Climate change and pollution

Book review: ‘The Path to a Sustainable Civilisation’

Image credit: Gan Chaonan/Dreamstime

How a long-term global agenda based on clean technologies, environmental protection and restoration can rebalance our dependence on non-renewable resources.

Just over a century ago the ocean liner Titanic struck an iceberg in the Atlantic Ocean. Within three hours it lay on the seabed, leaving 1500 dead. It’s a story that’s been told so many times that Mark Diesendorf and Rod Taylor don’t need to spend more than a few paragraphs on it. And yet they draw the reader’s attention to one perhaps lesser-known fact: which was that Titanic was going too fast.

Today, say the authors at the start of their superb ‘The Path to a Sustainable Civilisation: Technological, Socioeconomic and Political Change’ (Palgrave Macmillan, £22.99, ISBN 9789819906628), planet Earth is much like that doomed ship: “a complex and trusted system capable of spectacular failure.”

As with Titanic, warnings are being ignored in order to rush through economic priorities. Little is done to safeguard the least powerful of the passengers and crew. And there’s scant respect for the environment, as everything plays into the interests of those in charge.

As analogies go, this is outstanding, as is the rest of Diesendorf and Taylor’s analysis of a global existential crisis of our own making. It hardly matters that Earth’s iceberg moment could well be an asteroid because the short-range problems of melting ice, rising sea levels, droughts, heatwaves, extinctions, wildfires and floods – the outcomes of self-inflicted climate change – all have the potential to sink us first. We need to transition to sustainable energy but are subject to the whims of politicians “whose goals are short-term and self-serving.”

While war rages in Ukraine, countries use their nuclear power programmes as a fig leaf to hide their development of nuclear weapons. The rich get richer, with multinational corporations stripping the planet of its resources. The poor get poorer, while racism, sexism and slavery remain pillars of the global patriarchal power system. Disillusionment with the democratic system increases as media independence is eroded.

Put like this, civilisation is collapsing before our eyes. And yet, as Diesendorf and Taylor say, their book is one of hope. This is because they believe that the parts of the pathway to a sustainable future that are already broken can be repaired by implementing widespread technological change along with restructuring global economies and systems of governance.

It’s an experiment they say – one that will necessarily go beyond the current century and into the next millennium – based on clean technologies, environmental protection and restoration, as well as social justice. The authors examine what we will need from a modern industrialised civilisation, how we can rebalance our dependence on non-renewable resources while managing renewables as we strive for a circular economy. They analyse the need for joined-up global action in the interdisciplinary field of ecological economics. And they took at how technological transformations come from citizens exerting pressure those in power. Read this, and you’ll realise why we don’t have to share Titanic’s fate.

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