The best book yet on how to green your lifestyle …makes the whole subject very clear and understandable. Permaculture Magazine UK

Essential” Friends of the Earth

Empowering” Cygnus Books

Invaluable” Environment UK

Inspirational” Green Parent (UK)

Read it in one sitting and fell in love with it … fun, immediately rewarding, and easy enough to do right this minute, Community Regeneration, Rodale Institute (USA).


EBAH cover 1989



A secure, healthy future

Low energy cooking

Measuring success

Change begins at home

Further reading










Further Reading 

Following are excellent in-depth background books on sustainability, climate change, economic growth and related social justice issues. Many are classics. I add books here from time to time. 

CONTENTS (click to come to books reviewed below)

Prosperity without Growth, Tim Jackson, 2016.
Change the Story, Change the Future, David Korten, 2015
The Long Summer: How Climate Changed Civilization, Brian Fagan, 2004.
The Way of Lao Tzu (Tao-te ching), Wing-Tsit Chan, 1963.
Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations, David Montgomery, 2012.
Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot, Tom Butler (ed.), 2015
Ten Billion, Stephen Emmott, 2013.
The End of Plenty: The Race to Feed a Crowded World, Joel Bourne, 2015.

Debt, David Graeber, 2012.

When the Tide Turns (system sustainability book in Swedish with a review in English), Bengt Bodin, 2014.

What Then Must We Do?, Gar Alperovitz, 2013.

Owning Our Future: The Emerging Ownership Revolution, Marjorie Kelly, 2012.

Our Common Wealth, Jonathan Rowe, 2013.

Plan B 4.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization, Lester R. Brown, 2009-2010.

The Impact of Inequality, Richard G. Wilkinson, 2005.

Cannibals and Kings, Marvin Harris, 1977.

Fates of Nations, Paul Colinvaux, 1978.

Collapse, Jared Diamond, 2005.
The Collapse of Complex Societies, Joseph Tainter, 1990.
Rethinking Environmental History, Alf Hornborg, J.R. McNeill, Joan Martinez-Alier, 2007.

Whose Crisis, Whose Future? Susan George, 2010. 

Climate Wars: The Fight for Survival as the World Overheats, Gwynne Dyer, 2010.

Storms of My Grandchildren, James Hansen, 2009.

The Politics of Climate Change, Anthony Giddens, 2009.

The Rough Guide to Climate Change, Robert Henson, 2011.  

The Economics of Climate Change: The Stern Review, Nicholas Stern, 2007.  

Something New Under the Sun: An environmental history of the 20th century, John McNeil, 2000.

Water: A natural history, Alice Outwater, 1996.

Limits to Growth: The 30 year update, Dennis Meadows, et al, 2004.

Heat, George Monbiot, 2006.

The Man Who Planted Trees, Jean Giono.

So Shall We Reap, Colin Tudge, 2003.

Diet for a Small Planet, Frances Moore Lappé, 1971.

The One Straw Revolution, Masanobu Fukuoka, 1985.

The Bottom Billion, Paul Collier, 2007.

The Mystery of Capital, Hernando de Soto, 2000.

Small Is Beautiful, E. F. Schumacher, 1975.

The Life of Mahatma Gandhi, Louis Fischer, 1951.

Development as Freedom, Amartya Sen, 2001.

Gaia, 2000 and The Ages of Gaia, 1988, James Lovelock.

Silenced Rivers, Patrick Mc Cully 1996.

Dictionary of Environmental Science, Andrew Porteous, 2008.

Background books

Prosperity Without Growth: Foundations for the Economy of Tomorrow, Tim Jackson, 2016. Jackson homepage. CUSP. Video. Jackson, a well-known UK economist who produced the first version of this book as a research report to Tony Blair's UK government in 2011, now updates his case for replacing the GNP growth goal with other more meaningful measures of well-being, so that growing resource consumption does not destroy our planet. More meaningful goals, he suggest, include full employment, less inequity and reduced greenhouse gas emissions. Jackson presents strong theoretical arguments backed up by real-world examples that non-growth economies work. See further research in fact sheet Growth vs Health and Sustainability. For historical examples where civilizations collapsed due to growth, see these books reviewed here: Cannibals and Kings, Fates of Nations, Collapse and The Collapse of Complex Societies. Ultimately, our choice seems clearly to be between collapse and holding ourselves within planetary boundaries, the course which Jackson explores in his research and teaching.

Change the Story, Change the Future: A Living Economy for a Living Earth, David Korten, 2015. Summary. Video. Essay. Article. Korten, development economist with a positive outlook, outlines for us here a basis for a sustainable, health-giving economy based on cooperation rather than on competition for money and power.

The Long Summer: How Climate Changed Civilization, Brian Fagan, 2004. The Little Ice Age, Brian Fagan, 2001. Human history adapts to climate changes, small and large. Historical overview by an anthropologist.

