OUR COMMON FUTURE +30 PART 4

This article is the last in a series of articles which look into the 1987 report Our Common Future, prepared by the World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED).

Our_Common_Future_book_cover

For more information on parts 1 & 2, please visit the link below.

OUR COMMON FUTURE +30 PART 1

OUR COMMON FUTURE +30 PART 2

This article focusses of the final part of the report called Common Endeavours.

Managing the commons

Managing the commons begins with the brilliant realisation that: “traditional forms of national sovereignty are increasingly challenged by the realities of ecological and economic independence.

Within this chapter there is a stunning piece on Antarctica. The authors include their vision that: “Antarctica has been an agreed zone of peace for nearly 30 years, free of all military activities, nuclear tests, and radioactive wastes. This is a foundation on which humanity must build.” When put in that context, the success of Antarctica’s common management is truly remarkable.

Peace, Security, Development and the Environment

The next chapter on peace and security begins with the stark viewpoint that: “among the dangers facing the environment, the possibility of nuclear war, or military conflict of a lesser scale involving weapons of mass destruction, is undoubtedly the gravest.” It is ironic that 30 years on from its publication, we find ourselves trapped in another game of nuclear brinkmanship.

This chapter was one of my personal favourites, especially the sub chapter The Costs of the ‘Arms Culture,’ which was stunningly well written.

This sub-chapter began with the words that: “the absence of war is not peach, nor does it necessarily provide the conditions for sustainable development.”

This chapter also included a quotation from President Eisenhower from the end of his term in office, which I had not seen before but that I thought was brilliant. I will include it in full below.

“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired represents, in the final analysis, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, who are cold and are not clothed”

Shortly after, the authors include a line of their own, which reads: “The true cost of the arms race is the loss of what could have been produced instead with scarce capital, labour skills, and raw materials.” The authors raise an interesting viewpoint.

Towards Common Action

This chapter begins with what I believe to be my favourite line of the entire book.

“In the middle of the 20th century, we saw our planet from space for the first time. Historians may eventually find that this vision had a greater impact on thought than did the Copernican revolution of the 16th century.”

I thought the quotation was marvellous and it is perhaps one of my all-time favourites.

On the next page, the authors include a message about how they want the book to be used. It reads: “We have tried to point some pathways to the future. But there is no substitute for the journey itself, and there is no alternative to the process by which we retain a capacity to the experience it provides.”

Later on, there is an unfortunate example about how the report’s vision has gone unmet. The authors state that: “environmental protection and sustainable development must be an integral part of the mandates of all agencies of governments, of international organisations, and of major private-sector institutions.” This is something which has clearly not happened, and sustainability and environmental management have become silos of their own. We can only hope this is something that the Sustainable Development Goals can address.

Later on, the report brings the reader to grips with reality, with the statement that: “the transition to sustainable development will require a range of public policy choices that are inherently complex and politically difficult.

The book closes with a sub-chapter called A Call For Action. They include a well written statement that: “to keep options open for future generations, the present generation must begin now, and begin together, nationally and internationally.” In the end, this is what sustainability is all about.

What you need to know

Our Common Future was a report published by the World Commission on Environment and Development in 1987 at the behest of the UN General Assembly.

This article dealt with the chapters that make up the part of the book titled Common Endeavours.

There are not many books which have impacted the trajectory of mankind in the way that Our Common Future has. The key takeaway, is will we build on the bold vision for a sustainable future that the authors set out in 1987 or will we let the challenge of creating a more sustainable form of development pass like a ship in the night? This is the challenge that lies ahead.

Thank you for reading,

By Barnaby Nash

Please share your thoughts in the comments section below. What do you think about Our Common Future, how has the book impacted you?

Let’s stay connected

I can be reached on LinkedIn and on Twitter @FollowBarnaby

OUR COMMON FUTURE +30 PART 3

This article is the third in a series of articles which look into the 1987 report Our Common Future, prepared by the World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED).

Our_Common_Future_book_cover

For more information on parts 1 & 2 please visit the links below.

OUR COMMON FUTURE +30 PART 1

OUR COMMON FUTURE +30 PART 2

This article focusses of the part of the report called Common Challenges.

