncertain food production and mass extinctions of plants and animals on earth.
Living in the Hothouse: How Global Warming Affects Australia by Ian Lowe 2005
We have always admired Ian Lowe, an Emeritus Professor of Science, Technology and Society at Griffith University, Queensland (where my husband studied Environmental Science back in 1976), as well as being the President of the Australian Conservation Foundation from 2004 to 2014.
This is a very important and topical book, especially now we are over 10 years down the track and the situation is getting far worse and has still not been adequately addressed! What amazes me about all the prevaricating and not facing up to the problem is that we knew about this problem back in the late 1970s – the figures on greenhouse warming in Ross’s old environmental textbooks are spot on with their predictions – and while there appeared to be some potential for change in the 1980s, it was quickly squashed by climate change deniers and the major coal companies.
In Chapters One and Two, Ian Lowe explains the scientific basis to the greenhouse effect, especially in relation to climate change in Australia – its effects on temperature, rainfall, sea levels, tropical cyclones, snow lines, and especially extreme weather events and their severity and frequency.
In Chapter Three, he discusses the impact of climate change on agriculture; forestry; water resources; coastal development (and let’s not forget that most of the world’s major cities and urban populations were historically developed on the banks of estuaries and harbours!); the natural environment (bush fires, changed patterns of land use, loss of biodiversity and extinctions); and human health.
Chapter Four examines the implications for energy use, while Chapter Five suggests broad strategies for responding to climate change :
Other options including:
Alternative approaches to transport: car efficiency; public transport; car pooling; cycling; and walking;
Land use planning; and
Reversing deforestation and restoring forest cover.
Chapter Six looks at the politics of greenhouse at all governmental levels: Local, State, Federal and International, as well as economic issues and impediments.
His final chapter is based on his conference presentation in 2001, where he looks at the driving forces increasing our emissions: population growth; lifestyle choices; and the consumption of material resources.
He suggests policies to cut greenhouse emissions, including:
‘A target of 20 per cent of electricity from renewable sources by 2012’. Well, that certainly didn’t happen!;
The elevation of minimum energy performance standards for all new appliances to be world best practice within 3 years;
Encouragement of public transport and cycling and the design and development of low-transport cities ( Eg. Banning cars from the CBD- maybe this will start to happen as a result of recent terrorist attacks!); and
The installation of solar hot water systems in all new buildings;
as well as a number of approaches individuals can take to reduce their emissions.
The inaction (and positive subservience to the coal industry and multinationals!) of our current major political parties means that change has to come from the grass roots level- the individual and local government, who seem to be the most effective propagators of positive change!
While it is very easy to become despondent about climate change and the future, there are some wonderful people out there, working for change, and it is important to maintain hope, as Al Gore explains in his latest film: An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power, currently screening. See the following links about this amazing man and his film:
The following books also highlight other environmental challenges, especially in relation to Australia.
Shouldn’t Our Grandchildren Know: An Environmental Life Story by Graham Chittleborough 1992
A very interesting and readable book, tracing his development as an ecologist from studying seals, penguins and albatrosses on Heard Island in the Antarctic in 1949 to researching humpback whales and crayfish (Western Rock Lobster) on the Western Australian coast in the 1950s and 1960s and pollution in Cockburn Sound in the mid 1970s.
Along the way, Graham developed an increasing awareness of environmental issues facing Australia at that time from the accelerated loss of biodiversity, mainly due to habitat destruction, but now greatly exacerbated by climate change; the depletion of forests and land degradation; aridity, salinization and the low nutrient levels of our soil; air pollution and acid rain; and the enlarging hole in the ozone layer and increased greenhouse gases. He also came to grief with a number of governmental authorities, because of his criticisms about their failure or inability to address these problems.
His message is clear:
As a species, we are living beyond our means, both economically and environmentally. Current government policy, based on growth economics and an ever-increasing population and consumption, is suicidal, given the fact that Australia has a strictly limited carrying capacity, and will have a detrimental effect on the quality of life and standard of living for future generations.
An attitudinal change from a consumer to a conserver society;
The adoption of a steady state population and economy;
Treatment of the primary cause rather than constant band-aiding;
The decreased use of resources, especially fossil fuels; and
The adoption of renewable energies like wind and sun.
All suggestions being eminently common sense in my mind!
A Big Fix: Radical Solutions for Australia’s Environmental Crisis by Ian Lowe 2005
Written over 10 years ago now, this book identifies the major environmental issues facing Australia at the time and suggests recommendations for change, based on a non-growth steady state economy.
In Chapter Two, page 21, he defines a sustainable society as one which will:
‘prevent damage to the ecosystem services on which all human life depends’, which will ‘protect biodiversity, manage precious resources, prevent pollution and land degradation, and curtail disturbances to the great bio-geochemical cycles of the Earth’ and ‘pay careful attention to population pressures and consumption levels’.
