Over the last couple of months we added a ‘What we are reading’ column to our r3.0 monthly Newsletters. We write a lot ourselves, but also read a lot and condense it for our own learning, so decided we allow for a bit more space by first issuing our summaries and opinions here on Medium and then link our Newsletter column to these articles. Here are the summaries of the books we covered since we started, new editions might be a bit longer:
Summarised by Ralph Thurm: At r3.0 we more and more position our work as ‘post-collapse-readiness.’ That’s quite a statement, as it involves accepting collapse as a reality, and for those who grew up with Limits to Growth and took it seriously, it is inevitable that there actually is a slow-moving, ongoing “overshoot-and-collapse,” coincidently starting pretty close to the book release in 1972.
We were on an ‘economy-first, growth-whatever-it-takes, environmental-damage-denying‘ trip, and I’ve been calling it a ‘slow-suicide path for humanity’ for more than a decade. In the meanwhile #Collapsology established itself as an area of serious research by academics and other institutions. Jem Bendell’s ‘Deep Adaptation’ (net)work is one of the most prominent manifestations in recent years. This was preceded earlier by the great work of Pablo Servigne, Raphaël Stevens and others. Their book How Everything Can Collapse from 2015 (in French language at the time, then also translated into English and other languages) made its way into the consciousness of many over the years. The book offers so much important foundational thinking, most prominently embedding collapse in a future, solution-focused mindset.
To get there, we humans need to take important steps: first of all, we need to understand the genesis of collapse and its irreversibility, then work personally and collectively, inevitably going through the necessary steps from denial, to anger, bargaining, depression, and finally acceptance. This involves trauma and grief, but it also involves togetherness with others, and over time more insights of the solution base beyond collapse. It involves a new understanding of global justice. A proper understanding of collapse also puts concepts into place that would normally create opposition, but then suddenly make sense ‘in context.’ Transitioning as a discipline, degrowth, localized resilience, lifestyles or the management of rationing (as an act of collective solidarity), the art of disconnecting with old structures (we at r3.0 often talk about hospicing the old and midwifing the new), weaving new governance, and the role of politics and democracy.
The authors close by saying: ‘To be a catastrophist, for us, simply means avoiding a posture of denial and taking note of the catastrophes that are taking place. We have to learn to see them, to accept their existence and to say goodbye to all these events will deprive us. In our opinion, it’s this attitude of courage, of consciousness and calm, with our eyes wide open, that will enable us to pursue future paths. This isn’t pessimism. […] The paths we might pursue are barely marked, and they lead to radical change in life, a life less complex, smaller, more modest and respectful of the limits and boundaries of the living world. Collapse is not the end but the beginning of our future.‘
Summarised by r3.0 Steering Board Member Will Szal, Chair of Regen Foundation, offered this latest book review: Yanis Varoufakis came to fame in 2015, when he briefly served as Greece’s Minister of Finance during the height of their sovereign debt crisis. You likely know him from his non-fiction writing on economics.In the same vein of Bill McKibben’s, Vermont Free Radio, it seems as though Varoufakis wrote Another Now as an respite from all his serious work, to get to daydream for awhile. It is a work of utopian fiction, a manifesto of sorts.
Another Now is of an emerging genre referred to as “FinFi” (financial fiction); whereas SciFi explores novel scientific innovations, FinFi explores novel financial innovations. As the title suggests, the book describes the opening of a communications portal between world.
The year is 2025. One “now” is very much like our own; in the “other now,” histories diverged around the 2008 Financial Crisis: Occupy Wall Street was instead “Ossify Wall Street.” Instead of Bitcoin, our doppelgängers got “kosmos,” (a decentralized “Bancor” of sorts to replace the dollar as an International Reserve Currency). Instead of a doubling down on neoliberalism, stock exchanges were abolished. If you’re looking for an approachable readable book exploring the frontiers of alternative economics, you’ll likely enjoy Varoufakis’ latest!
Summarised by Liesbeth Willemsen: The main premises of The Good Ancestor by Roman Krznaric is that we need long-term thinking — using our ‘acorn’- brain — to deal with the main problems of our time. Opposed to the dominant short term thinking where we use our ‘marshmallow’-brain.
The book shows why it is so hard for humans to apply this long-term thinking, but also gives examples that we are indeed capable of doing so. It provides tools that help stimulate long-term thinking and gives directions for a path to become a good ancestor for the generation that will follow us. These tools include the use of backcasting, intergenerational justice, and humility for deep time.
It nicely weaves together several more or less familiar concepts that can be part of this path, such as bioregionalism, doughnut economics (the author being the husband of Kate Raworth), regeneration and the importance of arts and storytelling. It also makes the case against the sometimes uttered call for more authoritarian regimes to more actively deal with climate issues. Instead it calls for deeper forms of democracy, like introducing more and better forms of citizen participation, intergenerational laws and moving away from nation states.
Overall, The Good Ancestor paints a picture that looks promising, but at the same time acknowledges that it is a very large task that lies ahead and would need to involve efforts from all levels of society.
Summarised by Bill Baue: After years of tracking the research on social tipping points, Bill was thrilled to find research in 2018 that “tipped” from theoretical to empirical: UPenn researcher Damon Centola’s study establishing a 25% tipping point for social norms. Centola’s 2021 book Change explains in more depth how shifting social norms via tipping points has transformative implications for strategy.
Specifically, Centola draws on the science of network dynamics to explain how to trigger social tipping points to transform social norms. Information that entails superficial engagement travels swiftly across “narrow bridges” — but shifting beliefs (which underpin social norms) requires engaging “wide bridges” — ie stronger network connections. To oversimplify, Centola cites Wittgenstein’s revolutionary shift from language being logic to language being social to point out that our beliefs and norms are controlled primarily by our perception of peer acceptance. In other words, we use the acceptance of others as a proxy for our own acceptance decisions. If a critical mass of folks I respect embrace an idea, I’m much more likely to join in. Given the intersection between adverse ecological and social tipping point thresholds (that humanity is in the process of crossing), better understanding of beneficial social tipping points (as they relate to shifting social norms) is a promising line of inquiry!
Summarised by Bill Baue: In his latest book, Post-Carbon Institute Senior Fellow Richard Heinberg translates his renowned knowledge of energy into a broader analysis of the titular topic — Power — in both its physical andsocial forms. While the two clearly intersect, it is his treatment of the latter that’s fascinating — with terrifying & promising implications for “the limits & prospects of human survival.”
The most intriguing aspect of Heinberg’s analysis (which comprehensively surveys human evolution) is his shift of attention from vertical (or hierarchical) power to horizontal power — the broadly dispersed power that just may be able to challenge concentrated power as humanity hurtles toward the existential threat of societal collapse and self-annihilation. I trust you can start to see the interplay between Change and Power for strategizing on leveraging grassroots power for systemic transformation. Heinberg’s astute observation that renewable (and regenerative) energy systems can still be unsustainable is a welcome distinction, he disappointingly holds up the “abolition” of slavery as a strategic exemplar — without seeming to realize that making slavery illegal has not actually ended it, as modern slavery thrives to this day. Still, the book more than compensates for such shortcomings as this.