Population and Human Resources

I personally felt that this was perhaps the most instructive chapter in the entire book.

There was a brilliant point that: “Almost any activity that increases well-being and security lessens people’s desires to have more children than they and national ecosystems can support.”

There was also a very interesting point about education. It is in full below.

Environmental education should be included in and should run throughout the other disciplines of the formal education curriculum at all levels – to foster a sense of responsibility for the state of the environment and to teach students how to monitor, protect, and improve it.

This is quite a vision put forward by the report’s authors; we have a long way to go to make this a reality.

Food Security: Sustaining the Potential

This chapter had a lot of cold and uncomfortable truths about industrial farming and the industrial scale of subsidies that support this industry.

The authors begin with the following situation below.

It has become politically more attractive, and usually cheaper, to export surpluses – often as food aid – rather than to store them. These heavily subsidised surpluses depress the international market prices of commodities such as sugar and have created severe problems for several developing countries whose economies are based on agriculture. Non-emergency food aid and low-priced imports also keep down prices received by Third World farmers and reduce the incentive to improve domestic food production.

They make it clear that: “it is in the interests of all, including the farmers, that the policies be changed.

Species and Ecosystems: Resources for Development

This chapter contains a poignant reminder of the importance of biodiversity with the statement that: “it would be grim irony indeed if just as new genetic engineering techniques begin to let us peer into life’s diversity and use genes more effectively to better the human condition, we looked and found this treasure sadly depleted.”

Energy: Choices for Environment and Development

This chapter has a particularly interesting sub-chapter on reducing urban industrial air pollution. This is a problem we have known about for 30 years and failed to act appropriately.

There was also a very interesting sub-chapter on wood fuel. The authors made the stunning rebuke that: “forestry must enlarge its horizons: beyond trees – to the people who just exploit them.” This is something I certainly agree with.

There was also a very enlightening sub-chapter on energy conservation, where the authors make the bold suggestion that: “within the next 50 years, nations have the opportunity to produce the same levels of energy-services with as little as half the primary supply currently consumed.

Industry Producing More With Less

The chapter begins with the pro-business statement that: “Industry is central to the economies of modern societies and an indispensable motor of growth.

The authors bring forward an ominous belief on the nature of pollution with the statement that: “It is becoming increasingly clear that the sources and causes of pollution are far more diffuse, complex and interrelated – and the effects of pollution more widespread, cumulative, and chronic – than hitherto believed.” Achieving sustainable development is a complex task.

The Urban Challenge

This chapter begins with the prediction that: “by the turn of the century, almost half the world will live in urban areas – from small towns to huge megacities.”

Later on in the chapter, they link this prediction back to the challenge of sustainable development. The authors belief is that: “the future will be predominantly urban, and the most immediate environmental concerns of most people will be urban ones.

What you need to know

Our Common Future was a report published by the World Commission on Environment and Development in 1987 at the behest of the UN General Assembly.

This article dealt with the chapters that make up the part of the book titled Common Challenges.

A Subsequent article will deal with the final part of the book, Common Endeavours.

Thank you for reading,

By Barnaby Nash

Please share your thoughts in the comments section below. What do you think about Our Common Future, how has the book impacted you?

Let’s stay connected

I can be reached on LinkedIn and on Twitter @FollowBarnaby

OUR COMMON FUTURE +30 PART 2

This article is the second in a series of articles which look into the 1987 report Our Common Future, prepared by the World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED).

Our_Common_Future_book_cover

For more information on part 1, please visit the link below.

OUR COMMON FUTURE +30 PART 1

This article focusses of the part of the report called Common Concerns.

A Threatened Future

Within Common Concerns the first chapter is called A Threatened Future. This begins with a stunning quotation, which I will include in full below.

The Earth is one but the world is not. We all depend on one biosphere for sustaining our lives. Yet each community, each country, strives for survival and prosperity with little regard for its impact on others.

I found these words to be some of the best that I have seen written about the contradiction which lies at the heart of a global struggle for growth, which undermines the very growth potential that, that struggle depends upon.

