I want to list and summarise where the ideas I will be discussing in this blog originate from – this is a way to me to document some of my own reading but can also act a starter place for someone wanting to begin to understand what might be happening around them. There are a number of blogs that I have been following for a variety of insights, some of these are listed on the right and I will add more as time unfolds. The following books are those that I have bought rather than just read and returned to the owner or library. I think this says that I found them more compelling – or in some cases – I needed to make up my amazon order 🙂
These books are representative of the descent ideas rather than the ways we might think about descent. I have not included anything in the foresight/futures realm as we will get to those in a later post – this is the ‘content’ area rather than the ‘process of thinking’ area I want to cover here. I have listed them in the order I read and acquired them.
‘Woman on the edge of time‘ Marge Piercy 1985 The first book I read (in 1990) about the possibility of a techno-agraian future with a completely different way of organising society. I found it radical and visionary and re-vistied it in 2002 when I began studying the Master of Strategic Foresight at Swinburne University. Worth a look for the alternative visions brought to life.
‘Believing Cassandra‘ Alan Atkisson 1999 Seven principles of sustainability and ideas about how we might be different, this book tries very hard to be optimistic and look at the opportunities rather than just seeing everything as a challenge. I especially liked the Cassandra reference and have often felt the way she must have when talking to people about reality as I see it which is usually rather different to their perception. Systems play a central role in the problems and the solution.
Hope, Human and Wild Bill McKibben 1995 McKibben talks about the area of the US in which he lives and what has happened there. He then moves onto Curitiba in Brazil and gives the reader insight into what has happened in that very interesting city. There are some interesting glimpses of the future as it is emerging from developing countries that have become powerhouses in the 15 years since this was written.
‘God’s Last Offer‘ Ed Ayres 1999 A prescient book where Ayres talks about the four spikes – Carbon, extinction, consumption and population. Brings it back to the individual and the choices we make personally, professionally and at the ballot box.
‘Gaviotas‘ Alan Weisman 1998 – This book follows an intentional community in Coloumbia and what they did to build their world. There is insight into what is required for innovation and change, but also inspiration for how things could be post-scarcity. They were doing what needed to be done without high technology and the level of innovation was incredible – very hopeful.
‘Towards a sustainable economy‘ Ted Trainer 1996 An Australian book about finite limits and the requirement for new ways of thinking about society and the economy. Trainer advocates for a third way – the radical conserver society. A good introduction to the ideas of post-scarcity and sustainability.
‘State of the world atlas‘ 1999 Published every few years – a nice book of visual global trends. There are sites on the net that have superseded this but is a good quick snapshot of where things stand. Latest version is 2008.
‘The Social Construction of Reality‘ Berger and Luckman 1967 This is a seminal work and needs to read by anyone trying to get a handle on what we are facing and how we might deal with it. It is heavy going but a very useful understanding of how we create the understanding of the reality we see. It is also insightful in terms of ability to imagine change and difference.
‘Cradle to cradle‘ McDonough and Braungart 2002 I bought the edition that is made from plastic fibres that is waterproof, durable and recyclable. I loved the idea that the object I was reading exemplified the ideas contained within it. Talks about using the waste from one process as feed in material for the next. The authors are talking in whole systems and looking to measure waste across it rather than in each discrete operation.
‘The Human Web‘ McNeill and McNeill 2003 I have a preference for books that try to explain the system to me from a macro view. This is a perfect example, the authors are looking at the whole of human history and use the idea of webs to explain how webs have worked to link people together resulting in innovation and new civilisation. Meticulous in the research and the idea is compelling.
‘The Weather Makers‘ Tim Flannery 2005 A book by an Australian author that takes a systems view of the climate change issue and lays the issues out in a way the inexorably leads the reader to understand that it is complex and that we have no where near enough information to act but act we must. A good introduction for the new reader or someone who is looking to understand the climate debate more fully.
‘Collapse‘ Jared Diamond 2005 This is an enormous piece of work that takes the reader through a number of examples to illustrate that human societies have reached their limits on a number of occasions in area around the globe and attempts to map what happened next. Especially chilling are the chapters on the Anasazi and the Easter Islanders – always leaves me with the question – what was the person who cut down the last palm on Easter island thinking as they did it?
‘A Big Fix‘ Ian Lowe 2005 A slim book from an Australian author that looks to offer some solutions for a sustainable society. Equity, stable consumption, stable population and zero waste are some of his suggestions.
‘The Upside of Down‘ Thomas Homer-Dixon 2006 Using systems theory as a base this book links growth, peak oil, increasing poverty and environmental issues with the mapping of the Roman empire’s demise. Easy to read and understand, it echoes Diamond’s work in collapse and argues for resilient societies with foresight. There are a couple of metaphors that entered my thinking from this book – the ‘slaves’ we all have due to the use of fossil fuels and that the lessons of descent were learned in the Roman empire 2000 years ago so we can take note.
