Friday, August 3, 2007

Book Review: "Deep Economy"

I’m back from a week traveling through the vast and varied landscapes of Utah. Simply put: It is amazing, at times humbling, and all in all, a visit that everyone should put on their list of places to see.

The trip was an apropos setting for reading through Bill McKibben’s latest effort, "Deep Economy". Admittedly, while I’ve heard much of McKibben and his efforts, I had not read much beyond the occasional article or editorial. His style is simple, straight-forward, with an engaging prose that doesn’t overload you with facts and figures.

The premise is simple: Society – and in particular the U.S. – has lost it’s sense of community in its quest for what he terms "More" instead of the "Better" (caps intended). The economics of a global society, in which individualistic gain supercedes all else, has eroded that which made the communities of generations before us great (and sustainable). Gone is the inter-connectedness, the ability to be self-sufficient and self-reliant; gone is the importance of getting to know your neighbors instead of pursuing the rat race of keeping up with the Jones; gone is the communal thread that wove the fabric of local nature. The result: A society where most people are less happy and satisfied than even just the generation before them; communities that continue to drift apart with each successive housing or retail development; an environment that just can no longer support this ever-increasing consumption of natural resources in the pursuit of More.

Throughout the book, McKibben uses startling facts the drive home the message. Data from a variety of sources – economic, social sciences, government -- when coupled with real-life examples of both good community in action and the results of bad community breakdown, makes for a compelling story.

The solution? A radical shift in society that will restructure our approach to day-to-day life, not only at the personal level but at the community level as well. McKibben focuses on three critical areas in which this shift needs to occur: food production and consumption, energy, and cultural norms. Admittedly, this shift will take time, even generations, but at our present course, we don’t have many options.

The example I love the most is that of the community radio station. Low watts, limited reach, but oh so organic... It's like community glue in the form of radio waves.

Bottom line: This is a thought-provoking read. One that I recommend to anyone who has the slightest inclination of better understanding the ultimate need to re-invest in our local communities, re-connect our neighbors, and start re-focusing in on those things that truly matter in our world – a world that is quickly succumbing to the self-destructive mantra of more, more, more. If you think Wal-Mart is the best thing since sliced bread, you need to read this even more.

(Note: Tiverton’s library doesn’t carry this book, but you can order it through the online Ocean State Libraries system.)

Have you read this book? Are you a fan or critic of McKibben? Please take a moment to share your thoughts.


EJO said...

Glad you liked Utah. New England has it's own cool places, but I haven't been anywhere else where the earth gives you such a sense of elapsed time...


EO -- Utah was beyond words. You got it right with the elapse time sensation. I was standing there at the foot of these sandstone bohemoths feeling like I finally understood how small we really are in the scheme of things. It's a good catalyst for being mindful. Hope 'Frisco is treating you well.