Compelling connections in ‘The Post Carbon Reader’

January 5, 2011 • PMC in the News

By Juliane Poirier

Q: What’s even better for health and brain growth than Sudoku, green tea, dark chocolate and meditation all at once? A: Applying one’s brain to the puzzle of human survival.

It’s hard work, but vastly rewarding. And one can get a great kickstart from more than 40 incredibly smart people in one paperback called The Post Carbon Reader: Managing the 21st Century’s Sustainability Crises (Watershed Media; $21.95). It’s not only a good read, it’s a brain-enhancing tool that can also be utilized to replace fear and inertia with connectedness and purpose, and when the brain is connected with the heart, it can do anything.

The heart part one must bring to the puzzle table oneself, along with analytic thinking and creative connecting of all the puzzle pieces in company with others involved in solutions-thinking. The Post Carbon Reader makes for excellent fireside or poolside reading, just as it would be great for a neighborhood study group or for use in classroom discussion, simply because it contains so many perspectives on the interconnected challenges to which all ages of humankind must rise.

“The planet is growing by 78 million people each year,” writes William Ryerson in his essay “Population: The Multiplier of Everything Else.” “That’s the equivalent of adding a new Ethiopia every year.” Entries such as this make me want to sit my 10-year-old son down with a globe and measure how many Ethiopias of people the earth can support, subtracting for exhausted resources and land that will be lost to rising seas.
Ryerson is only one of the gifted writers whose clear thinking makes The Post Carbon Reader my pick for the perfect holiday brain-boost gift. For those intrigued by the puzzle of how to live in the world as it really is—which would be on the brink—I suggest savoring this book one essay at a time. Each essay looks at sustainability from a different vantage point, grouped by editors Richard Heinberg and Daniel Lerch into 16 themed sections comprising over 400 pages of riveting reading and backed by 39 pages of supporting chapter notes.

Most compelling about The Post Carbon Reader is how the breadth of perspectives—from economics and education to politics and personal responsibility—follows the natural model in which everything is connected. In the food section of the Reader, Michael Bomford’s essay “Getting Fossil Fuels Off the Plate” points out how our food system, for every calorie of food delivered to the plate on our table, “requires seven to ten calories from fossil fuels.”

We know what voting with our checkbook means, but what is Warren Karlenzig talking about, in “The Death of Sprawl,” when he mentions voting with our tires? You’ll have to read to find out. And how did a farm in Vermont transform a public-school-from-hell into a beloved haven for learning? Check out “Smart by Nature: Schooling for Sustainability,” by Michael Stone and Zenobia Barlow, whose uplifting report on the transformation of education includes a quote by David Orr all parents need to read: “What can education do to foster intelligence? . . . We can attempt to teach the things that one might imagine the Earth would teach us: silence, humility, holiness, connectedness, courtesy, beauty, celebration, giving, restoration, obligation and wildness.”

Post Carbon writers focus on their areas of expertise, yet speaking on so many seemingly disparate elements in one book is a true mitzvah; in reality all these elements actually are connected and must be addressed. A reader can sit down with this one anthology and get a sense of the big picture of what sustainability truly means—and asks of us—without being overwhelmed.

This user-friendliness is critical in these times of data overload. The real purpose of all this big-picture information about our home planet in crises is not to foster paralysis but rather to enable action. I predict this book will do more of the latter. In the book’s preface, Lerch sums up rather nicely the simple reason for digging into The Post Carbon Reader: “This book is a resource for those who want to try and get it right.”

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