Later on there is a classically pragmatic piece on the needs and environmental consequences of development in developing countries. It goes: “with the increase in population and the rise in incomes, per capita consumption of energy and materials will go up in the developing countries, as it has to if essential needs are to be met.” What this necessitates is, is a need for a quicker transition towards sustainable development in developed countries.

Next there is another great quotation on the growth / conservation dichotomy, which I will include below.

Environment and development are not separate challenges; they are inexorably linked. Development cannot subsist upon a deteriorating environmental resource base; the environment cannot be protected when growth leaves out of account the costs of environmental destruction.

Just shortly after this wonderful quotation, there was another piece which shone a light on one of the ways in which the Our Common Future vision has not been met 30 years later. It went: “economics and ecology must be completely integrated in decision-making and lawmaking processes not just to protect the environment, but also to protect and promote development.” I think even the most generous of assessments would say that the achievements to date have fallen well short of this lofty ambition.

Towards Sustainable Development

The chapter towards sustainable development is one of my personal favourites, it is packed full of useful information and examples of sustainability and unsustainability in action.

The first is a brilliant example of what a maximum sustainable yield is. It goes as follows below.

In general, renewable resources like forests and fish stocks need not be depleted provided the rate of use is within the limits of regeneration and natural growth. But most renewable resources are part of a complex and interlinked ecosystem, and maximum sustainable yield must be defined after taking into account system-wide effects of exploitation.

There is another great line on economic growth in developing countries shortly after. It goes: “growth must be revived in developing countries because that is where the links between economic growth, the alleviation of poverty, and environmental conditions operate most directly.”

Unfortunately shortly after there is another sign of how the Our Common Future vision has gone unmet 30 years after its publication. With regards to the accounting of economic growth the authors had this to say: “in all countries, rich or poor, economic development must take full account in its measurements of growth of the improvement or deterioration in the stock of natural resources.” This is a vision that feels like a million miles away from becoming a reality.

Later there is a piece on conservation which I really enjoyed. It reads: “the case for the conservation of nature should not rest only with development goals. It is part of our moral obligation to other living beings and future generations.

Lastly there was another sentence that I particularly enjoyed, which was about how you operationalise the bold vision contained within Our Common Future. It is copied below.

The common theme throughout this strategy for sustainable development is the need to integrate economic and ecological considerations in decision making. They are after all, integrated in the workings of the real world. This will require a change in attitudes and objectives and in institutional arrangements at every level.

Achieving sustainable development is a complex and far reaching challenge. The biggest challenge of all, may well not be technical, but may be psychological and relate to changing the way we think about society, the economy and the environment.

The Role of the International Economy

The chapter The Role of the International Economy begins with the blunt assessment that: “the pursuit of sustainability requires major changes in international economic relations.

There is also a pointed criticism of aid projects with the assertion that: “in the past, development assistance has not always contributed to sustainable development and in some cases detracted from it.

There is a further clarion call for more economic growth with the proclamation that: “if large parts of the developing world are to avert economic, social, and environmental catastrophes, it is essential that global economic growth be revitalized.”

This chapter ends with the pointed and highly important belief that: “new dimensions of multilateralism are essential to human progress.”

What you need to know

Our Common Future was a report published by the World Commission on Environment and Development in 1987 at the behest of the UN General Assembly.

This article dealt with the chapters A Threatened Future, Towards Sustainable Development and The Role of the International Economy, which make up the part of the book titled Common Concerns.

Subsequent articles will deal with the parts of the book Common Challenges and Common Endeavours.

Thank you for reading,

By Barnaby Nash

Please share your thoughts in the comments section below. What do you think about Our Common Future, how has the book impacted you?

Let’s stay connected

I can be reached on LinkedIn and on Twitter @FollowBarnaby

 

OUR COMMON FUTURE +30 PART 1

This article is the first in a series of articles which will look into the 1987 report Our Common Future, prepared by the World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED). Our_Common_Future_book_cover

This text is a major point of departure for the modern incarnation of sustainable development. 2017 marks the 30-year anniversary of the report’s publication. The commission was led by Dr Gro Harlem Brundtland the Prime Minister of Norway, whose influence on the report was significant.

