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In search of a better way to live and make a living, and a better understanding of how the world really works.



April 14, 2006

How to Save the World Reading List – Revised and Updated

Filed under: Preparing for Civilization's End — Dave Pollard @ 12:24
.In Beyond Civilization, Daniel Quinn says: 

People will listen when they’re ready to listen and not before. Probably, once upon a time, you weren’t ready to listen to an idea than now seems to you obvious, even urgent. Let people come to it in their own time. Nagging or bullying will only alienate them. Don’t preach. Don’t waste time with people who want to argue. They’ll keep you immobilized forever. Look for people who are already open to something new.


Five years ago, I became ready to listen, and, starting with Full House and Ishmael, began to learn the truth about what is happening to this world, and what we can, and can’t do, to save it from civilization’s excesses.

Here’s the updated list — 80 books and articles that have forever changed my worldview and my purpose for living. The fifteen most critical readings have a numbered triangle in front of them, with the numbers reflecting the order that, I would suggest, it makes most sense to read them in.

What Life was Really Like Before Civilization: Revisionist History

  • [.1] Full House, by the late Stephen J. Gould. The presence of man on Earth was an unlikely and random occurrence, and after the next Extinction Event life on the planet is likely to evolve very differently. We are not the Crown of Creation.
  • The Wealth of Man by Peter Jay. The life of pre-historic man was easy, idyllic, and very pleasant. Hunt big slow game an hour a day, relax and enjoy the rest.
  • The Worst Mistake in the History of the Human Race, (online) essay by Jared Diamond.  Why the adoption of agriculture was ‘a catastrophe from which we have never recovered’.
  • [.4] The Story of B and Ishmael by Daniel Quinn. Also the IshCon discussion forum. The first two of these three books are fictionalized stories about human history from a different, anti-civilization perspective, with penetrating, astounding analysis and insight. Ishmael is more popular but I prefer The Story of B which recapitulates the entire theses in a series of ‘lectures’. The two critical lectures are online here.
  • Original Affluence, by Marshall Sahlins. If you wanted to defend a new society that featured rigid hierarchy, agonizingly hard work, suffering, frequent starvation and slavery, wouldn’t you try to portray the alternative life as ‘short, nasty and brutish’?
  • Extinction, by Michael Boulter. Our planet’s history is one of cycles punctuated by massive extinctions and new beginnings. Our only choice is whether to end this one sooner (a century) or let it end later (several millennia).
  • The Axemaker’s Gift by James Burke and Robert Ornstein. How innovativeness has been increasingly corrupted to concentrate and retain power, instead of making the world better.
  • [.12] A Short History of Progress, by Ronald Wright. A survey of past civilizations makes clear that savagery and short-term thinking are responsible both for humanity’s evolutionary success and its destruction.
  • [.13] Straw Dogs, by John Gray. While we have a responsibility to try to make the world better and joyful, for those we love and leave behind, we cannot be other than what we are: a fierce, brilliantly adaptable species destined to bring out the next great extinction, and annihilate ourselves in the process.

