Gerald Prokop's Reviews > The Ecology of Commerce Revised Edition: A Declaration of Sustainability

The Ecology of Commerce Revised Edition by Paul Hawken
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's review
Jul 27, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: owned
Read in December, 2011

The fact that this book was written in 1992 and it's still not outdated secures my hopelessness for humanity. If it is possible to reconcile capitalism with ecology, this book offers a lot of insightful and well-reasoned ways to do it. I really appreciated how Hawken thinks within the languages of business and economics to describe ecological problems and propose solutions to the crisis our planet is in. My fear is that there is a built-in barrier at the very core of business, capital and economics--in which case bigger, tougher questions need to be asked. Then again, with so much at stake, doing nothing is the worst option. This book successfully shows that there are many options.

The thing that stuck the most with me was the concept of externalizing costs. A main point of Hawken's is that companies should be responsible for the real costs of their activities. For instance, a company that decimates an area, ruining it for future generations (for business use or otherwise) they are handing those costs down to others while their profits remain unaffected. Businesses have no incentive to protect ecology or long-term sustainability since it is of no cost to them.

While this is a good way to think about the relationship between ecology and business, the inherently interdependent nature of ecology leaves a lot of questions that are too big to wrap your mind around. How much should it cost to dump a chemical down the drain when we have no idea what the effect might be to complex ecosystems across unknowable spans of time and space? At the same time, if our species is smart enough to do the amount of damage we have in mere thousands of years, aren't we smart enough to do better?
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10/22/2011 page 21
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