How Should We Live? If You Are Looking for Inspiration and Relief from 'Post-Petroleum Stress Disorder' or 'Climate-Change Catatonia', Joanna Santa Barbara Recommends Three Books with Plenty of Ideas on How to Create Resilient Sustainable Communities Able to Face the Growing Problems of Energy Depletion, Climate Change and Global Financial Instability

By Santa Barbara, Joanna | Pacific Ecologist, Winter 2008 | Go to article overview

How Should We Live? If You Are Looking for Inspiration and Relief from 'Post-Petroleum Stress Disorder' or 'Climate-Change Catatonia', Joanna Santa Barbara Recommends Three Books with Plenty of Ideas on How to Create Resilient Sustainable Communities Able to Face the Growing Problems of Energy Depletion, Climate Change and Global Financial Instability


Santa Barbara, Joanna, Pacific Ecologist


Are you looking for inspiration and ideas to transform your town, city, or neighbourhood into a vital community, producing its own nutritious food, supplying its own energy, resilient to the expected shocks of climate change and energy depletion? These three books offer therapy for those suffering from 'post-petroleum stress disorder', to use Rob Hopkins's apt phrase, or from climate-change catatonia:

* The Transition Handbook: From oil dependency to local resilience, by Rob Hopkins (Totnes, UK: Green Books, 2008).

* Post Carbon Cities: Planning for energy and climate uncertainty, by Daniel Lerch (Sebastopol, USA: Post Carbon Press, 2007).

* The Natural Step for Communities: How cities and towns can change to sustainable practices, by Sarah James and Torbjorn Lahti (Gabriola Island, Canada: New Society Publishers, 2004).

Many people are shaken to the core, facing the realities of the multiple ecological crises, along with oil depletion, and the descent from peak oil, and now also threats to global financial stability. With so much uncertainty, a strong argument can be made for some risk management initiatives. The potential gains are greater and losses are fewer in preparing for change, rather than hoping life will proceed as usual indefinitely. What does such preparation look like?

Some people are electing to start from "scratch" to build the infrastructure of communities that can work in a post-carbon, climate-unstable future--the sustainable villages movement. Others start where they are, planning to convert both structure and function of their towns, cities, islands and regions in the direction of sustainability and resilience to shocks. These initiatives will complement and aid each other. The three books are about converting existing urban areas. The difference between the books is that Rob Hopkins (UK) describes the movement from below, the grassroots people's initiative; Daniel Lerch (North America) directs his recommendations to local governments, to city councillors and town planners; James and Lahti (Sweden) begin with local authorities and move through a democratic community development process. The three books fit neatly together with compatible visions. But their approaches are sufficiently different to make reading all three worthwhile.

The UK and North American books begin with an overview of the problems of 'peak oil' and climate change. The Swedish book begins with an explanation of the Natural Step's four principles of sustainability to be applied to the structure and function of towns and cities. These are, in the sustainable society, Nature is not subject to systematically increasing:

1 extraction of substances from the Earth's crust, such as coal, oil and toxic metals. Once extracted, these substances and their derivatives remain in unnatural concentrations in soil, water and atmosphere, and when utilised for humanity's use are expressed into the earth's ecological systems with foreseen and unforeseen consequences e.g. fossil fuels, and waste from nuclear power plants, are expressed into the air and are also collected for safe disposal but finding places to safely store nuclear waste is a growing problem.

2 concentrations of substances produced by humans. Synthetic substances are produced by humans faster than Nature can break them down. Many last for decades and disseminate in ocean and air currents, concentrating in the bodies of humans and other species. We almost lost the ozone layer to synthetic chemicals, discovering the impact perhaps just in time.)

3 ecosystem degradation by physical means. Almost half the Earth's original forest cover has been lost, habitat loss has caused many species extinctions, removal of coastal mangroves has wiped out their functions as fish nurseries and flood control, global warming is destroying coral reefs, etc.

4 In a sustainable world society, human needs are met worldwide, without such destruction. …

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How Should We Live? If You Are Looking for Inspiration and Relief from 'Post-Petroleum Stress Disorder' or 'Climate-Change Catatonia', Joanna Santa Barbara Recommends Three Books with Plenty of Ideas on How to Create Resilient Sustainable Communities Able to Face the Growing Problems of Energy Depletion, Climate Change and Global Financial Instability
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