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The Post Carbon Reader: Managing the 21st Century

The Post Carbon Reader: Managing the 21st Century’s Sustainability Crises
Edited by Richard Heinberg and Daniel Lerch

The Post Carbon Reader is a must-read for anyone who cares about how peak oil and climate change affect us all. And it could be a helpful tool to introduce someone who needs to learn about these issues. Why not buy a copy as a gift for your favorite Congressional staffer, city councilperson or local newspaper editor this holiday season?

... the 500-page volume shows an outsized ambition to present all areas of practical human knowledge from the viewpoint of peak oil. It’s an encyclopedia that seems more at home among the leering gargoyles and faux-Gothic spires of Hyde Park than on the sun-kissed lanes of Sonoma wine country.

Essays by Richard Heinberg on the limits to growth, David Orr on the economy’s “ecological deficit” and a selection from Bill McKibben’s Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet summarize well the dilemmas that face industrial society today. Wes Jackson’s proposal to replace most annual crops with perennial varieties is a new take on the oft-discussed topic of sustainable farming. Gloria Flora’s “Remapping Relationships: Humans in Nature,” encourages a healthy sense of humility before the ability of nature to provide our basic needs better than industrial society can. These essays can serve as both excellent introductions to newcomers and helpful refreshers for people more familiar with energy and the environment.

Peak-thinking on new subjects
For me, most exciting were the essays that traveled beyond the well worn sustainability paths of wildlife, food, water and energy.

“Climate Change, Peak Oil, and The End of Waste,” is the best thing I’ve seen on garbage outside of Annie Leonard’s web video “The Story of Stuff”, to which the essay’s authors, both recycling activists, rightly pay homage. Like any skilled essayists, they show how their subject is central to some bigger issues that you may never have thought about. In this case, it turns out that products and packaging are bigger contributors to global warming than the two next sources of greenhouse-gas emissions, buildings and transportation, combined. And next time I hear some municipal waste manager beaming about how the local landfill is “green” because it harnesses methane, I’ll know the real story: most of that methane isn’t even burned, but still escapes into the atmosphere. Even worse, the false promise of turning landfill gas into fuel causes cities to make bad decisions such as diverting food scraps from promising new composting programs back into landfills to get a methane payback that may never come.

“Human Health and Well-being in an Era of Energy Scarcity and Climate Change” by Cindy Parker and Brian Schwartz, two public health physicians at Johns Hopkins, may be old hat to people with a background in the field. But for those of us whose experience with healthcare has been limited to private physicians, hospitals, pharmacies and their billing departments, the authors’ holistic discussion of sustainable well-being will probably be eye-opening. I always suspected that human health went beyond prescriptions and MRIs. Now I feel that the authors have given me permission to see factors ranging from employment and income to justice and the law to soils and mineral resources as factors in keeping people well or making them sick.

The two essays on education are thought-provoking. In “Smart by Nature” Michael Stone and Zenobia Barlow talk about how introducing students to hands-on farming and community activism elevated a neglected inner-city elementary school in Burlington, VT into a magnet for kids from around the city. Nancy Lee Wood shows how community colleges could be more relevant than Harvard (or, for that matter, Chicago) in a world that requires fewer investment bankers and drug company sales reps and more organic farmers, solar-panel installers and managers of small-scale local factories.

Appropriately to a volume that wants to leave its reader in a hopeful port after voyaging on a sea of troubles, the book ends with action-oriented essays by Chris Martenson and Transition Town originator Rob Hopkins. And interestingly, both authors eschew much talk of sustainability and instead focus on resilience.

For Martenson, “we are more resilient when we have multiple sources and systems to supply a needed item, rather than being dependent on a single source…when we have a strong local community with deep connections…when we are in control of how our needs are met and when we can do things for ourselves.” Accordingly, his advice for preparing your own family doesn’t mention guns or gold at all, but talks instead about working with your neighbors to help everybody store food, insulate their homes and feel more confident about the future.

Surely much of the appeal of Hopkins’s Transition movement is that it helps people and communities get ready for some very scary futures by doing things that are basically pretty fun: making new friends, learning new skills and trades and doing a bit of old-time local politicking.

The Post Carbon Reader is a must-read for anyone who cares about how peak oil and climate change affect us all. And it could be a helpful tool to introduce someone who needs to learn about these issues. Why not buy a copy as a gift for your favorite Congressional staffer, city councilperson or local newspaper editor this holiday season?

Full review: http://transitionvoice.com/2010/11/post-carbon-university/

Buy at http://www.amazon.co.uk/Post-Carbon-Reader-Managing-Sustainability/dp/09...