Thursday, August 7, 2008

Book Review: Deep Economy

I checked Deep Economy out of the library on two separate occasions but I really didn't want to read it. The first time, I got the book at the same time as Simple Prosperity: Finding Real Wealth in a Sustainable Lifestyle. The latter was on hold and therefore could not be renewed so I gobbled it up, reveled in its positive tone, and embraced my simpler lifestyle for the wealth it offers.

I renewed Deep Economy - the full two times allowed by the library. I couldn't make myself read it though. I had heard from several sources that it was dry, depressing, wrong even. I just couldn't let go of my Simple Prosperity high and so I let Deep Economy go back to the library.

Melinda and Burbanmom kept telling me, though, that Deep Economy was a great book. It was not depressing, they urged. It was important for our time. They convinced me that I at least needed to read the book. So again, I checked it out. And again, I renewed it the allotted two times. On the final due date, I decided I had postponed long enough. I'd suck up the fines (no judgment please) and try to get through it as quickly as possible. I needed to check this book off of my list.

And I'm so glad I did.

Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future by Bill McKibben was not, for me, earth-shattering or eye opening. But one's earth can only be shattered so many times. And frankly, I'm not sure I need my eyes opened any further right now. They're pretty darn open after a year of green reads. What I'm looking for now is solutions and of those, Deep Economy offers plenty.

McKibben offers anecdotal stories from all around the globe as evidence that local communities can flourish, that we can adapt to climate change and reduce our impact by thinking inventively. McKibben points to the bus system in Brazil as an example of making mass transit successful without expensive subways that take decades to build. He holds up "the special period" in Cuba, where the country converted to urban organic agriculture after losing access to Soviet oil. He spotlights the farmer in New York who produces offers milk, vegetables, eggs, honey and meat on his farm and who is not seeking to create an historical farm but to improve his own quality of life. McKibben also looks to the "Rabbit King" of China - a man who received rabbits from Heifer International, breed them very successfully, and ultimately set up programs in China to help poor families get free rabbits and learn to care and breed them. We see that, done right, local economies build vibrant communities strong enough to adapt to climate change and also reduce environmental impact, hopefully blunting climate change's force.

I agree with McKibben. I think local communities are the future. Not that we become less of a globalized society but that we learn to build support systems here, embrace our unique longitudinal differences, and thereby reduce our footprint. I am convinced that farmers' markets and CSAs are the answer to our food problems. In addition, to providing clean, safe food, they connect us with the source of our food and with others eating it. I do think that we need to help developing countries continue to improve their quality of life but, as McKibben, notes according to a different standard than ours. Ours is not sustainable and by changing the way we live, we will create a different standard to be embraced. McKibben urges other local endeavors - more locally owned radio stations (like that idea), more locally focused energy (like the idea, not sure how it can actually play out) and even local currency (mmm?).

Should you read Deep Economy? Yes. Will it rock your world? Maybe. I agree with Arduous in that I think a book's impact has a lot to do with when you read it, which books you've read before and where you are in your life. Will it depress you? I doubt it. Deep Economy is a positive, thoughtful book full of solutions for the future. Some may work, others may not but that is not the point of the book. The point is to start thinking smaller, more local, and start solving the problem of climate change instead of merely bemoaning it.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Recommended for newly green and medium green readers, and for dark green readers who are looking for solutions and inspiration.


Going Crunchy said...

Excellent review GB. I also enjoyed your story about making yourself read something. I sometimes feel that way about a few classics I know I'm supposed to have read........

Kale for Sale said...

Your review makes me want to read the book again. I'd forgotten about the Rabbit King. I often reflect on McKibbin's advocacy for local economies when I go to the independent hardware store, book store or health food store. I've begun shopping for gifts from the artisans at the farmers' markets instead of heading to the mall. The purchases seem more personal, a little more appreciated. An outcome I read into the book or maybe made up all together, but like none the less.

Sam said...

I've watched McKibben on a few documentaries and he always seems (and probably is) depressed and mopey. Which I think I would be as well, if I feel like the last few decades' worth of work has been ignored by mainstream media.

This does sounds like a positive piece however. It is on my length reading list and like you and kale for sale do think that a local economy is in our future.

Donna said...

Nice review and I'm glad you enjoyed the book! I don't see any negatives in trying to create a more local economy -- it's all good and the more of it we can do, the better.

Green Bean said...

Shannon: It is hard, isn't it, to sometimes pick up a book we think we should read? I'm the same way with some of those classis too - even after having been an English major.

Katrina: "The purchases seem more personal, a little more appreciated." You know, I think that is a part of the book and a part of the movement. That is part of the way we build communuity. And I absolutely believe that communities and local economies are the key to adapting to and slowing down climate change.

Beany: Interesting that he comes across as depressed. I've always wondered that about him and some other long time environmental activists. How must it feel to have been yelling "Climate Change, Climate Change" for the last 30 years while society embraces SUVs and 4000 square foot homes and marches into oblivion.

Donna: Absolutely not. I can't think of any reason not to build local economies. As you note, we all benefit.

Anonymous said...

GB, I'm so glad you read it and liked it!! I believe it's one of my favorite books - it came to me right when I most needed a book about solutions.

I'm giving my copy away - here's the post, if anyone is interested!