Book Review: 'Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future by Bill McKibben
Review by hof1991 (Nom de plume)
There were several posts back in April of this year about McKibben and his work with Step It Up and the National Day of Climate Action. I would like to follow them up with a review of his recent book Deep economy: the wealth of communities and the durable future. As a long time fellow traveler of communitarians and the author of a little known/read book on libraries and community, McKibben hit my sweet spot. I guess any book dedicated to Wendell Berry has me from hello.
McKibben starts with familiar ground (Americans use up too much of the world's resources / we are mining most resources) and adds some excellent perspective (pre-1970 houses were the size of today's garages).
He moves on to look at perpetual growth as a trailing indicator of happiness and a poor definition for success. He is not in some mystical world here, but looking at the economics of the matter. If you are hungry, more food keeps you alive. If you are full, more food shortens your life instead of prolonging it.
Next he reports on his attempt to eat locally for a year. Those of us in areas that get snow know that this will be a challenge, though our grandparents though nothing of it. Almost all their food came from the surrounding farms, dairies and ranches. Economically, it makes a great deal of sense to support the people of your community by buying locally, since their purchases in turn support you. This means more than just McJobs at WalMart. The box stores are like strip miners and agribusiness – they leave everything poorer than they find it. If it makes sense for Wisconsin to import potatoes from Idaho, it won't when the cost of transporting them rises. Add in the shared costs of pollution and exhausted energy supplies and local food makes good economic sense.
In a chapter titled All for One, or One for All, McKibben looks at hyper-individuality. As recently, the though of walling oneself off from society was considered a sign of either divine spark or insanity. Now I've got mine is the motto of the Republican Party, gated communities abound and people don't even know their neighbors. But this is not just kvetching – he has a plan for turning the tide. It involves again focusing and funding the local as much as the mega. It involves shopping as a member of a community, not as just an individual.
In The wealth of communities, McKibben argues that communities are the real measure of wealth and gives examples of real projects that are operating in the sweet spot between too big and too small.
Finally, in Durable future, he looks at the very real problem of global poverty and globalization. He does not see it even physically possible for China to become the US in terms of consumption. There just isn't that much oil as a start. How can we build a future that will work? Progress, if defined as the American way of life, is not a long-term option. It is already too costly for many Americans just in price, not to mention the long-term cost. Again, he gives worldwide examples of people building a future that actually has a future.
This is another book that has the power to change your life. If it doesn't, I hope it at least widens your viewpoint.
Editor's note: This review was originally published at the Daily Kos, which notes that its "content may be used for any purpose without explicit permission unless otherwise specified." The original page can be found here.Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.