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Creating a Sustainable and Desirable Future: Insights from 45 Global Thought Leaders

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The major challenge for the current generation of mankind is to develop a shared vision of a future that is both desirable to the vast majority of humanity and ecologically sustainable. Creating a Sustainable and Desirable Future offers a broad, critical discussion on what such a future should or can be, with global perspectives written by some of the world's leading thinkers, including: Wendell Berry, Van Jones, Frances Moore Lappe, Peggy Liu, Hunter Lovins, Gus Speth, Bill McKibben, and many more.

396 pages, Hardcover

First published January 1, 2014

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Robert Costanza

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Profile Image for Frank J.
1 review
September 29, 2015
"Creating a Sustainable and Desirable Future", which incorporates insights from 45 global sustainability thought leaders, does not present or incorporate a balanced view or perspective on the environmental issues of today. The outline presented is void of any economic analysis or financial support for the multitude of incorporated proposals. Although the environmental and sustainability advantages are highlighted, the negative impact and are completely ignored as irrelevant. This is done while at the same time generically acknowledging the resulting negative impact on the national and world economy if such proposed measures were to be implemented. As an example, how can one advocate replacing the existing highway system run entirely by renewable energy without addressing the cost impact versus the environmental advantages? Similarly 100% nationwide renewable energy system is a great objective but what are the cost implications? A balanced perspective is needed if there is any hope of achieving the objectives and consequently publications such as this might actually do more harm than good for the prospect of creating a more sustainable future. The result is an unrealistic presentation of the future.

Before reading this book, I thought the environmental activist agenda primarily included policies that encouraged the development of greater amounts of renewable energy resources, increased energy efficiency and improved automotive gas mileage as well as policies leading to a reduction in overall greenhouse gas and CO2 emissions. These policies are generally controversial as to the degree of cost effective implementation that involve establishing and capturing the value of environmental externalities into the competitive capitalistic system. These can be worked into the democratic process, however, by creatively applying our free-enterprise principles with the regulatory process establishing the rules and constraints. Many of the other proposed measures outlined in the book have far reaching implications.

Most people are not aware that the far left environmental sustainability movement, with an emphasis on the reduction in consumption of world resources, stands for so much more. It truly presents a pessimistic vision of the future. Even if every premise of concern was accepted on face value, I would recommend rejecting the vast majority of the proposed actions. Without turning a blind eye, other alternatives starting with more intense monitoring and reporting have the potential for the consideration of more optimistic outcomes. The sustainable lifestyle vision, if fully understood, won't and shouldn't,t excite the populist. If fully embraced the proposed policies would result in:
• the stock market dwindling in importance & value
• an intentionally planned economic contraction and
recession- sustainable shrinkage
• reduction in work hours, a more generous leave
policy - to a 15 hour workweek
• smaller homes - shared housing
• eliminating the need for cars and significantly
Reduced air travel
• a drastic reduction in military expenditures
• tighter income distributions, wealthy consumers will
have to reduce their consumption by 80%

The above policies would as an objective have a drastic sacrificial impact on the economy with the new economy based on "sustainable happiness" rather than Gross National Product. Other proposals if offered in the 1950's would surely be considered by most as Communistic. They are in fact heavily socialistic incorporating the consensus that capitalism is a failed system. These include:
. Private community over individualism
• policies supporting stabilizing or even decreasing
• progressive income tax rates that approach 100%
on the last dollar earned
• health care as a right
• choosing a vocation without worrying if it will
provide a decent living
• decreasing competition & advertising deemed to
Lead to increased consumption
• fundamental corporate changes moving from
Shareholder profits to objective of proving social
• expanding government programs (I.e. Infrastructure
and transportation systems) without any analysis or
or discussion of funding especially in light of much
Reduced economy
Other concepts and goals as presented are worthy of additional maturation. These include gender equality throughout the world and emphasis on education as a first priority. The synergy between their achievement and implementation of the proposed sustainability policies wasn't delineated thereby implying their achievement was tied to sustainability policies rather than objectives that can be achieved independently.

Positive aspects of the reading include the implementation and regular publication of additional environmental information for decision making including: the Environmental Net Domestic Product (EDP), the establishment of comprehensive natural catastrophic database and index such that we can monitor the real environmental damage to the planet. This can be combined with a more indirect environmental component incorporating for example actual worldwide CO2and temperature levels, levels of endangered species, deforestation acreage, coral degradation, endangered elements (Mercury, lead, silver, phosphorous, etc. and others. The initial implementation of a nationwide carbon cap and trade system would also be appropriate such that we are in a position to move more quickly if environmental angst warrants additional steps within a regulated capitalistic economy. In addition, we might want to identify candidate sites and construct as recommended a pilot project the proposed network pod transportation system run entirely by renewable energy. This will enable a more detailed feasibility evaluation utilizing a realistic cost basis for consideration of more extensive implementation.

Free enterprise is not perfect- only the best system we have. This review is not intended to advocate for unfettered capitalism. Government had a legitimate and important role to play in instituting reasonable regulations, while providing a strong social safety net for those who truly require it. Enlarging the economic pie is preferable to divvying up a shrinking economic pie; self-sufficiency and the dignity of work are better than dependency; technology is useful in improving our standard of living and addresses complex challenges such as climate change and dwindling world resources; business plays a positive role in our society; and free enterprise makes it all possible. Capitalism, with equality of opportunity, is the answer not the problem. It would seem as presented that the consensus of the 45 sustainable thought leaders do not agree with that conclusion and for those with a different opinion this makes for an educational but frustrating read - even resulting in phantom punches at the air.
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