Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Deep Economy

I'm about three-fourths of the way through Bill McKibben's latest book, Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future. My traditionalist side tells me that I should finish the book before commenting, but running commentary doesn't seem too far out of line in the blogsphere.

Arguably, McKibben's The End of Nature, published in 1989, remains the most influential popular work on global warming. Though he has grown increasingly strident about curbing human-induced climate change - organizing rallies and taking Robert F. Kennedy Jr., and other prominent environmentalists to task for their opposition to the Cape Wind Project - his message continues to be one of quiet reason, hope, and decency.

Rush Limbaugh called him an environmentalist wacko - a label that serves as a marketing blurb on the jacket of McKibben's book Hope, Human and Wild.

If "wacko" means looking at scientific evidence and concluding that the "non-negotiable American way of life" is unsustainable, then McKibben is guilty as charged. We need more wackos.

Actually, McKibben is a devout Christian, Sunday school teacher, and family man who eats meat, appears tolerant of responsible hunters, and approves of selective, sustainable logging by local operators. He acknowledges the positive power of free enterprise and the failure of large-scale collectivism. (Right-wing wacko!) Certainly, many of his convictions seem deeply conservative in the traditional (as opposed to neoconservative) sense. Yet, taken as a whole, his sensibilities are unmistakeably progressive. His concerns always seem more practical than ideological.

Deep Economy is organized into five sections:

1. After Growth
2. The Year of Eating Locally
3. All for One, or One for All [gasp!]
4. The Wealth of Communities
5. The Durable Future

In his introduction, McKibben notes that for most of human history, "More and Better, roosted on the same branch." In the eighteenth century, Adam Smith theorized that individuals pursuing their own interests in a market society make one another richer, and that improved efficiency, usually through specialization and increased scale, increases wealth. No question about it, Smith's theory has proven correct so far.

But McKibben points to studies that suggest that after achieving some level of prosperity, additional wealth no longer makes individuals happier. Furthermore, our focus on growth and efficeincy at all costs is destroying communites and wrecking our planet.

He writes,

Taken together, these facts show that we need to make a basic shift.
Given all that we know about topics ranging from the molecular structure of
carbon dioxide to the psychology of human satisfaction, we need to move
decisively to rebuild our local economies. These may well yield less stuff, but they
produce richer relationships; they may grow less quickly, if at all, but they
make up for it in durability.

He ends his introduction with a caveat: The option to choose less is a luxury most of the world's people don't enjoy. To the desperately poor, More definitely means Better.

Hold that thought. More later...

1 comment:

Steve Bodio said...

I didn't know that about McKibben. Another book for the growing pile.