Written by Thomas Princen
Publication Date: February 19, 2010
We are living beyond our means, running up debts both economic and ecological, consuming the planet's resources at rates not remotely sustainable. But it's hard to imagine a different way. How can we live without cheap goods and easy credit? How can we consume without consuming the systems that suport life? How can we live well and live within our means? In Treading Softly, Thomas Princen helps us imagine an alternative. We need, he says, a new normal, a new ecological order that is actually economical with resources, that embraces limits, that sees sustainable living not as a "lifestyle" but as a long-term relationship with the planet, a connection to fresh, free-flowing water, fertile soil, and healthy food. That economies must grow is a fundamental belief among economists, politicians, and journalists. But it is rampant material growth that has brought us to this precipice. Princen argues that it is time to build an economy that is grounded in the way natural systems works; that operates as if we have just the right amount of resources rather than endless frontiers. The goal would be to live well by living well within the capacities of those resources. Society's material foundations would be grounded in the biophysical, its practices based on satisfying work, self-reliance, and restraint rather than the purchasing of goods. Princen doesn't offer a quick fix--there's no list of easy ways to save the planet to hang on the refrigerator. He gives us instead a positive, realistic sense of the possible, with an abundance of examples, concepts, and tools for imagining, then realizing, how to live within our biophysical means.
From Publishers Weekly
Rejecting the "tried-and-true path" as well as the promise of high-tech innovation, University of Michigan professor Princen (Confronting Consumption) makes an impassioned and illustrative plea for radical societal transformation, from consumerism to sustainability. Taking issue with a stripe of environmentalist and progressive thinker, like Thomas L. Friedman, anticipating a quick fix (high-tech or otherwise) to retrofit the existing, growth-based consumer economy, Princen rejects the idea of endless growth, which defies all laws of logic and physics: "A system that grows endlessly crashes... unendingly increasing consumption cannot continue on a finite planet." Looking to historical economic reversals, like the upheaval that occurred after slavery was abolished or the plummeting popularity of cigarettes, Princen argues that society must dethrone the "sovereign consumer" and adopt the ethos of sacrifice if it is to survive. Practically, many more people need to overcome widespread alienation from the natural world by prioritizing community over profit, becoming direct producers of goods, and adapting better to the rhythms (and limits) of nature; ideas include an intermittent electricity supply, season-appropriate availability of many foods, and communities that are largely self-sufficient. Genuinely provocative, this book challenges practices and theories sacred to both sides of the ecology debate.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
"This is an eloquent and impassioned book. It is clearly written, lacks confounding academic artifice, and conveys a message that is simultaneously simple and profound."--Maurice J. Cohen, New Jersey Institute of Technology
"As the epoch of seemingly limitless expansion comes to an end, Treading Softly represents an important springboard for debate about what comes next. It finds an appropriate balance of 'realistic hope,' going beyond the easy answers so often put forward in environmental debates. Above all, it succeeds in encouraging readers to imagine a possible new world, and in emboldening us to get to work in creating it." Anders Hayden Sustainability: Science, Practice, & Policy
Hardcover: 224 pages
Publisher: The MIT Press; First American Edition edition (February 19, 2010)
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