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The Post Carbon Reader: Managing the 21st Century’s Sustainability Crises

Posted in Movements, Opinion by Kate Archdeacon on July 6th, 2010

How do population, water, energy, food, and climate issues impact one another? What can we do to address one problem without making the others worse? The Post Carbon Reader features essays by some of the world’s most provocative thinkers on the key issues shaping our new century, from renewable energy and urban agriculture to social justice and community resilience. This insightful collection takes a hard-nosed look at the interconnected threats of our global sustainability quandary and presents some of the most promising responses.

In 2009, Post Carbon Institute recruited 29 of the world’s leading sustainability thinkers to answer one fundamental question: How do we manage the transition to a more resilient, sustainable, and equitable world?

Like us, our Fellows see five key truths:

* We have hit the “limits to growth.” This is not a moral question (or not only one); nor is it merely a question about the fate of our children and grandchildren. The truth is that we have no choice but to adapt to a world of resource constraints, economic contraction, and climate upheaval. And thus the only question that remains is this: How will we manage that transition?

* No issue can be addressed in isolation. Thankfully, recognition of these crises has grown in recent years. However, all too often they are viewed in isolation. We must connect the dots in order to get to their source — not just their symptoms — and to maximize what little time and resources we have to address the enormous challenges they pose.

* We must focus on responses, not just solutions. As John Michael Greer says, we face a predicament, not a problem. “The difference is that a problem calls for a solution; the only question is whether a solution can be found and made to work and, once this is done, the problem is solved. A predicament, by contrast, has no solution. Faced with a predicament, people come up with responses.”

* We must prepare for uncertainty. While the general trends are clear, it’s simply impossible to predict, specifically, how world events will unfold. Therefore, it’s critically important that we aim to build resilience on the individual and community scales. Resilient people and resilient communities are characterised by their ability to manage unforeseen shocks while maintaining their essential identity.

* We can do something. The bad news is that we simply cannot avoid hardship or suffering in the journey from a fossil fuel- and growth-dependent world to communities that live within ecological bounds. The good news is that we can prepare and make positive changes in almost any area of our lives and the lives of our communities. How much and how successful those efforts are all depends upon the thought and effort we invest.

The first step, as we saw it, was to aggregate the most current, systems-oriented thinking about these interconnected threats, as well as the most promising responses. The outcome of this effort — The Post Carbon Reader: Managing the 21st Century’s Sustainability Crises — will hit bookstores and classrooms in October 2010.

The Reader includes 35 essays by 28 Post Carbon Institute Fellows, including Bill McKibben, Richard Heinberg, Stephanie Mills, David Orr, Sandra Postel, Michael Shuman, Wes Jackson, Erika Allen, Bill Ryerson, Gloria Flora, and many other leading sustainability thinkers.

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