The Post Carbon Reader: Managing the 21st Century’s Sustainability Crises from Watershed Media and the University of California Press hit bookstores this week. The compendium of 35 experts explores how previously
unimaginable advances in health, wealth, and technology, fed an
explosion in population and consumption that came at an
Climate change, peaking oil, freshwater depletion,
species extinction, and a host of economic and social problems now
challenge us as never before. Writers including Bill McKibben, Richard Heinberg, Sandra Postel, Wes Jackson and others (including myself), explore not only causes in the 523 pages, but lay out detailed “post-carbon” solutions, many which are inter-related.
According to Lester R. Brown, President of the Earth Policy Institute and founder of Worldwatch Institute, “For a comprehensive, integrated overview of the relationship between the human species and its planetary home circa 2010, look no further. The Post Carbon Reader is an invaluable primer, resource, and textbook. This is what you need to know–period.”
Most of the authors are Post Carbon Fellows at the Post Carbon Institute (PCI), which is based in Santa Rosa, California, where author and Senior PCI Fellow Richard Heinberg also lives.
PCI “fellowed” me early last year, when I began work on my contribution to the Reader, a chapter titled, “The Death of Sprawl: Designing Urban Resilience for the 21st Century Resource and Climate Crises.” (pdf) This chapter takes a look at how cheap oil and the financial industry created an unsustainable explosion of suburban and exurban sprawl, driving the US economy over a cliff with the still ongoing 2007-201? foreclosure crisis.
About 25 of 29 PCI fellows gathered for the first time together or participated electronically in a two-day event held in Berkeley, California earlier this year.
The results of the event included a forthcoming mission statement that
was co-authored by nine different subgroups. My group on cities also
consisted of Johns Hopkins professor Brian Schwartz, City University of New
York professor (and former New York City green building standard
originator) Hillary Brown, and transportation expert Anthony Perl,
author of Transport Revolutions: Moving People and Freight Without Oil.
contributed concepts around “bioregionally grounded human communities”
based on non-automotive transportation options, human-scaled
neighborhoods and regionally produced sustainable food and energy.
Much like the Club of Rome’s 1972 treatise, The Limits to Growth, the work of PCI fellows now presents a publicly available collective analysis of where we are, where we are headed and what our options might be in terms of climate, biodiversity, economies, cities, food, energy, culture, population, health, education, transportation and developing better resilience.
Most importantly, thanks to editors Heinberg and Daniel Lerch, The Post Carbon Reader illustrates inter-relationships among these categories, instead of just providing a laundry list of issues and challenges.
I discovered, for instance, that the chapter I wrote was reinforced by Sandra Postel’s chapter on water, “Water, Adapting to a New Normal”, (pdf) where we both examined how solar thermal power plants in the desert Southwest require surprising amounts of water. Same with my chapter and chapters by Tom Whipple, “Peak Oil and the Great Recession”, David Fridley, “Nine Challenges of Alternative Energy”, and Dr. Peter Whybrow’s, “Dangerously Addictive: Why We are Biologically ill-suited to the Riches of Modern America.”
Kudos to PCI executive director Asher Miller and my old friend, Daniel Imhoff, publisher of Watershed Media, for pulling off what may be a milestone in post-Great Recession sustainability thinking, hopefully spurring others to action in order to bring us back into balance with our beleaguered natural world.
Warren Karlenzig is president of Common Current,
an internationally active consultancy based in San Anselmo, California. He is a Fellow at the
Post-Carbon Institute and co-author of a forthcoming United Nations manual on global sustainable city planning and management.