books consumerism economics environment politics

Do good lives have to cost the earth?

good lives earthHere’s an interesting book. Basically, the good folks at nef have spotted that people have had enough of both light-bulb-and-thermostat platitudes, and bike-riding-vegan sanctimony. Instead, what people need is a broad vision, and the realisation that good lives don’t have to cost the earth.

In the end, living within the earth’s biocapacity, commuting shorter distances, buying less stuff, living within our means, eating fewer processed foods, all these things are good for the environment, but also good for us. We are happier that way, our economies are fairer, our communities safer.

Andrew Simms and Joe Smith have brought together a great bunch of writers here. There are some we’re always harping on about, Oliver James, Tom Hodgkinson, Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall, all in one volume. Kevin McCloud of Grand Designs shares his views on sustainable architecture. Ann Pettifor discusses debt and credit. Philip Pullman critiques the environmentalists’ stories, comparing them to Old Testament prophets – and duly warning them that the prophets were “generally hounded out of the city and cast adrift on the waves.”

Perhaps Colin Tudge says it best in describing the movement as a ‘renaissance’ – something that is neither reformist nor revolutionary – just a hope that “soon, the cadre of people worldwide doing sensible things would reach critical mass, and then we would start to create a world that is worth living in.”

This is a really diverse and thought-provoking book that brings together the environment, economics, sociology and politics. Along the way, it touches upon dozens of the issues that we’ve written about here, and exemplifies the holistic approach we’ve tried to take. It’s also inspiring, and positive. It’s certainly challenged me to think more about the solutions than the problems. Highly recommended.


  1. I hadn’t heard of this book until I checked out your blog today…Do I understand your description of the book that it comes from the perspective of: the greener/sustainable path is truly the path to people being happy?

    It’s funny because everyone knows that the less you own the less you are accountable for maintaining and/or latched to financially. Yet, the human way is to consume what is within or even outside of our financial means because we like “things” and how they make us feel- therefore malls exist! We know that smoking does not do positive things to our bodies over the long-term, but it satisfies a moments need for [ ]- I am not a smoker, so someone who is can fill in this space.

    Therefore, I come from a different school of thought that industry will have to do something with the ball because it’s really in their court now. People will pursue what makes them feel happy – whether or not it will give them true happiness is relative,right?

    Industry will have to change the way products work so that these products will be consumed and used by people – that is they will actually perform to satisfy a customer need – and they will be continuously purchased. All the while being less damaging to the environment, people, and the future, regardless of how people use and abuse them!

    That is the challenge that I foresaw when I started my company MIS Green to help industry do this[]. Once we acknowledge the Laws of Human, as the Laws of Physics which enabled long-lasting successful changes in society and culture, e.g. the airliner, then similar and fantastic changes can be possible for a greener and more sustainable world.

    Thank you for the blog post!

  2. That’s the sum of it, yes. We’ve been pursuing the wrong things, believing they’ll make us happy. In fact, the things in life that are most worthwhile also happen to be better for the environment and for society.

    Good luck with your project to call business to a higher standard!

  3. An interesting book by all accounts (and still I have too add it to my MUST READ LIST…).

    One does not need to be a brain surgeon to realise that change is inevitable. I am optimistic about the future. Gaia (our beautiful planet) will renew herself. After all, this is waht it’s about – ecolibrium.

    The vison already exists, although in our Westernised culture values need to be re-addressed.
    There are clear paths to return to this ecolibrium.

    Education – already in hand with plans initiated by forward thinking individuals and collectives. We all know of positive school initiatives and campaigns. This is welcome and significant for the future rests with our children.

    Economy – The vision of industry and economy is changing as the disasters we experience on a global scale are a steady reminder that we are out of harmony with our life support system.
    The ecologists and James Lovelock are essential sentinels, for some of us prefer to take the ostrich stance. Products that offer a greater shelf life than currently exists are inevitable.

    Communication – is already on the march with the internet as possibly the leader of the parade. Media content can help tilt the balance, although incentives are always essential in swaying stimulaing opinion and action.

    Responsibility – governments can fine and punish us for abuses to the environment. However, with the carrot and stick approach, we know which we prefer. Ultimately the buck stops with the individual.

    Engendering a call to action that tilts the balance towards a favourable count of positive actors / individuals who are moving towards a return to a harmonoius economic and social ecolibrium will, in my opinion, involve a combination of alarmist and happy incentives with or without the promting of Gaia.

    Thanks for the oportunity to post an opinion.

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