Book Review: State of the World 2013: Is Sustainability Still Possible

State of the World 2013: Is Sustainability Still Possible?

State of the World 2013: Is Sustainability Still Possible published by Island Press is a collection of articles from experts in their fields on sustainability. It examines what is sustainability, where we are, and what needs to be done. Sustainability has almost become a meaningless term like “green” or “eco” when referring to SUVs or “all natural” when referring to heavily processed food sweetened with HFC. 

This book is scary. Not scary in a fear mongering way, but in a way that when you read it you know its true: that certain feeling of dread. We are beyond the point of wondering if climate change is real and far beyond preventing it. We are beyond the point of slowing down production green house gases and hoping the planet will recover. The threshold has been crossed and the damage has been done and little is being done to control the damage. It took 200,000 years for human population to reach one billion; and 200 years for it to reach seven billion. Modernization of China and India and their desire to have the same standard of living as the West will create even more stress on the environment; if not cripple it. We live in a world where the wealthiest 10% of the population holds 57% of the worlds income and the top 11% of the population contribute 57% of the green house gasses. 

The West, particularly the United States, has created an economy that cannot be sustained in the United States or the world. We may feel good about recycling or buying “green” but billions of dollars in advertising are telling Americans to buy more, buy newer, buy better products continuously. Your IPhone 4 isn’t the best anymore; you need the IPhone 5. Buy, buy, buy, consume, consume, consume and Americans listen and obey. It’s the American way, but in no way sustainable. Disaster awaits us when the rest of the world tries to do the same. 

Energy and materials are a major problem for the future. A variety of renewable resources need to be developed. It will cost money, but then too our present system costs money too. U.S. tax payers spend $345 billion a year paying for pollution related illnesses from coal. Many countries are making progress with solar and wind energy. Drilling costs for oil is rising as well as costs for mining raw materials. Costs will continue to rise as raw materials become more scarce. As costs rise, even people in the developed world will feel the pinch. 

Change is needed. We need to pressure our governments for change. That is a problem in rich democracies for several reasons. In the America so much of the political system is based on interests and lobbies. Our leaders listen to who gives them the money and the worst offenders seem to have more than their share of the money. Secondly, we have become selfish; something even more than selfish. I want to drive rather than bike or take public transportation or car pool; furthermore, I want to drive in a huge vehicle that gets 18mpg. People fight against bicycle lanes and even crosswalks. Cities will even prevent public transportation because it will attract undesirables (poor people). This, I fear, will cause governments and people to ignore the problem until it becomes a disaster and then everyone will wonder how could this have happened.

The book covers many areas and covers them well. The book goes beyond the greenhouse gas problem and fossil fuel. It covers fresh water, fishing, crops, population, and politics. It is very well written and very well documented. The book makes an interesting study of Vancouver and Cuba after the Soviet Union fell. State of the World 2013 is well thought out and well worth the read. It’s an overdue wake-up call.

For the record, I am a strict vegetarian and do not drive a car.

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