Worldchanging: A User's Guide for the 21st Century Paperback – Mar 1 2008
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. This 600-page companion to the eco-friendly website of the same name (www.worldchanging.com) is chock-a-block with information about what is going on right now to create an environmentally and economically sustainable future-and what stands in opposition. Along the way, editor Steffen and his team make the stakes perfectly clear: "Oil company experts debate whether we will effectively run out of oil in twenty years or fifty, but the essential point remains: if you're under thirty, you can expect to see a post-oil civilization in your lifetime." The organization of the hefty volume mimics that of the website, divided into sections on Stuff, Shelter, Cities, Community, Business, Politics and Planet. Typical readers will be introduced to new concepts such as harvesting rainwater, zero-energy houses, South-South science and the use of flowers to detect land mines in entries on everything from "Knowing What's Green" to "Demanding Human Rights." Each entry is brief but comprehensive; for example, the passage on "Better Food Everywhere" focuses on "Where it Matters Most," "Better Restaurants," "Community Gardens," and "Urban Farming." All entries wrap up with reviews of pertinent resources-including books, websites and moves-where readers can get more detailed information. With color photos on nearly every page, and written by a small army of contributors living and working around the world (with biographies almost as fascinating as their contributions), it's hard to imagine a more complete resource for those hoping to live in a future that is, as editor Steffen puts it, "bright, green, free and tough."
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
"'The Whole Earth Catalogue for the iPod generation' - Bill McKibben."See all Product Description
Top Customer Reviews
Not only the contents of Worldchanging but its design and production/financing have integrity. The variety of stories, ideas and solutions it contains have provoked me to make practical changes in my life. I am more hopeful.
Worldchanging is subdivided into many parts, with names ranging from Stuff to Planet. Each one is made up of several sections which develop an issue or a solution in greater detail and offer references for further reading. The two most recurring themes in the book are environmentalism and poverty, as they are without a doubt the most important challenges humanity faces. They are treated in great detail, linked, and processed in a way that leaves the reader amazingly optimistic about the future. This book is about dreams of a better, cleaner, more equal world and their fulfillment on an individual basis.
Alex Steffen and his coworkers have well summarized the content of today's debates and information. However, as one would expect, this book is still long, and although written simply, it takes will to complete. I found it to be well worth the effort and rank this book as ``great''.
But, I think many of his suggestions are over-optimistic and unrealistic.
Though, it is an important read.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
The primary challenge, I think, of those who seek to change the world is to figure out a way of garnering a critical mass of like-minded individuals and then implementing the change on a large enough scale to make a difference.
It seems a bit of a watershed was reached this past summer, vis-a-vis environmental awareness, with the cinematic release of Al Gore's doc "An Inconvenient Truth (AIT)" and various reports on climate change out of the EU and the UN. The book Worldchanging fits in well as a follow-up to AIT for people who are only now realizing that biosphere-threatening problems exist in the world - ecological, social, economic and cultural. As a pre-emptive strike against the masses being overwhelmed and simply escaping into their Starbucks addiction (or perhaps as simply a shot in the arm), the folks at the Worldchanging blog site have compiled a large collection of specific ideas and initiatives garnered from around the world .
The idea is great and for the purposes of an introduction to a host of topics which could fall under the slippery rubric of "sustainable development" in a manner accessible to the general public, this book is probably a good choice. I haven't come across any other book which so captures the variety of topics in an intellectually accessible way. It's a bit like a (non-comprehensive and very brief) encyclopedia which could capture the imagination of teens and adults seeking exposure to local/global issues and cultures who haven't had the opportunity to gather information from sources other then mainstream press.
Unfortunately - and what earns it a 2 stars - while the book has very good breadth in the topics, the depth and quality of the content I found wanting. I give a couple of examples below.
First some more good things about the book.
1. It appears to be very well bound and finished.
2. it introduces the reader to a multitude of ideas. Lots of stuff. See their website for a general list of categories.
3. It includes a (slim) bibliography and references for further reading (which is definitely needed - the further reading, that is).
So, what are the problems.
1. The cover is pretentious and includes a listing of many (most?) contributors names in black down the spine. And here's another book on environmental issues with an unnecessary outer sleeve to waste yet more fibre.
2. I didn't recognize any of the contributors' names and I've been reading sustainable development books and journals for the last year and a half in grad school and attending various conferences on human sustainability for longer. This is not necessarily a bad thing but it does raise questions as to why at least a few prime movers, shakers, thought leaders and recognized experts aren't present. Maybe the editors thought there was already too much thinking going on and dammit, we're about action.
2. Issues here with veracity of the content. Some examples:
2.1. I'm a native Vancouverite (Canada). The included blurb about how wonderfully sustainable Vancouver is was contributed by the same person who edited Vancouver's 2010 Olympic Bid Book - the sales brochure for why Vancouver should be chosen by the IOC. Hardly a source for objectivity. The write-up is predictably rah-rah and, as is often the case, it blurs the line between the City of Vancouver (ca. 550,000) and Greater Vancouver (ca, 2,000,000) when it talks about the city's track record and its development. This colours my impressions of other contributions. At the 2006 UN-Habitat World Urban Forum (hosted by Vancouver), a European delegate I spoke with called it "The Vancouver Illusion."
