How do we face the grim reality of the state of our world, with looming depletion of key resources, widespread ecological devastation, global climate change, and massive disparities in the distribution of wealth? How do we take on these problems without being overwhelmed by their sheer immensity? How do we marshal our energy, talents and skills for the betterment of our world knowing that we are not likely to succeed, and that it may, in fact, already be too late?
These are the central questions that the book tries to answer.
It is an unusual topic to grapple with. All the other books on the subject of environmental activism that I've read failed to mention it, instead devoting their time to facts and figures that left no doubt about the gravity of the situation, the ways of thinking that have brought us to the brink, and the changes that we'll have to make to dig ourselves out. This suggested an unspoken assumption that informing us about the crisis ought to be sufficient to prompt us to avert it.
My experience has been quite different. Despite being exposed to the problem through various media, I took no interest in it until my late twenties. Once I did, I found it just as difficult to get the attention of others. Some didn't consider it relevant - they had more pressing personal issues to attend to and goals to pursue. To my surprise, there were others who also avoided the subject despite having a fairly good grasp of its magnitude and severity. They felt powerless to do anything about it, so they chose to make the most of the present circumstances and not dwell on tomorrow.
When faced with the same dilemma, the authors of the book opted for a third course of action - to do what they can to bring about the Great Turning, no matter how seemingly insignificant their contribution may be. Depending on where one is in life, this can be a difficult decision to comprehend. While it looks self-evident to me now, I don't think I would have appreciated it when I was younger. It is for this reason that I'm exceedingly grateful to Joanna and Chris for tackling the subject. If the Great Turning is to happen, we will need many more people to take on the challenge of working towards it without expecting to see it realised in their lifetime.
The authors don't spend much time dwelling on the particulars of the global crises that we face, supplying just enough information to set the book's main topic in context. Still, the information that is provided, and particularly the ways in which it is visualised, is among the most stirring that I've seen. I have found it very difficult to read about the dream of leaving a barren, hostile world to our children to inherit, and not be moved to preserve its current life-giving qualities.
Perhaps the most importantly, the book does a great job of presenting alternatives to the dominant assumptions of the modern society. It illustrates how we commonly think of concepts like power and time, how these ingrained ideas have contributed to our predicament, and what alternative views can help us overcome it. Here, it is well complemented by John Broomfield's book Other Ways of Knowing: Recharting Our Future with Ageless Wisdom, which contains a more comprehensive analysis of our unidirectional concept of time and its alternatives, as well as Jack Reed's book The Next Evolution: A Blueprint for Transforming the Planet, which redefines wealth in terms of access to goods and services instead of exclusive consumption derived from their ownership. Noticing, let alone changing, the core assumptions that underpin one's worldview can be exceedingly difficult. This makes these insights all the more crucial.
On a more personal note, the book is a rich treasure of thought-provoking questions and other material that can be invaluable in a workshop setting. This is hardly surprising, considering that it has originated from a series of workshops that were conducted by Joanna over many years. I have found it tremendously useful in my own course work, as well as for personal reflection.