The Post Carbon Reader: Managing the 21st Century's Sustainability Crises Paperback – Sep 1 2010
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"A must-read for anyone who cares about how peak oil and climate change affect us all."--Transition Voice
"Unlike other books that may be easily filed under 'Gloom and Doom,' authors . . . made sure to explore positive paths laden with solution examples."--Green Flow
"This clearly understandable work is a good sustainable development resource, useful for environmental policy collections."--Choice
From the Inside Flap
"For a comprehensive, integrated overview of the relationship between the human species and its planetary home circa 2010, look no further. The Post Carbon Reader is an invaluable primer, resource, and textbook. This is what you need to know--period."--Lester R. Brown, President of Earth Policy Institute and author of Plan B 4.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization
"The one thing certain about the 21st century is that it will be an era filled with colossal changes: shifting ecosystems, a billion more humans on the planet, at least 2 degrees of climate change, and the displacement of tens if not hundreds of millions of people during that period. The Post Carbon Reader offers an important overview of these changes and a plethora of ideas of how we can cope with them: from strengthening community colleges and planning resilient towns to relocalizing agriculture and creating your own personal preparation strategy (never a bad idea). With many leading sustainability thinkers peppering the pages of this tome and providing many valuable insights, The Post Carbon Reader is definitely worth the read."--Erik Assadourian, Senior Fellow, Worldwatch Institute and Project Director of State of the World 2010: Transforming Cultures: From Consumerism To Sustainability
"This is one of the best readers that I have seen in my 48 years as a university professor. The articles were well-written, up to date, and contained some extremely valuable information. I suggested to the students that they keep the book for future reference, instead of selling it back to the bookstore at the end of the semester. I plan to use it again next year when I teach Environmental Sociology."--Al Williams, Professor Emeritus, Department of Sociology, University of Nebraska
"I use various portions of The Post Carbon Reader in all my classes, and I reference it in my public presentations. I also note to all my undergrads doing senior projects, and graduate and doctoral students, that they need to read The Post Carbon Reader"-- Bob Scarfo, Associate Professor, Washington State University, Spokane
"I used quite a few chapters from The Post Carbon Reader. I very much appreciate its forward-thinking orientation as students in Environmental Studies classes too often get overwhelmed with all the facts about how we've messed up the environment. The Reader allows students to see that there are visionary thinkers trying not only to construct blueprints of what a post-carbon society might look like, but also the roadmaps for how to get there. I'll definitely use it again."-- Stephen Zavestoski, Associate Professor, Sociology and Environmental Studies, University of San Francisco
"A terrific collection of essays. Definitely on my 'highly recommended' book list."-- Karen Litfin, Department of Political Science, University of Washington, Seattle
"I've used the book with students, as it's simply the best single-volume reader that offers both background and cutting-edge thinking about issues that are crucial to the future of civilization."-- Eric Zencey, Visiting Associate Professor of Historical and Political Studies at SUNY Empire State College
Top Customer Reviews
I would love to do a weekly workshop with my community chapter by chapter
The only things I could urge to improve:
1) at times it seemed to be that some author is we're taking a different view than was expressed. I would like to see some sort of rebuttal - not to resolve conclusions but just to raise those alternative views.
2) this book cogent is now 4-5 years old. Odd how happy I would be to see an update! Not a re-write but an addendum for each chapter?
I am so glad I read this book. I highly recommend it to anyone as essential reading and what a reference!
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
There are many excellent pieces in this work. Thought-provoking and penetrating in scope, the authors look at population growth, food, water, sustainability, ecological economics, peak oil and a variety of other related subjects. I highly recommend this work as THE definitive primer for those who really want to understand where we are and how we might do something positive about it.
David K. Banner, PhD
PhD Mentor in Leadership and Organizational Change
Climate change and fossil fuel depletion mean that just about all the critical systems we rely upon, particularly in industrialised nations, are going to change. It's imperative in order to control CO2 emissions and inevitable because of peak oil. This book does a really good job of looking at all the key areas and exploring what that future might look like and the paths we might take.
Although the authors are predominantly american, the book feels very applicable to the UK and Europe generally.
In a few years, this'll become one of the best-thumbed reference volumes I've got on my shelf.
Thoughtful people need to read this book. And those who don't read it need to get the messages that are in the book now, because learning them through the school of hard knocks is going to be tough, to say the least. Lots of books show how our petroleum - soaked way of life is ending, but this book goes way beyond one or two aspects of the problem - it successfully characterizes the myriad interrelated components of the system that has brought us to our current precarious position. While we can't avoid the coming powerdown, we can at least try to mitigate it. What we do now and in the next few years can make a big difference to our grandchildren. This book helps one understand the problem and it clearly points out the directions in which we need to be headed.