2.2 Open ocean aquaculture is mentioned briefly and it doesn't mention the problem of parasites and disease that are and have been transmitted to wild stocks and in some cases wiped them out.
2.3 Seed-saving and seeds are mentioned without making reference to one of the most well-known activists/speakers/authors on the topic of seeds, biotechnology, corporatism, farms and water - Vandana Shiva. Nor does it mention the epidemic of farmer suicide.
2.4 Consumerism - The book opens with a couple of pages on our consumption habits and being smarter consumers and makes brief mention that perhaps a reduction in consumption is required (in the North) but it doesn't seem to suggest that perhaps we'll actually need to slash our consumption by a huge amount which is likely the case.
2.5 Didn't come across a critique of our capitalist system and whether or not infinite economic growth - which is our chosen path - is consistent with sustainable living for all species. Might be there, just didn't see it.
- a worthy objective,
- succeeds sort of as a family discussion starter,
- I have a lack of confidence in the content soundness and at times felt it misleads the reader as to the really salient issues.
- seems to have been written by a bunch of energetic folk anxious to DO something but extra effort seems to have been spent on packaging the content rather than the content itself.
- if you read this book, promise you'll do other reading to flesh out the real facts. This book is a quick blast through a multitude of complex issues.
I really had high hopes when I first saw this book on the web. It arrived last Friday, I returned it today.
Here is a short, very much non-comprehensive list of authors to read as well as some organizations to look-up on-line for in-depth information to keep you busy learning for weeks (not to suggest that I agree with all of their ideas. In fact, make sure you have your critical thinking and greenwash detection skills engaged with some of these references.)
Vandana Shiva, Marq de Villiers, Marc Reisner, Jeffrey Sachs, Stephen Lewis, Jared Diamond, David W Orr, John Todd, Greg Mortenson, E O Wilson, Paul Hawken, Herman Daly, Richard Louv, Thomas Homer-Dixon, Joseph Stiglitz, Tim Flannery, Fritjof Capra, George Monbiot, Sim Van der Ryn, Jane Jacobs, Worldwatch Institute, Earth Policy Institute, Earth Institute at Columbia, International Institute for Sustainable Development, World Business Council for Sustainable Development, CorpWatch, Corporate Europe, UN-Habitat and several thousand more.
This list won't cover off all of the topics initiated in WC; it's left as an exercise for the reader to discover more!
Worldchanging is a users guide and the starting point needed to begin millions (hopefully billions) of important conversations. It is filled with what we need most: straightforward, bite-sized summaries, directives and how-to instructions on most of the topics that we humans desperately need to know about in order to drive positive change. From under-reported successes in urban areas and environmental movements across the progressive spectrum to alternative energy solutions and simple facts and figures about the millennia we face, it carries the reader through the full intellectual and emotional spectrum.
I read about 25% of it in the first sitting and finished it the following day. Its rare that I am inspired, educated and empowered with specific tools for action in one sitting. My head was spinning and my eyes hurting but my spirits were quite lifted. I couldn't believe how much I did NOT know about each of the subjects.
And perhaps therein lies the essential value of Worldchanging: it equips ordinary individuals with information and resources to take immediate, meaningful and impacting action in their lives and on behalf of organizations.
That's the website. I'm pleased to say the book carries on the tradition splendidly!
At 600 pages, it carries a wealth of information grouped into several sections ranging from how we use 'stuff' through to how we can better plan cities and dwellings, through to social interactions and politics and ultimately, providing good custodianship of the planet.
Just as important as the content is the presentation. The topics this book covers are far too important to risk doing badly, and they have not been. Sagmeister has done a great job of laying out the information in an easily navigable form. Book and website have interacted: the book takes its two column layout from the site's blog style, and the site has recently been redesigned to match the organisation of the book.
Even more important than presentation is the spirit of presentation. Weighty (and potentially chilling) topics such as global warming are pitched with enthusiasm and are interspersed with lighter pieces and good humour. After all, a civilisation that can come up with a 3D chocolate fabricator (p 95) can't be all bad!? Far from it!
That spirit is infectious, and it needs to be. The website format allowed (and still allows) for a lively discussion of each article. Rather than preach (and it would be very easy for them to do so), the authors very wisely choose to include the reader, as can be seen from this excerpt from the authors' advice on how to use the book:
"As you think about what these ideas mean in your life, we encourage you to treat the information we provide as a set of avenues for exploration. There are a lot of ideas here, and not all of them will work for you: indeed, most of them will only work if you apply your own smarts and adapt them to the circumstances you face."
And that, ultimately, is what Worldchanging is about: DIY empowerment.
Go do it!
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