Following the publication of Our Common Future, major steps were taken to advance sustainable development. The 1992 Earth Summit held in Rio de Janeiro where the Convention on Climate Change, the Convention on Biological Diversity and Agenda 21 were signed. These represent major milestones.

It is not an overstatement to say that Our Common Future ushered in a new consciousness in the world. This was one in which social problems, economic problems and environmental problems were seen as having the same standing. It opened up a new space for dialogue between developed countries and developing countries and between businesses and NGO’s.

Let’s look into this remarkable text.

The book begins with the words “A global agenda for change.” This is what the UN General Assembly had asked the WCED to produce.

On the next page in the foreword Gro Harlem Brundtland mentions that: “there was a time of optimism and progress in the 1960s, when there was a greater hope for a braver new world, and for progressive international ideas.

One thing that I found troubling whilst reading the report was that in the following 30 years whilst a lot had changed, much was still the same. As you can see from the following excerpt:

“Scientists bring to our attention urgent but complex problems bearing on our very survival: a warming globe, threats to the earth’s ozone layer, deserts consuming agricultural land. We respond by demanding more details, and by assigning the problems to institutions ill equipped to deal with them.”

This was perhaps the sentence that struck me most. It brought up images of those who are still sceptical about environmental problems, despite mountains of evidence and of the under resourced UN agencies that are dispatched to deal with the biggest problems this planet has ever faced.

Shortly afterwards there was a great line about Gro Harlem Brundtland’s position on economic growth. She asserted that: “What is needed now is a new era of economic growth – growth that is forceful and at the same time socially and environmentally responsible.” Who could possibly disagree with that?

Towards the end of the brilliant foreword Gro Harlem Brundtland makes it clear the need to turn this bold vision into bold actions. She states that: “Unless we are able to translate our words into a language that can reach the minds and hearts of young and old, we shall not be able to undertake the extensive social changes needed to correct the course of development.

The overview which follows foreword begins with the interesting point that: “In the middle of the 20th century, we saw our planet from space for the first time. Historians may eventually find that this vision had a greater impact on thought than did the Copernican revolution.

Following this, on the very next page there is one of the best lines of the entire report. It reads: “We do not offer a detailed blueprint for action, but instead a pathway by which the peoples of the world may enlarge their spheres of co-operation.” The report is full of great lines like this and is stunningly well written despite being the work of multiple authors for whom English was not a first language.

There is also a section on sustainable development, where they cover the line for which the report has become infamous. It goes: “humanity has the ability to make development sustainable – to ensure that it meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” This is a great sentence and a powerful sentence.

This was followed up shortly after with the blunt realisation that: “We do not pretend that the process is easy or straightforward. Painful choices have to be made. Thus, in the final analysis, sustainable development must rest on political will.” This line is classic of the pragmatism that runs throughout the report.

What you need to know

Our Common Future was a report published by the World Commission on Environment and Development in 1987 at the behest of the UN General Assembly.

What we dealt with in this article is the foreword and the overview. Subsequent articles will look into parts 1, 2 & 3.

Both of the sections that we have covered set the scene nicely. They are detailed and explanatory and are useful to experts and non-experts alike. The language is powerful and inspirational whilst also being approachable.

There is probably no single book in the history of the environmental movement that has led to more change than Our Common Future. We will have to see if the farsighted vision of a more sustainable form of development comes to fruition as the 21st century unfolds.

Thank you for reading,

By Barnaby Nash

Please share your thoughts in the comments section below. What do you think about Our Common Future, how has the book impacted you?

Let’s stay connected

I can be reached on LinkedIn and on Twitter @FollowBarnaby

 

DRAWDOWN EDITED BY PAUL HAWKEN

This article looks at Paul Hawken’s latest work, an edited book which claims to be: “the most comprehensive plan ever proposed to reverse global warming.” One thing is for sure, is that if this book even gets close to achieving its stated aim, it will be a masterpiece.

