41. Books etc.

Ch 41

Books and other resources you might find helpful

My penultimate word is a paragraph on each of the books or sources which have been a key resource for, and part of, this book.

I have referenced them in the text whenever I have been directly quoting them, or consciously using the ideas from them.  But I may not have captured every point at which they have changed or added to my own ideas or thinking.

And if you have found this book helpful, I hope that the summaries below are also useful in helping you in any further reading or research you wish to do.  They repeat some of what is said in the body of the text, but are gathered and added to here for your convenience.

The books

Ursula LeGuin’s “The Dispossessed” has enthralled me since I first read it over 40 years ago.  Apart from persuading me that I never wanted to be a physicist, it also showed me the best Utopian vision I have ever seen, about the potential solidarity of humankind.  It’s not just for science fiction and fantasy buffs – there’s plenty of food for thought for the politically conscious.

Its political messages are summarised in chapter 27.

Naomi Klein’s “This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate” consolidated and expressed many ideas and views I had been forming better than I could myself, and added new ones.  I have given copies to a number of my friends and family.  The book examines “extractivism” as discussed in Part 2; the triumph of trade over environmental considerations; the actions of the “Right” to promote their agenda; the willingness of many “green” groups to work with rather than against the big exploiters and polluters; the largely unhelpful behaviour of “green” billionaires; the dangers of geo-engineering; the struggles by indigenous groups and others to preserve or recover environments; and the need to completely restructure our governance and economic models to cope with the global threat, with examples of people and governments trying to do just that.

Part 2 in particular of my book draws heavily on Klein’s book, with some local colour added.  I unreservedly recommend “This Changes Everything”, along with the “This Changes Everything” website (including its link to “Beautiful Solutions”).

Joseph Stiglitz’s “The Price of Inequality: How Today’s Divided Society Endangers Our Future” is an excellent analysis of how the triumph of neoclassical economics and neoliberalism has created a system in the United States which robs the poor to feed the rich, how the banks both created and also benefited from the Global Financial Crisis, and how this is all breaking down the social bonds which hold society together.  His book finishes with a detailed economic prescription for reversing this.

Fellow participants at a New Economics Party “Unconference” put me on to George Lakoff’s “All New Don’t Think of An Elephant”.  It examines the recent history of conservative and progressive “framing” of political issues in the United States, and offers advice to the progressives on how to fight back against the current dominance of the conservatives.  If you’re wondering about the logic and the political rhetoric underlying our current situation, and how to reframe it, this is a must-read book.

Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway’s “Merchants of Doubt” is an excellent exposé of how a small number of scientists have worked with the tobacco and other industries (including the fossil fuel industry) to spread doubt about the effects of their products.  Their success is shown in the decades it took to finalise the case against tobacco, and the existence still of significant levels of denial of the existence (or potential impact) of climate change.  Bringing things up to date, it also shows how these same people are trying to undermine the very bases of environmental protection, by dishonest attacks on Rachel Carson.

Naomi Klein’s book also put me onto Kari Marie Norgaard’s “Living in Denial: Climate Change, Emotions, and Everyday Life.  Norgaards’ book observes the behaviour of inhabitants of a small Norwegian town over an unusually mild winter, which has a severe impact on the town’s activities and well-being.  She describes the sources and patterns of “socially organised denial”, whereby the townsfolk sideline and ignore the problem of climate change.  I am sure the general pattern observed in Norgaard’s book would be repeated throughout the affluent world.

Together, these last three books provided a nicely rounded answer to a key question I had, “Why aren’t we in the affluent world getting up and doing more about all this?” Lakoff explains the political propaganda which persuades many of us to accept things against our own best interests; Oreskes and Conway explain the unethical tactics of the industries concerned to spread confusion and doubt about what is actually happening; and Norgaard explains how we become complicit in all of this, even though deep down we know there’s something badly wrong.

Steve Keen’s “Debunking Economics: The Naked Emperor Dethroned?” is a dissection of the weaknesses and failings of neoclassical economics, which I summarise in chapter 16.  In essence, it shows how unrealistic axioms and assumptions, and tightly limited, linear modelling, make neoclassical economics little or no use in trying to describe firm and market behaviours, and hence no use as a basis for economic policy-making, in the modern world.  He also describes other, potentially more fruitful, types of economic analysis.  There is a lot of detail on specific economic issues, which is hard work even if you are familiar with some of the basics of economic theory.