‘Parable of the Sower‘ and ‘Parable of the Talents‘ Octavia Butler 2000 These two books follow the story of a family that is hit by the crises following environmental and economic breakdown of society. There genius is in the images she outlines about how the world may look and feel to a person living through the descent. In the novels, a new religion is created to assist people to understand and engage with the changes required of them.
‘Plan B 2.0‘ Lester R Brown 2006 This work looks to re-frame the challenges into opportunities for innovation. Now in version 4.0 (2009) Brown outlines a number of solutions that could be used to change the trajectory we are currently on. Another systems thinker, this a good source for finding hope and inspiration.
‘The Road‘ Cormac McCarthy 2007 A dystopic post-nuclear future that chilled me to core and should not be read at the same time as the Butler books. I have yet to see the movie as the book ensured I had one running in my head for days after I finished it. Very good for providing motivation to change the world now while we have a chance!
‘Deep Economy‘ Bill McKibben 2007 The year of eating locally and the idea of the durable future. McKibben says we need to move beyond growth to something more durable and satisfying.
Blessed Unrest Paul Hawken 2007 I bought this looking for sources of hope and it delivered. Hawken has collected details on a huge number of organisations that are working to try and chnage the world. Many of these are doing amazing work, and it was heartening to read about them.
‘Six Degrees‘ Mark Lynas 2008 A colleague saw the National Geographic show of the same name and recommended it. I bought the book and it makes compelling reading. Lynas has had a shot at trying to imagine what the world will look like at 1, 2, 3 up to 6 degrees of warming. This approach helps focus the mind when politicians talk about just 2 degrees.
‘World made by hand‘ James Howard Kunstler 2008 A nice piece of fiction based on his book ‘Long Emergency’ – which I have also read but not bought so can’t be included here – it tells the story of how society operates after climate change and peak oil. The most thought provoking part of the book for me is a scene where a young man tells of his disillusionment as the college education he was told he had to have didn’t prepare him for the world he now faced. My kids will be the age of the character in the book in the same year, so this really hit home – what are we currently educating our children for?
‘Peak Everything’ Richard Heinberg 2007 This book has self contained chapters dealing with topics such as coal, oil, gas, water, arable land, fisheries, climate change and peak oil, and the psychology of peak everything. A good guide to what we may face and what we encounter trying to deal with it. Heinberg asks us to wake up to the problem and start to deal with it.
‘Blue Gold‘ Barlow and Clarke 2002 An interesting insight into the water wars that will be coming our way due to the corporatisation of water and our insistence that consumers in developed countries buy water that is usually worse than what comes out of our taps.
‘The Transition Timeline‘ Shaun Chamberlin 2009 A book that can be used by communities to develop their energy descent plan. It talks about the idea of transition towns and how these are developed. It also outlines the link between peak oil and climate change. The UK the focus of this work.
‘The Long Descent‘ John Michael Greer 2008 From the man that brings us The Archdruid blog, this book lays out the descent trajectory and starts to engage with might be needed in a deindustrial world. Uses the histories of other civilisations as a roadmap for where we might go. Interesting for the idea of salvage – how many local council areas are thinking about mining licenses for their landfill sites?
‘The Ecotechnic Future‘ John Michael Greer 2009 A book from many blogs on The Archdruid, this book sets out to try and glimpse what the future might be like on the other side of de-industrialisation. He makes a case for pursuing experimentation and a diversity of strategies to find a way to navigate to this age – I use the term post-scarcity for this.
‘When technology fails‘ Matthew Stein 2008 A fantastic resource with everything from food, shelter, first aid, medicine, energy – everything we will need once power starts to fail. A good read for trying to envision how your day to day life may change. Growing a beard is not compulsory.
‘Radical Hope‘ Jonathon Lear 2006 Lear writes about the Crow and how they operated after the ‘west was won’. Plenty Coups, who last the last chief of the Crow Nation, talked about a period after which ‘nothing happened’. The idea that nothing can happen after a particular point in time is investigated by Lear and his findings are extremely interesting. What does it take to continue to live good life in the face of cultural devastation when all the categories for understanding the world have disappeared? His idea of radical anticipation has an amazing amount of traction when we consider what will be needed in the future.
‘The Collapse of Complex Societies’ Joesph A Tainter 1988 I had not read this, even though it is mentioned in a number of other books. Good for the theory at the beginning and the in depth understanding of the dynamics of collapse.
‘Empire – How Britain made the modern world‘ Niall Ferguson 2004 I read this recently on a plane trip to the UK and coming from a colonial outpost it was interesting to see how the empire that Ferguson explains still operates at the centre, how the thinking and drivers that operated in the British Empire can still be seen today in British society. I gifted this to a hotel room in London so possibly it shouldn’t be on this list but I wold have kept it if I had room.
So this is where I am coming from. Add to this list the hours spent in the classroom with MAsters students grappling with what the future might look like and you can see where I am coming from. Over the next few posts I want to sketch out what innovation means in this context, the role that foresight might play, the psychological and behavioural developments I think we need to adopt and keep scanning the future to try and sense what is emerging.