When I grew up in the Windy City in the seventies and eighties, the University of Chicago had the reputation as a school for grinds. After high school, I did not go there, but opted instead for a liberal arts college in a Southern state that offered what I felt was a superior book-to-beer balance.
I had a childhood friend who did go to the U of C though. She had always been a bit of a free spirit, with straight blond hair down to her waist and an obsession with animals of all sorts. I could never figure out how such a gentle soul wound up at such a high-pressure, bookish school. But there it was.
One year, I came home on break and paid her a visit. It was a midweek evening in her dorm room, with half a dozen of her friends. Conversation turned to the loads of homework each student had due that week. Each undergrad claimed to have to read three or four Great Books by morning. And we're not talking about one dialogue by Plato or a play by Moliere. No, each student had a pile of four- to eight-hundred page tomes due for discussion in class the next day: Ulysses, the Summa Theologica of Thomas Aquinas, The Critique of Pure Reason. Rather than quaking in sheer panic, I noticed that these Chicago grinds had all developed a kind of battlefront nonchalance. Maybe even a bit of a macho swagger. Sure, they'd skim the books. They'd be up all night doing it. But it was no big deal. They could catch up on sleep over the weekend.
The Chicago Book of Style
The Post Carbon Reader feels like a Chicago book. I know that it's really a West Coast production, with its eponymous institute located north of the San Francisco Bay area. But this book forsakes the Cassandra cry of a Berkeley activist at a giant redwood tree-sit. Likewise missing is the smooth scenario-spinning of a Silicon Valley venture capitalist at a TED conference. Instead, the 500-page volume shows an outsized ambition to present all areas of practical human knowledge from the viewpoint of peak oil. It's an encyclopedia that seems more at home among the leering gargoyles and faux-Gothic spires of Hyde Park than on the sun-kissed lanes of Sonoma wine country.
Co-editor Daniel Lerch apologizes for what the volume had to leave out, namely "chapters on media and communications, for example, to explore how action on even `no brainer' issues like climate change and peak fossil fuels all too often lives or dies by money and politics, not science and the common good." Curiously, Lerch says he also misses a chapter on local post-carbon transportation including walking and biking, though Richard Gilbert and Anthony Perl stand up nicely for rail and electric vehicles in their piece "Transportation in the Post-Carbon World."
In any event, this volume should not make any apologies for being too short or lacking in scope. Its 34 essays by two dozen authors impressively cover subjects likely to be both old and new to readers who follow peak oil, climate change and the economic crisis. Finishing The Post Carbon Reader can give you the same sense of accomplishment as if you'd polished off Aristotle's Poetics, Gargantua and Pantagruel and the Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica between dinner and bedtime. It's like graduating from Post-Carbon University. And all without the student loans.
Essays by Richard Heinberg on the limits to growth, David Orr on the economy's "ecological deficit" and a selection from Bill McKibben's Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet summarize well the dilemmas that face industrial society today. Wes Jackson's proposal to replace most annual crops with perennial varieties is a new take on the oft-discussed topic of sustainable farming. Gloria Flora's "Remapping Relationships: Humans in Nature," encourages a healthy sense of humility before the ability of nature to provide our basic needs better than industrial society can. These essays can serve as both excellent introductions to newcomers and helpful refreshers for people more familiar with energy and the environment.
Peak-thinking on new subjects
For me, most exciting were the essays that traveled beyond the well worn sustainability paths of wildlife, food, water and energy.
"Climate Change, Peak Oil, and The End of Waste," is the best thing I've seen on garbage outside of Annie Leonard's web video "The Story of Stuff", to which the essay's authors, both recycling activists, rightly pay homage. Like any skilled essayists, they show how their subject is central to some bigger issues that you may never have thought about. In this case, it turns out that products and packaging are bigger contributors to global warming than the two next sources of greenhouse-gas emissions, buildings and transportation, combined. And next time I hear some municipal waste manager beaming about how the local landfill is "green" because it harnesses methane, I'll know the real story: most of that methane isn't even burned, but still escapes into the atmosphere. Even worse, the false promise of turning landfill gas into fuel causes cities to make bad decisions such as diverting food scraps from promising new composting programs back into landfills to get a methane payback that may never come.