Introduction cover

The work that Paul Hawken is best known for is his seminal work, The Ecology of Commerce. This is a major contribution to the literature in defining what businesses role is in society. Paul Hawken fights for a robust version of sustainability where the triple bottom line is fully implemented and adhered to. I know reading The Ecology of Commerce marked a major turning point in how I viewed businesses. But there are countless others, such as Ray Anderson of Interface carpets who have read The Ecology of Commerce and had their lives changed. I was really excited when I heard that a new Paul Hawken book was being released especially based on all of the promotional material that I had seen before its release. Let’s see if it lived up to the hype.

About the book

First of all, in terms of aesthetics, the book is stunningly well produced, with many exquisite pictures and a good layout. I don’t know if it was because it is designed to be a coffee table book, but I do think that bearing the subject matter in mind, the design could have been slightly smaller and more in keeping with sustainability. Again, I only pick up on this because of the nature of the message that the book is intending to communicate, but I could not find a FSC or PEFC logo anywhere on my edition of the book. If it is the case that it has been printed on paper which was not sourced responsibly, then that is regrettable.

In terms of language, the book has a noble vision. It states:

Our goal is to present climate science and solutions in language that is accessible and compelling to the broadest audience, from ninth graders to pipe fitters, from graduate students to farmers.

I would say on reflection that despite the tough and quite complicated and technical subject matter that they have done a pretty good job at making it accessible to a wide range of audiences.  The book also avoids the use of military language, something which I find interesting. Words such as combat and slash have become commonplace in the language of climate change. When I read about their pledge at the beginning of the book I wondered how they would manage this, but throughout the book, no military language can be found. I have to say I think this a good thing, if you can get your message across using non-violent language then that has to be better.

The book pulls together some fantastic figures, such as the Swedish statistic that for every tonne of general waste incinerated, there is a 1,100 pound CO2 saving compared to if it was landfilled.

I found the piece on distributed energy storage particularly interesting, which came in at number 77 in the Drawdown 100. Its role as a facilitator of other renewable energy sources is certainly vital.

The section on food was my favourite. Eating a plant-rich diet came in at number 4, reducing food waste came in at number 3, silvopasture came in at number 9, regenerative agriculture came in at number 11, tree intercropping came in at number 17, conservation agriculture came in at number 16, tropical staple trees came in at number 14 and managed grazing came in at number 19. It is truly remarkable that out of the top 20 solutions to climate change 8 come from within the food sector. This has to be an area where more attention is focussed so that we don’t accidentally sleepwalk past an important area where the solutions are located.

The buildings and cities section was also interesting. Walkable cities came in at number 54. There was the incredible statistic that in low-income countries, 70% of urban transportation budgets go towards car oriented infrastructure, but 70% of trips are taken by foot or mass transit. This miss allocation of capital needs to change for sustainability to become a reality. The piece on bike infrastructure was good and this solution came in at number 59. No surprises there, areas with bike lanes tend to find that a lot of people cycle. This needs to become commonplace in cites around the world and not merely in a few isolated islands of cycling progress. The segment on LED lighting was also moving, which came in at number 33 for households and 44 for commercial. I found the statistic that more than 1 billion people are still left in the dark when the sun sets hard to fathom. It makes it clear the need to make considerable cuts to emissions in developed countries as there are those in developing countries who have yet to taste prosperity and must be lifted out of poverty and into a lifestyle that will no doubt entail more carbon emissions than in their present state. My personal favourite solution, heat pumps came in at number 44. I was expecting it to be a dark horse and perhaps make the top 10 or 20. That being said the book is a breakdown of the top 100 solutions, they are all needed and they are all important if we are to build a better world. I thought the section on retrofitting was particularly well written as well as the Rocky Mountain Institute solution to make retrofitting cheaper by doing select areas simultaneously and all with the same proven technologies.

The land use section was also wonderful. Forest protection came in at number 38, tropical forests came in at number 5 highlighting their role as the world’s most valuable ecosystem. I was thrilled to see bamboo come in at number 35, its role as a species that works on degraded land and provides useful products with carbon benefits was highlighted. Peatlands came in at number 13, temperate forests came in at number 12 and afforestation came in at number 15. I thought it was instructive that in the afforestation piece, it was demonstrated that to afforest an additional 204 million acres of marginal land by 2050 would cost $29 billion, but that the plantations would yield a net profit of over $392 billion and reduce CO2 by 18.06 gigatons. When the money that is spent on other things and the money that is sloshing around the international system is taken into account, $29 billion is a small investment for such dramatic results.