What’s Going On Under our Noses: The Real News

  • The Unconscious Civilization, by John Ralston Saul. How and why we’ve become helpless slaves of the political and economic system we built.
  • Ockham’s Razor, by Wade Rowland. What’s wrong with our modern values, and where to look for new ones.
  • Beginning Again, by David Ehrenfeld. A biologist’s plea for a new partnership with nature, and prediction of the mechanized world coming apart like a broken flywheel if we don’t heed his advice.
  • [.5] A Language Older Than Words, by Derrick Jensen. A profound and disturbing argument for why moderate answers to our current predicament won’t work.
  • [.6] The World We Want, by Mark Kingwell. Why we are best served by trusting our instincts rather than what we are persuaded is moral or rational.
  • People Before Profit, by Charles Derber — How rampant corporatism ravaged the vast majority of people worldwide in the 1800s, and is doing so again.
  • State of the World, by WorldWatch Institute, The 7 trends that most threaten eco-collapse: population growth, rising temperature, falling water tables, shrinking cropland per person, collapsing fisheries, shrinking forests, and the extinction of plant and animal species.
  • World Scientists’ Warning (online), by the Union of Concerned Scientists. “Human beings and the natural world are on a collision course.  No more than one or a few decades remain before the chance to avert the threats we now confront will be lost and the prospects for humanity immeasurably diminished.  A great change in our stewardship of the Earth and life on it is required if vast human misery is to be avoided and our global home on this planet is not to be irretrievably mutilated.”
  • Dream of the Earth by Thomas Berry. “We are in trouble just now because we do not have a good story.  We are in between stories.  The old story, the account of how we fit into it, is no longer effective.  Yet we have not learned the new story.”
  • Healing Time on Earth, by David Brower. An argument that life without wilderness is meaningless and unsustainable.
  • The Future of Freedom, by Fareed Zakaria. How cultures change, and why they don’t.
  • The New Rules of the World, by John Pilger. A devastating portrait of how the world really works.
  • The Demon in the Freezer, by Richard Preston. How vulnerable we all are to individual acts of terror, chaos and sabotage.
  • [.10] Against the Grain, by Richard Manning. How and why grain monoculture evolved, and how it’s ruining the Earth.
  • Population Projections, by US Census Bureau. They’re no longer assuring us that US and Global Population will level out at 300 million and 9 billion. Would you believe 1 billion and 12 billion by the end of the century, and still rising?
  • Global Warming, by NOAA. An online synopsis of US scientists’ consensus on the causes and consequences of global warming.
  • This Overheating World – Worried? Us? (online essay) by Bill McKibben. Article in the UK journal Granta explaining the psychology, and cynical political expediency, of denial.
  • Are Cities Changing Local and Global Climates?, (online) by NASA. Studies of urban microclimates and how they contribute to local climate change and instability.
  • Restoring Scientific Integrity (online) by Union of Concerned Scientists. The Bush regime’s distortion of scientific research to forward its own political agenda, and how it threatens our planet.
  • Climate Collapse, by David Stipp (online article) from Fortune Magazine. The possibility and chilling implications of global warming producing sudden drastic climate shifts.
  • Conservative Myths on Global Warming (online) by Blogger Carpe Datum. A brief but thorough explanation of the science behind global warming, and the reasoning behind scientists’ connecting it to human activity and worrying about the risks of resultant instability
  • The Empire Strikes Out, by Kenny Ausubel. Corporatism and acquisitiveness run amok are ruining our world, but nature always bats last.
  • The Tragedy of the Commons, by Garry Harding. The commons, that which belongs in common to all of us, is disappearing — Why nobody really cares.
  • Elizabeth Costello, by JM Coetzee. Why we tolerate a holocaust against our fellow creatures on Earth.
  • The Machine in Our Heads, by Glenn Parton. How the ecological crisis is rooted in a human psychological crisis.
  • Rogue Primate, by John Livingston. How anthropocentric cultural prosthesis has led our species astray, and how we can find our way back by rediscovering “the sweet bondage of wildness”.
  • In Defiance of Gravity, by Tom Robbins. An (online) essay that argues we must “insist on joy in spite of everything.”
  • The Slow Crash, by Ran Prieur. An (online) essay that explains how civilization will end, not with a bang, but with a series of whimpers.
  • [.15] The Long Emergency, by James Kunstler. The story of our dystopian future, caused by our cultural incapacity for preparedness, and sparked by resource scarcity and cultural conflict.

About Gaia: What Nature is Really About

  • [.2] When Elephants Weep, by Jeff Masson. Compelling scientific evidence that animals feel deep emotions.
  • Mind of the Raven, by Bernd Heinrich. Compelling scientific evidence that animals are intelligent, complex, rational and communicative.
  • The Sacred Balance by David Suzuki. A passionate explanation of James Lovelock’s Gaia Hypothesis, the need to redesign how we live, and the importance of spending more time in nature.
  • The Hidden Dimension, by Edward Hall. We need space and a natural environment to be healthy and human. When we’re deprived of them, we get mentally ill.
  • [.7] The Spell of the Sensuous, by David Abram. How to reconnect with nature, and rediscover wonder.
  • The World is Dying, by Richard Bruce Anderson. Online essay about our instinctive grief over knowing what we are doing to our beleaguered planet, and our feelings of helplessness about how to remedy it.*
  • The Weather Makers, by Tim Flannery. A scientific explanation of global warming, how we are causing it, and the possible consequences.
  • The Truth About Nature, by Dave Pollard. My own essay, synthesizing the ideas in this reading list.

