On April 20th and May 6th of this year, two seemingly unrelated events brought to stark relief — for those willing to pay attention — that while we’re good at throwing our hyper-technological, globalized economies into overdrive, we’re not so good at putting them smoothly in reverse.
The Deepwater Horizon disaster and the 1,000 point “flash crash” of the stock market are but two examples of what can happen when the massively complex, inter-connected world we’ve built hits up against the very real limits to growth. A quick glance at world news and you can easily see other examples: a deadly tsunami caused by glacier collapse in Peru… a credit crisis in Greece threatening to topple the government in Germany… ethnic strife in Central Asia inflamed by conflicts over water, natural gas, and other resources… and so on.
This is just the beginning.
In 2009, Post Carbon Institute recruited 29 of the world’s leading sustainability thinkers to answer one fundamental question: How do we manage the transition to a more resilient, sustainable, and equitable world?
Like us, our Fellows see five key truths:
- We have hit the “limits to growth.” This is not a moral question (or not only one); nor is it merely a question about the fate of our children and grandchildren. The truth is that we have no choice but to adapt to a world of resource constraints, economic contraction, and climate upheaval. And thus the only question that remains is this: How will we manage that transition?
- No issue can be addressed in isolation. Thankfully, recognition of these crises has grown in recent years. However, all too often they are viewed in isolation. We must connect the dots in order to get to their source — not just their symptoms — and to maximize what little time and resources we have to address the enormous challenges they pose.
- We must focus on responses, not just solutions. As John Michael Greer says, we face a predicament, not a problem. “The difference is that a problem calls for a solution; the only question is whether a solution can be found and made to work and, once this is done, the problem is solved. A predicament, by contrast, has no solution. Faced with a predicament, people come up with responses.”
- We must prepare for uncertainty. While the general trends are clear, it’s simply impossible to predict, specifically, how world events will unfold. Therefore, it’s critically important that we aim to build resilience on the individual and community scales. Resilient people and resilient communities are characterized by their ability to manage unforeseen shocks while maintaining their essential identity.
- We can do something. The bad news is that we simply cannot avoid hardship or suffering in the journey from a fossil fuel- and growth-dependent world to communities that live within ecological bounds. The good news is that we can prepare and make positive changes in almost any area of our lives and the lives of our communities. How much and how successful those efforts are all depends upon the thought and effort we invest.
The Post Carbon Reader
The first step, as we saw it, was to aggregate the most current, systems-oriented thinking about these interconnected threats, as well as the most promising responses. I’m proud to announce the outcome of this effort — The Post Carbon Reader: Managing the 21st Century’s Sustainability Crises — will hit bookstores and classrooms in October 2010.
The Reader includes 35 essays by 28 Post Carbon Institute Fellows, including Bill McKibben, Richard Heinberg, Stephanie Mills, David Orr, Sandra Postel, Michael Shuman, Wes Jackson, Erika Allen, Bill Ryerson, Gloria Flora, and many other leading sustainability thinkers.
We’re pleased to be partnering with Watershed Media and University of California Press to distribute this much-needed resource as broadly as possible. University of California Press is offering a 20% discount for early orders. Just follow these instructions.
Over the coming weeks and months, we’ll be posting free pdf downloads of many of the articles included in The Post Carbon Reader. The first two, by Fellows Sandra Postel and Warren Karlenzig, have just been released.
Sandra’s piece — “Water: Adapting to a New Normal” — looks at how these shortages will affect growth in the United States.
Warren’s — “The Death of Sprawl: Designing Urban Resilience for the 21st Century Resource & Climate Crises” — analyzes the high, true cost of urban and exurban sprawl in the United States and proposes multiple appropriate responses.