The transport section was also really good. Mass transit came in at number 37, there were many good arguments put forward in the high speed rail piece, which came in at 66. Electric vehicles came in at 26, electric bikes came in at 69 and telepresence came in at 63.

The materials section also had a lot of useful information as well as the number 1 solution. Household recycling came in at number 55 and industrial recycling at 56. The number 1 solution was refrigeration, which came in with an 89.74 gigaton reduction in CO2. It is clear that more attention must now be placed on this pertinent area. Recycled paper came in at 70 and bioplastic came in at 47, whilst home water saving came in at 46.

There was also a future facing section that detailed 20 solutions that were in various stages of development but were not ready to scale globally just yet. In this section there was an excellent segment on how autonomous vehicles are needed to save urban areas from the motor car, but that these vehicles mush have a high occupancy rate for their full benefits to be revealed. The piece on living buildings was excellent and set out a vision for buildings that contribute to the greater good and not just be less bad. The section on hydrogen-boron fusion was also stunningly well written as well as thought provoking. The section on the hyperloop was very interesting; this is an emergent technology with many pros and cons. The section on industrial hemp also brought up a number of interesting points that I had not thought of such as its cost. I thought it was strange to include building with wood in the futurology section as there are a great many wooden skyscrapers being built as we speak, but this item was also well written.

What you need to know

This is a really important contribution to the climate change literature. When it is combined with the other work that will be updated on http://www.drawdown.org/ what they have created is a very important piece of work.

My only criticisms would be that perhaps a layout where it was numbered 100-1 would be better. Also, the content of the book is stunning, but I don’t know whether it was because it is a compilation of writers work, but it felt less joined up than I anticipated it would be. That being said, what Paul Hawken and his colleagues at Drawdown.org have managed to put together is a masterpiece. If you are interested in sustainability, worried about climate change or just want to build a better world but don’t know what to do, buy this book.

Thank you for reading,

By Barnaby Nash

Please share your thoughts in the comments section below. If you liked this book review and would like to see more articles like this, comment at the bottom or you can also find me on social media.

Let’s stay connected

I can be reached on LinkedIn and on Twitter @FollowBarnaby

 

CAN WE AVOID ANOTHER FINANCIAL CRISIS – STEVE KEEN

This week I have a book review of Steve Keen’s latest offering: Can we avoid another financial crisis? I really enjoyed Steve Keen’s other book, Debunking Economics and I have been looking forward to this new book all year.

book cover

Introduction

Introducing this book, I should say from the outset, that if you were worried that an economics book would be all equations, tables and statistics, then fear not. Steve Keen writes in a critical yet approachable manner. He cuts through the noise and through the data to give the reader the information they need to understand what is really going on in the world.

Steve Keen is the maverick leather jacket wearing economist that you may have seen on TV. He sees the world differently, he thinks differently. As a result, he was one of only a handful of economists that predicted the global financial crisis. He is therefore a leading authority to speculate as to whether we can avoid another financial crisis.

About the book

The book is short, considerably shorter than his previous treatise Debunking Economics. But that can have its advantages, it can allow the writer to hone in and really prosecute one argument. Steve Keen takes full advantage of this and drives home his consistent message. The field of economics is broken. Just as the astronomers who thought the sun revolved around the earth were eventually proven wrong. Modern mainstream economists are also wrong. Let’s see how.

Would it surprise you to know that economic bodies like the OECD were forecasting that 2008 would be a bumper year? It surprised me. Their prognosis was that: “the current economic situation is in many ways better than what we have experienced in years.” You don’t need to be an economics professor to know that this prediction was well wide of the mark.

What if I also told you that mainstream economics believes that the macroeconomy should be modelled as if money, banks and debt did not exist? You would say I was a liar, but it is absolutely correct. Steve Keen describes this succinctly as their “barter illusion” this fantasy that capitalism can be analysed without considering money at all. If you want to check up on this, you can visit the Bank of England’s paper ‘Money Creation in the Modern Economy.’ Steve Keen frequently uses Bank of England, Federal Reserve and Bank For International Settlements data to back up his arguments. This only strengthens his position.

