A selection of recommended books to help navigate the 21st Century Crisis as we transition to a new way of life. Includes sustainability, climate change, peak oil, the challenges of civilisation, and how we can adapt to a changing world. These are some of the books I’ve found particularly helpful or inspiring. There are longer reviews attached via links, and more to come…
Fritjof Capra & Pier Luigi Luisi – The Systems View of Life
In the last thirty years, a new conception of life has emerged in science which emphasises complexity, networks, and patterns of organisation leading to ‘systemic’ thinking. This book brings together the ideas, models, and theories of systems theory into a single coherent framework. Capra and Luisi explore key concepts such as autopoiesis, dissipative structures, social networks, and a systemic understanding of evolution, looking at them through history and across scientific disciplines. They also discuss the implications of the systems view of life as applied to different areas of society, such as health care, management, the ecological crisis, and the economy. The book presents a unifying vision of the connectedness of all life and offers a blueprint for how we might preserve our future on this planet.
>Read a chapter that was cut from the book and find out more: Fritjof Capra blog
David Edwards – Free to be human
Subtitled Intellectual Self-Defence in an Age of Illusions. This book is about freedom, and the idea that there’s no greater obstacle to freedom than the assumption that it’s already been attained. In the West, few of us suffer physical restraint by the state, but we are constrained by powerful psychological chains, which are more effective because they’re so difficult to perceive. Corporately controlled mass media acts as a filter system which favours state and business interests, and this distorts our understanding of many personal, ethical and spiritual issues. This ensures that we remain passive, conformist, confused and uninformed – willing consumers bringing about our own self-destruction. Edwards argues that to counter this disinformation and disempowerment, we must master the arts of intellectual self-defence so we can challenge the deceptions of the system that puts profit before people. An inspiring book and urgently needed more than ever before.
Jörg Friedrichs – The Future is Not What it Used to Be
This important book looks at climate change and energy scarcity, and reminds us that the future won’t be like the past. We had an abundance of fuel before, but that time is coming to an end and infinite growth on a finite planet is impossible. Friedrichs suggests that industrial society is transitory and can’t outlast our ability to burn fossil fuels, but its demise will entail unimaginable change and population decline. He puts this into context by examining historical cases of climate stress and energy scarcity in order to understand the social and political implications. In this way we can learn about the likely effects of climate change and how loss of energy might disrupt different kinds of societies. To confront our predicament we must affirm our core values and take immediate action to transform our way of life. If we fail to act, the future will certainly not be what we want it to be.
Erich Fromm – To Have or To Be?
A comprehensive analysis of the crisis of modern civilisation. First published in the 1970s, this book argues that the present crisis is caused by two ways of living that are struggling for the spirit of humanity. The first, which is dominant in modern industrial society, is what Fromm calls the ‘having’ mode. Having concentrates on material possessions and power, and is based on greed, envy and aggressiveness. The second way is what he calls the ‘being’ mode, which manifests in the pleasure of shared experience and productive rather than wasteful activity. Being is rooted in love and the ascendancy of human values over material ones. The having mode has brought the world to the brink of ecological and psychological disaster. A shift into the being mode is the only course to take if humanity is to avoid catastrophe. Fromm also provides a detailed programme for social and psychological revolution to pull us back from the brink. Be the change!
Richard Heinberg – The End of Growth
The world is struggling with a global recession. Economists insist that the recovery is underway, but unemployment remains high and governments stagger under record deficits. This book reveals that humanity has reached a fundamental turning point in its economic history. The expansion of industrial civilisation is now colliding with non-negotiable natural limits. We have reached the end of growth. Heinberg goes to the heart of the ongoing financial crisis, explains how and why it occurred, and what we must do to avert the worst potential outcomes. Growth is being blocked by three factors: resource depletion, environmental impacts, and crushing levels of debt. These converging limits are forcing us to re-evaluate our economic theories. Heinberg argues we can thrive during the transition if we set goals that promote human and environmental well-being over GDP and endless growth. We must transition to a sustainable way of life, and this book shows how that might be achieved.
>Get updates and additional materials from the website: Richard Heinberg
James Howard Kunstler – The Long Emergency
If you haven’t previously encountered the issues of peak oil and the collapse of industrial civilisation then this book could come as quite a shock. The last 200 years saw the greatest explosion of progress and wealth in the history of mankind thanks to oil. But the oil age is coming to an end. The depletion of fossil fuels will change life as we know it in radical ways, and much sooner than we think. The Long Emergency looks at the converging catastrophes of the 21st century: peak oil, climate change, and the end of economic growth, and explains what to expect after we pass the tipping point. This book makes our predicament crystal clear. Everything we do depends upon oil and production is already past its peak. We urgently need to change the way we think about the world and our place in it because economic, political and social upheavals are inevitable.
>Related: ex-BP geologist discusses peak oil and economics (Dec 2013)
Joanna Macy & Chris Johnstone – Active Hope
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the many crises now afflicting our world, Active Hope will empower you to transform your life. It’s based on a process called the Work That Reconnects which provides the tools you need to face the mess we’re in without going crazy. Climate change, economic meltdown, and the depletion of resources are pushing social structures to breaking point. Many fear that it may already be too late to change anything and that collapse is inevitable. Living day to day with this level of anxiety and uncertainty is debilitating and soul destroying. You need a way to cope without blocking it out or living in denial, and by using the techniques of Active Hope you can find a way to live positively. While ‘passive hope’ waits for something external to change and bring about what you want, ‘active hope’ means working towards the kind of future you would like to have.
>Related posts: my Active Hope Series explores the issues in more depth
Looking for more inspiration? Here’s a few Crisis Quickies:
Gregg Braden – The Turning Point
Looks at how we can create resilience in a time of extremes by changing the way we think of ourselves and the world. Mixes science and the wisdom traditions of the past, and includes key strategies for thriving in the midst of transition.
Paul Levy – Dispelling Wetiko
Explores the collective psychosis affecting our culture and looks at what causes our shadow to erupt and run amok with such devastating consequences. Levy shows how we can overcome the shadow and re-engage with our natural creativity. Read the full review here
Peter Russell – The Global Brain: The Awakening Earth in a New Century
An updated version of The Awakening Earth which presents a vision of the future where humanity is fully conscious in an awakening universe. The new edition includes the challenges we face in the 21st century.
Missed any good ones? Recommend a book in the comments section below…