He examines the key resource problems Australia faces:
Oil, upon which our entire transport system is dependent;
Fresh water: for drinking, washing, growing food, cooling over-heated equipment, producing minerals); and
Productive soils for agriculture, due to erosion, salinity and urban expansion;
as well as the notions of social equity and stability, our unique Australian culture, spiritual aspects and planning for our economic future, rather than blindly relying on ‘the magic of the market’.
In Chapter Three, he discusses:
The Great Barrier Reef, ‘Australia’s most outstanding natural asset’ (Page 43), at threat from mainland run-off, trawling and over-fishing and particularly, coral bleaching from rising sea temperatures from climate change, not to mention the risk posed by ships using the waters between the mainland and reef, especially oil tankers and now, quite possibly, Adani coal carriers!;
The Murray-Darling System, ‘Australia’s greatest river system’, upon which the environmental and economic health of New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia depend;
Salinity and Land Degradation; and
The Biodiversity Crisis, also to escalate dramatically with
Climate Change, which is also put under the spotlight.
Chapter Four examines the causes of the problems: population; consumption; lifestyle choices and our economic system, while Chapter Five looks at a different more sustainable society with a healthier, more stable population; stable consumption; zero waste; no loss of natural areas, restoration; a low-carbon society; greater equity; better decision-making processes and more mature politics.
He finishes with a look at:
The four major steps to change:
Discontent with the status quo;
Vision for a better future;
Developing feasible pathways to where we want to be; and
Commitment; as well as
Obstacles to change:
Technical Hubris: the notion of technical fixes to any problem eg Carbon capture and desalinization plants;
Econo-Mysticism: the faith that pricing will solve problems; and
Cheer-Mongering: the belief that humans can solve any problem; and the
Role of the Mass Media, which is increasingly under the control of a diminishing number of players.
This is a very well-thought out book with a very sensible approach to solving some of our pressing problems and should be essential reading for politicians from both sides of the political spectrum!
Bigger or Better by Ian Lowe 2012
In my final book by Ian Lowe, the patron of Sustainable Population Australia, he turns his attention to Australia’s population numbers and the effects of a larger population on our resources and environment, our society and our economy.
He argues that we need to stabilise our population as soon as possible and that Australia cannot support a large population due to its preponderance of dry areas; its unpredictable rainfall; and soils with low nutrients; and the fact that most of the population is concentrated on the narrow coastal eastern seaboard.
He also examines the key stakeholders in the population debate and their agendas, as well as the politics of population growth.
The argument for the need to stabilise population growth is also supported by :
Dick Smith’s Population Crisis 2011
An excellent publication, written by Dick Smith, a prominent businessman, who knows the business world backwards and warns that we are on a totally unsustainable path with an ever-increasing population and an economy based on ever-expanding consumption.
Unless we stabilise our population as soon as possible, we run the risk of a major crash, whether it is due to climate change, depletion of resources or fossil fuels or pollution. We really do ignore these warning signals at our peril!
And finally, two wonderful and comprehensive books, written by two very knowledgeable and committed women!
7. The Big Picture
Making Peace With The Earth by Vandana Shiva 2012
Vandana Shiva, who initially trained as a physicist, is a philosopher, environmental activist, author of over 20 books, educator (see Schumacher College), eco-feminist and one very courageous and strong woman!
She established a research foundation for Science, Technology and Education in 1997 and is a leader and board member of the International Forum on Globalization (http://ifg.org/), which analyses the cultural, social, political, and environmental impacts of economic globalization, and promotes equitable, democratic, and ecologically sustainable economies.
She also founded a wonderful organization called Nandavya (http://www.navdanya.org/), meaning ‘Nine Seeds’, promoting seed saving, food sovereignty and organic sustainable agriculture and the protection of biological and cultural diversity.
In this book, Vandiva Shiva is highly critical of large transnational corporations (including the Adani Group!), and governments, which support them to the detriment of their own country.
She cites many examples of destructive developments by multinationals in India, which result in the destruction of local economies and dismantling of local communities, with the ever-increasing drift to cities to find work. While she focuses on India in her book, the issues raised are relevant to the whole world.
She also believes that women need to be involved in the democratic process.
This Changes Everything by Naomi Klein 2014
Another very comprehensive summary of the current environmental challenges the world faces by another very strong woman. She focuses on climate change and the enormous detrimental effects of our economic system on our environment and what we can do about it.
Like Vandiva Shiva, Naomi is very scathing of world trade agreements, which are totally out of synch with talks on climate change, and multinationals, who have no allegiance to anyone or any government and no regard for local environments or peoples.
She also is a very strong feminist, who believes that it is vital that women have more power in the world. There is so much detailed information in this wonderful book that you really have to read it!
While it is easy to get depressed about the enormous challenges we face, all the books mentioned suggest constructive ways to address these problems and offer hope for the future.
In my final post on environmental books next week, I am focusing on the ways we, as individuals, can make positive changes and live more sustainable lives with lower carbon footprints and less impact on our beautiful fragile planet.