What is clear is that debt, specifically private debt plays a vital but pernicious role in a modern capitalist economy. You don’t hear a lot about this in the media, where the focus is primarily on national debt and its size. Take private debt in the USA, it grew from 37% of GDP in 1945 to 165% of GDP in 2008. This is staggering. By March 2016 the USA had cut this back, but only to a still eye watering 149% of GDP in 2016. What I found truly outstanding was that Australia’s private debt mountain was 208% of GDP in March 2016, 22% higher than at the time of the financial crisis. The UK’s figures are also remarkable, as the graph below demonstrates. Private debt, which had never been above 75% of GDP, rose from 60% in the late 1970s to a peak of 197% of GDP in mid-2009.

UK Private debt

After all that, what are some solutions and a roadmap guiding the way forward? Firstly, we need a greater understanding that what we are dealing with is a complex phenomenon. Other sciences have got to grips with the fact that higher order phenomena cannot be directly extrapolated from lower order systems. In complex systems, the key is the interaction between the entities. We need a much bigger role for complexity theory in modern economics.

Secondly, greater appreciation needs to be paid to the role of private debt in the economic growth of a country. Some politicians catch a market at its lows, ride the bubble up and are crowned as economic geniuses. Some politicians catch the market on its highs, see it burst on their watch and are thus heckled as fools. A greater appreciation of the role of private debt by the general public would help the political process a great deal.

Thirdly, the most radical option would be for a modern debt jubilee. Where money would be injected into bank accounts, those with debt would be forced to write debt off, those without debt would get a cash injection. This is a bold vision that Steve Keen puts forward and he admits that it is easier stated than implemented.

What you need to know

In quick summary this is a fantastic book, very accessible, full of lots of great facts anecdotes and insights. Whether you are an economic pro or just interested in building a better world, this book is suitable for a wide range of audiences. Buy this book now.

Thank you for reading,

By Barnaby Nash

Please share your thoughts in the comments section below. If you liked this book review and would like to see more articles like this, comment at the bottom or you can also find me on social media.

Let’s stay connected

I can be reached on LinkedIn and on Twitter @FollowBarnaby

P.S.

Since writing this review and before publishing I was thinking a lot about the Einstein quotation “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” I think this is highly relevant to what is going on in economics. Sure, a few laws were passed and regulation reinstated or amended, but very little has changed since the global financial crisis. By and large the outsiders who predicted the financial crisis have seen very little increase in their public standing. Steve keen and a select group of others managed to predict the biggest economic event of our lifetimes. We should listen to them; we should listen to what they have to say. I find it hard to believe that those institutions and individuals who let the global financial crisis take them by surprise have the solutions to the problems we face.

DON’T EVEN THINK ABOUT IT – GEORGE MARSHALL

This week I have something new and different for readers. I have a book review of Don’t even think about it: why our brains are wired to ignore climate change by George Marshall. I personally thought that it was a tremendous book, but please comment on the bottom with your thoughts if you have read this book.

cover

Introduction

George Marshall has conducted a root and branch search for why our brains are wired to ignore climate change. But this is not a doom and gloom real life horror story, he includes useful information at the end for how messages should be reframed in order to solve this problem.

This book is extraordinarily well researched. George took the time to interview Nobel Prize winner Dan Kanehman, who shares a particularly bearish forward view on climate change.

Some of the sections I enjoyed the most were the sections where George interviewed notable climate sceptics. If you never make the effort to reach across the aisle to find out why your opponents believe what they believe, then you are never going to solve the problem. George should receive great credit for the way he conducted this research.

In a nutshell, George Marshall argues that climate change contains none of the clear signals that we require to mobilise our natural threat sensors. This has resulted in it becoming a problem dangerously open to misinterpretation.

About the book

George begins with a really interesting chapter on why disaster victims don’t talk about climate change or link their experiences to this issue. I found the psychology of this fascinating as although the links between climate change and extreme weather are hard to prove, it is still some of the most accessible evidence there is. If the victims of these incidents are not drawn to the subject matter, this does not bode well for the wider population.