"Human Health and Well-being in an Era of Energy Scarcity and Climate Change" by Cindy Parker and Brian Schwartz, two public health physicians at Johns Hopkins, may be old hat to people with a background in the field. But for those of us whose experience with healthcare has been limited to private physicians, hospitals, pharmacies and their billing departments, the authors' holistic discussion of sustainable well-being will probably be eye-opening. I always suspected that human health went beyond prescriptions and MRIs. Now I feel that the authors have given me permission to see factors ranging from employment and income to justice and the law to soils and mineral resources as factors in keeping people well or making them sick.
The two essays on education are thought-provoking. In "Smart by Nature" Michael Stone and Zenobia Barlow talk about how introducing students to hands-on farming and community activism elevated a neglected inner-city elementary school in Burlington, VT into a magnet for kids from around the city. Nancy Lee Wood shows how community colleges could be more relevant than Harvard (or, for that matter, Chicago) in a world that requires fewer investment bankers and drug company sales reps and more organic farmers, solar-panel installers and managers of small-scale local factories.
Appropriately to a volume that wants to leave its reader in a hopeful port after voyaging on a sea of troubles, the book ends with action-oriented essays by Chris Martenson and Transition Town originator Rob Hopkins. And interestingly, both authors eschew much talk of sustainability and instead focus on resilience.
For Martenson, "we are more resilient when we have multiple sources and systems to supply a needed item, rather than being dependent on a single source...when we have a strong local community with deep connections...when we are in control of how our needs are met and when we can do things for ourselves." Accordingly, his advice for preparing your own family doesn't mention guns or gold at all, but talks instead about working with your neighbors to help everybody store food, insulate their homes and feel more confident about the future.
Surely much of the appeal of Hopkins's Transition movement is that it helps people and communities get ready for some very scary futures by doing things that are basically pretty fun: making new friends, learning new skills and trades and doing a bit of old-time local politicking.
More hip, more cool
At the session set aside to introduce The Post Carbon Reader at the ASPO-USA conference in October, Lerch presented the book as an example of how the Post Carbon Institute is trying to appeal to a wider public who may not yet be familiar with peak oil and its impacts on the economy, the environment and our culture. Even the book's cover was "designed to reach out beyond the policy-wonk audience" and to appeal to young people especially.
But such missionary work is a pretty tall order for a book of essays, no matter how accessible some of the chapters may be. Take young people, for example. In my experience as a college teacher, the first and last time that most young people encounter the collection-of-essays genre is in a classroom. So I can imagine those University of Chicago grinds giving over a half hour or 45 minutes to ruthlessly skim The Post Carbon Reader if some professor assigned it for discussion the next day. But it is more difficult for me to picture those same young people, some of whom must be as curious as they are ambitious, slowly poring over the Reader on a lazy Saturday afternoon with a croissant and a tall latte.
What I can imagine smart young people reading would be a full-length book by one of The Post Carbon Reader`s contributors, say Bill McKibben or Wes Jackson. In that way, the Reader may be a gateway for new audiences to discover the pleasures of important writing on peak oil. Let's do hope enough teachers assign the Reader in class to make sure that students are exposed to its contributors.
As far as the Post Carbon Institute's branding, this volume has done its duty to establish the group's credibility. And I'm sure many other readers will be proud to join me in graduating from Post Carbon University.
Next, I wonder if the PCI might consider a future publication more on the side of accessibility. How about short pamphlets on some of the key issues covered in this volume and not covered much elsewhere, such as post-peak education or healthcare?
The Reader has shown off the great minds of the PCI's impressive stable of fellows. Now, let's see their warm hearts. These creative folks could give us fiction, poetry, photography and art to stimulate creative thinking throughout our society. Their genius could help release the genius inside us all.
So, to the Post Carbon Institute, I say fire us up with some Berkeley passion. Seduce us with some Silicon Valley vision. Intoxicate us with the fragrance of a Sonoma Valley vineyard in June.
Whatever it is, I'd love to see their next big effort feel less Chicago and more California. And that's coming from a true-blue Chicagoan.
For now, The Post Carbon Reader is a must-read for anyone who cares about how peak oil and climate change affect us all. And it could be a helpful tool to introduce someone who needs to learn about these issues. Why not buy a copy as a gift for your favorite Congressional staffer, city councilperson or local newspaper editor this holiday season?
The book is split up into sections, each written by highly qualified members of the Post Carbon Institute. My only regret is that politicians will either be too busy or too set in their ways to take the books conclusion on board and act upon them.
All in all a well researched book and very frightening.
PS Richard Heinburg (one of the authors) will be visiting Australia next month to lecture on the topic of his book "The end of Growth"
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