Jane Gleeson-White’s “Six Capitals: The revolution capitalism has to have – or can accountants save the planet” was a must-read for me, as it was written by one of my fellow accountants.  I, like Gleeson-White, had believed that accounting for “real costs” could be an important way forward.  But having described the formation of the modern model of the corporation, and all the recent advances in accounting for social and environmental impacts and “real costs” Gleeson-White, like me, concludes that fiddling with the books isn’t go to change anything in a useful way as long as it is part of a system driven by profit, and short-term profit at that.  She finishes by saying that we will get better traction from the new corporate model of the “B Corp”, and from finding ways to give Nature legal rights, so that the legal system can be better used to defend her.

Raj Patel’s “The Value of Nothing: How to Reshape Market Society & Redefine Democracy” gave me the $200 Big Mac, the theft of the commons, and more of an insight into some of the issues from the perspectives of food supply and the poor world.  He described the Zapatistas and La Via Campesina as having lessons to teach us for our future, if we have one.  He also pointed out in passing that the modern use of the “invisible hand” as the moral justification for markets was a completely dishonest use of Adam Smith’s actual meaning.  For me, this recalled Ronald Reagan’s proud announcement that “I too, was Born in the USA”, a clever, but grotesque misuse of the title and meaning of Bruce Springsteen’s song.

Two books were immensely helpful to me in understanding monetary issues.  Charles Eisenstein’s “Sacred Economics: Money, Gift and Society in the Age of Transition” is a genuinely beautiful book about the social sources and spiritual impact of money, which at the same time is very practical about the systems and types of currency needed to replace the existing system.  He suggests that “economic transactions” began with gift, not barter, and that we must return more fully to the mindset that underlies this.  He also proposes that wealth creates greed, not the other way round – quite a challenging idea!

Margrit Kennedy’s “Occupy Money: Creating an Economy Where Everybody Wins” is a much shorter book which covers similar territory to “Sacred Economics” in terms of the existing and possible money systems, without the deep history or the spirituality.  It is a very clear and straightforward read.

Naomi Klein also got me on to the work of Alan Atkisson, an activist and writer of songs about the future (example of a title – “Dead Planet Blues”).  The first of his two books that I read was “Believing Cassandra: How to be an Optimist in a Pessimist’s World”After giving a bleak view of our future on current settings, he writes about how change can be made, and encourages us to become change agents to help accelerate not our current growth path, but the thousands of innovations and changes that are needed to get us off it.

“The Sustainability Transformation: How to Accelerate Positive Change in Challenging Times” delves deeper into the processes and actors needed for effective change.  Atkisson comes from a true “systems thinking” perspective, and was a close friend of the late Donella (“Dana”) Meadows.

The other resources

The most important listing I can give of other resources is actually in chapter 38, where key organisations involved in the struggle are identified, along with their web addresses.  There are also over 300 endnotes with references to the sources I have used.

But there are a smaller number of non-book resources which have equal importance to the books listed above.

“Planetary Boundaries: Guiding Human Development on a Changing Planet” is the updated scientific paper which was the basis for the excellent on-line course I attended over summer 2014-15.  The key elements of the framework are set out in chapters 7 to 11.

“ThinkProgress.org” is the excellent website for a progressive American thinktank.  It covers a wide range of subjects, including the economy, justice, lgbt matters and others, but the webpage I have drawn on most in writing this book is “ClimateProgress”.

If you need to read a mainstream newpaper which actually takes global warming seriously, try theguardian.com.

For a quick and easy introduction to systems thinking, embedded in suggestions about where to get leverage in any system, read Donella Meadows’ excellent “Leverage Points: Places to Intervene in a System”.

If you want a fairly slow but careful and simple introduction to how money really works, look up Money as Debt” on YouTube.  This will get you to a series of three overlapping but cumulative introductions to the current money system using cartoons, by Paul Grignon.

I can’t finish without mentioning Pope Francis’s encyclical, “On Care of Our Common Home”The references to previous doctrine might be obscure to all but learned Catholics, but the language is a delight to those who want to appreciate it, the framing of “Our Common Home” is brilliant, the science is good, and the message is blunt.   Capitalism has made a thorough mess of our common home, the planet Earth, and the wealthy are stealing the future from the poor, if not destroying humanity’s future altogether.

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