Another early chapter on how science becomes infected with social meaning was particularly enlightening. The key takeaways were that rational data can lose out to a compelling story that communicates to people’s core values and that the warning of experts are often inferior to communications that come from people’s friends and family or others that are like them. This is a particular problem in TV debates where a fun, appealing sceptic may be put up against a stand-offish, technocratic scientist who is an expert in their field, but not a spectacular communicator. The public watching is likely to be drawn to the candidate that is most like them.

Further chapters on the bystander effect and the power of social media follow. In an age of pull media, people can construct their own media interface in their image. This creates the sport of echo chamber that those concerned and not concerned about climate change are unlikely to meet within.

Shortly after follows a chapter on climate denial. George meets with Myron Ebell from The Competitive Enterprise Institute. This chapter, although brief, provides great insights into the narratives that climate sceptics use to frame their opponents.

This is followed by a chapter on enemy narratives or rather the lack of enemy narratives in climate change. Climate change lacks an external enemy or motive; it has dispersed responsibility and diffused impacts. News stories work best when there is a clear good guys Vs bad guys divide and climate change doesn’t have this. We are all guilty and we all create carbon emissions. George Marshall’s solution that we therefore have to find narratives based on cooperation and mutual interest is a valid one.

The middle portion of the book records some excellent chapters on the psychology of climate change, a chapter on the risk perception on climate change with reference to Paul Slovic. The work of Paul Slovic who distilled risk down to dread risk and unknown risk was neatly explained by George. There is then a foreboding chapter where George speaks to Dan Kahneman, who is thoroughly pessimistic. Climate change is abstract, distant, invisible and disputed. These are not helpful qualities for mobilising masses of people to solve the problem.

The final third contains a number of interesting chapters on the story of climate change. The chapter on how museums struggle to tell the story of climate change was particularly illuminating in bringing a number of aspects together that I hadn’t thought about. It also references the impact of oil sponsorship of these sorts of high profile exhibitions, which is certainly a problem in the UK as well as the USA. There is an excellent chapter on why the messenger is more important than the message. People are looking for communicators with integrity.

There is a very strong chapter on how climate change became environmentalist and too often associated with stopping things and lacking a positive and optimistic vision. Towards the end there is a great chapter on the ever present climate negotiations. George mentions: “the climate negotiations are always beginning, or setting the stage for the drama to come.” I am glad that I am not the only person who finds these negotiations frustrating.

What follows shortly after is what I considered to be the most valuable chapter and the section which changed the way I now think about climate change. Without really much thinking scientists rushed to regulate the emissions caused by the burning of fossil fuels. However, why is there not more discussion of regulating the extraction of fossil fuels? This would be an eminently more sensible and hopefully successful strategy.

The book draws to a close with George suggesting some solutions of his own for how climate change can be approached differently. The best ones I picked out include:

  • Emphasise that climate change is happening here and now
  • Express climate change as an opportunity to restore past loss
  • We need a narrative of positive change
  • Recognise the role of your own emissions

Downsides

Overall I thought this offering by George Marshall was pretty spot on, but there are one or two things I think could be improved. There are some very dense factual scenes which are interspliced with some very first person almost gonzo like scenes. I felt that at times the transition between these two worlds was clumsy.

If there could be more pictures, figures or graphs that would be great. My copy also does not look like it was printed on FSC or PEFC paper, which if correct is very disappointing.

What you need to know

I was recommended to read this book by Sir Tim Smit, who was speaking at an event I was attending. I generally steer clear of doom and gloom “eco-worrying” literature as I don’t feel it to be particularly conducive to coming up with ideas for building a better world. George Marshall manages to cover climate change and the way it is covered in the media and the way our brains digest that information in a very accessible way. It ended up being very different from what I anticipated it would be and I was pleased that he ended with a solutions section, because they are needed now more than ever.

I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who is interested in sustainability and the environment. Whether you are a beginner or a subject matter expert, you will get something from reading this book.

Please comment below with any thoughts you have of this review or the book itself.

Thank you for reading,

By Barnaby Nash