Toolkit for Change: Knowledge We Can Use to Save the World

  • [.3] Freeman Dyson’s Brain (online interview), in Wired Magazine. The twin keys to building a better world are (a) establishing viable self-sufficient local communities to replace big centralized states and governments, and (b) selective more-with-less technologies like solar/wind energy coops and biotech medicines.
  • The Developing Ideas Interview (online) with economist Herman Daly. An economic and tax program that favours communities and commons instead of corporations, and a ‘contract’ to reduce our population and ecological footprint.
  • Tools for Conviviality, by Ivan Illich. “The re-establishment of an ecological balance depends on the ability of society to counteract the progressive materialization of values. Otherwise man will find himself totally enclosed within his artificial creation, with no exit.” Full book is online.*
  • Beyond Civilization, by Daniel Quinn. A prescription for creating a post-civilization world, starting with preparing yourself.
  • The Unconquerable World, by Jon Schell. Why non-violence and consensus-building are the only viable way forward.
  • The Support Economy, by Shoshana Zuboff A model for a post-capitalist economy.
  • Unequal Protection, by Thom Hartmann. The case for denying ‘personhood’ to corporations.
  • When Corporations Rule the World, by David Korten. The need to get corporations out of politics and create localized economies that empower communities within a system of global cooperation, overcoming the myths about economic growth and the sanctification of greed, and focusing instead on overconsumption, poverty, overpopulation, and reining in untrammelled corporate power.
  • Radical Simplicity, by Jim Merkel. How to free yourself from possessions and wage slavery without sacrifice.
  • The Tipping Point, by Malcolm Gladwell. What makes things change.
  • The Wisdom of Crowds, by James Surowiecki. Why collective wisdom is better than accepted wisdom and expertise at solving problems, and how to tap it.*
  • Ten Ways to Make a Difference, by Peter Singer. A pragmatic recipe for change.
  • [.8] The Truth About Stories, by Thomas King. The truth about stories is that that’s all we are. Want a new society? Write a new story.
  • The Boycott List, by Responsible Shopper, and Good Stuff, by the WorldWatch Institute. What not to buy, and what to buy instead.
  • The Corporation, by Joel Bakan. An action plan for undermining corporatism.
  • [.9] Humans in the Wilderness, by Glenn Parton. How we might reintroduce humans, well-spaced-out, into a primarily wilderness Earth.
  • At Home in the Universe, by Stuart Kauffman. How self-organizing, self-managing systems work.
  • EarthDance (entire book online), by Elisabet Sahtouris. Eleven steps to cultural metamorphosis (my summary is here)
  • eGaia (entire book online), by Gary Alexander. How to achieve peace, cooperation and sustainability (replacing war, competition and growth, the fuels of our current culture) and a future state vision with vignettes from individuals’ lives in a balanced and harmonious future world.
  • [.11] The Commonwealth of Life, by Peter Brown. A 14-point plan for stewardship of the Earth based on an accepted set of duties, responsibilities, and universal rights.
  • Cradle to Cradle and The Hannover Principles, by Bill McDonough. Cradle to Cradle outlines a 5-stage design and materials usage approach to sustainability. The principles should drive the way we design, develop and operate cities.
  • [.14] Creating a Life Together, by Diana Leafe Christian. How to create and sustain model Intentional Communities.
  • The Growth Illusion and Short Circuit, by Richard Douthwaite. A blueprint for creating Sustainable Local Economies. Short Circuit is free online [my summary is here].
  • Biomimicry, by Janine Benyus. Lessons and approaches from nature that could transform and inspire our processes for food production, harnessing energy, manufacturing, health care, education, collaboration and entrepreneurship.
  • The Cellular Church, by Malcolm Gladwell. An online essay that suggest cellular organization principles might allow us to accomplish, bottom-up, what political entities cannot.
  • Is Your Genius at Work?, by Dick Richards. A guide to deciding how your talent and passion (your ‘genius’) can be applied to your purpose, and hence how you can best help to save the world.*
  • To Be Of Use, by Dave Smith. A sustainable entrepreneur’s explanation of why creating natural, sustainable enterprise is essential to our planet’s survival, and hence to our own peace of mind.*
  • Sustainability Within a Generation, by the David Suzuki Foundation. Eleven public policy programs that could achieve this extraordinary goal. This essay, by me, explains how these programs, along with my own four proposed programs (a sustainability information exchange, sustainable enterprises, personal sustainable living programs, and sustainable intentional communities) could bring both top-down and bottom-up synergies to achieving sustainability.*

The table of contents of all 150+ articles I’ve written about Saving the World is here.

(*In the update footnote earlier this week, these additions were inadvertently omitted)

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