Thursday, January 17, 2008

Deep Economy Book Review

Essential reading in our climate's 11th hour: Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future.

Deep Economy is the latest book by Bill McKibben, organizer of (public demonstrations to tell congress that we need an 80% reduction in carbon by 2050) and author of End of Nature (a book in 1989 that details the problem we face with global warming, an example of true leadership.)

This book begins with the idea that economic growth has ceased making us happy. Since 1950 we have been getting more but we've been getting steadily less happy. At the same we've gotten in our cars more often to drive to increasingly isolated homes. Also, he notes a study that found that the end price of goods very closely matches the total embodied energy within that good, meaning that the idea of an infinitely expanding economy might be myth.

The second chapter is recount of McKibben's year spent eating only locally produced food in his home of Vermont. This becomes a foil for his trip to Cuba, where trade embargoes created something truly unheard of in modern times: a physical and economic island. This caused them to be default organic and local farmers, and they've proven that local food economies do work.

The third chapter is a meditation on our societies individualism, what he calls hyper-individualism. The example given is when a Wal-Mart comes to a small town, each individual benefits from lower prices on their own goods, but the community suffers greatly. The community loses jobs and wages, and profit gets funneled to corporate accounts instead of staying in the community, while all the other shops close down. Other cultures might deplore this outcome, but not our hyper-individualist one.

The fourth chapter, The Wealth of Communities, makes the argument that local economies and communities don't work well for growth, but they do increase happiness and more equitable income distribution. It also so happens that they dramitcally reduce energy consumption.

The fifth chapter, The Durable Future, talks about what a world with an increasing quality of life for all people would look like. The current growth models for ending poverty won't work, as the world is already buckling under the weight of just one America. This is a synthesis of the entire book into the notion that what is good for the planet will turn out to be better for people's quality of life.

This book is a wonderful read; inspiring and necessary.

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