The Way of Lao Tzu (Tao-te ching), Wing-Tsit Chan, 1963. Lao Tzu's essay is remarkable in philosophical depth and practical applicability to daily life. In placing nature above all, not only as our single source but also as our greatest teacher, it provides a philosophy for human well-being and long term survival that is sorely needed today. Lao Tzu's insights can help us get back to our roots, in tune with nature and to find peace in our daily existence in this constantly changing world. Full Review by Archie.

Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations, David Montgomery, 2012. Agriculture erodes the earth because of plowing. This has led to thousand year cycles of population growth followed by the decline of their civilization, after people have starved and fled the area in search of more fertile land. When the earth lies fallow, new soil builds from the rock beneath it, but this takes 500-1000 years. Farmers have known this since ancient times, but in many places ignored its lessons, resulting in declining civilizations.

Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot, Tom Butler (ed.), 2015. Review by Archie. Reviews by others. Strong, sometimes overpowering, photos of human society and its enormous takeover of the Earth. A clear call for decreasing population and decreasing consumption. The entire book is viewable online.

Ten Billion, Stephen Emmott, 2013. Population growth drives a catastrophic extraction of resources. Though climate change is a crisis, the population threat is even worse, Guardian 2015-12-04.

The End of Plenty: The Race to Feed a Crowded World, Joel Bourne, 2015.  Review 1. Review 2. National Geographic article. Radio interview 1. Radio interview 2. Farmer journalist Bourne travels the world looking at the problems and (few) solutions for feeding more people.

, David Graeber, 2012. In this seminal book, anthropologist and political activist David Graeber takes on the daring task of rewriting history, replacing the story of a profit maximizing homo economicus with another older and truer story of human nature, man as a cooperative, caring and fair-minded community member. Graeber's ultimate task is to understand how our natural instinctive social behavior, as reported by anthropologists, has been perverted into modern man's inhumanity to fellow man. Along the way, we gain new insight and deeper understanding of our economic system, our property law, our class society, our patriarchal customs, slavery, our religions, our political structures and our dramatic, often violent, history. Following the historical development of money, credit, debt and commerce, painstakingly analyzed and structured, Graeber weaves a new, panoramic view of man's ”progress” through five millenia that can free us from unquestioned norms, and serve as starting point for a more humane society. While not expressly political, this book may turn out to be revolutionary. Debt, full review.

Cannibals and Kings, Marvin Harris, 1977. An anthropologist’s masterful account of man’s social evolution from stone age hunter-gathering clans to modern day capitalistic societies, interpreted in ecological terms. Describes how population pressure versus food supply has always been a problem for humans (just as for other animals) and how it has formed various aspects of our culture from war and infanticide to meat taboos to the formation of despotic empires. Population growth has forced the development of new intensified technologies to feed the population, but all forms of intensified food production deplete the natural resource base, so in the long run, living standards are reduced. Oil and coal have given some of humanity a higher standard, but this is only temporary as long as the oil lasts. Two conclusions from reading this book are: First, to secure our survival, renewable food must become society’s primary objective today, even more important than renewable energy. Second, population and consumption must both decrease radically to prevent further destruction of resources. A fascinating book! Cannibals and Kings-full review.

Fates of Nations, Paul Colinvaux, 1978. Ecologist Paul Colinvaux examines Western history beginning with Alexander the Great, studying wars of conquest in terms of providing food and resources for a growing population within the ruling empire. Just as a given habitat can support a certain maximum animal population, so too do human populations reach a maximum within any given geographical area. Colinvaux shows how throughout history the nation or empire with the greatest military technology has always won, to the benefit of its own citizens and the detriment of the conquered territories. The message is that humans must come to terms with the limits of the planet and limit their offspring, otherwise we will continue to suffer from disastrous wars. Full Review.

What Then Must We Do?, Gar Alperovitz, 2013. Professor and economic historian Alperovitz makes a strong case for locally owned institutions which support community development, strengthen democracy and encourage longterm management of common resources. Full review.

Owning Our Future, Marjorie Kelly, 2012. Describes different forms for local ownership (cooperatives, etc) with many good examples from around the world and analysis of which forms are most useful for different purposes and situations. Author's website with links to several reviews. Follows in the same spirit as What Then Must We Do by Gar Alperovitz, research by Nobel Prize winner Elinor Ostrom and Our Common Wealth: The Hidden Economy That Makes Everything Else Work by Jonathan Rowe. 

Our Common Wealth: The Hidden Economy That Makes Everything Else Work, Jonathan Rowe, 2013. Much of what we value we own in common, for example, the air, water, biodiversity and quiet. With almost poetic simplicity, Rowe shows us how we can protect some of these common resources, and of the need to protect them all.

When the Tide Turns, Bengt Bodin, 2014. This book in Swedish with the title "När vinden vänder" explains (more clearly than I have seen in any book in English) just how limited are the planet's plant-growing resources in relation to the existing population, and the impossibility of replacing gasoline, diesel and jet fuels with biofuels: there simply is not enough land to grow them. Research agronomist Bengt Bodin makes the further point that our industrialized society is not only limited by energy but by nature's ability to absorb our waste products, which instead of breaking down to become part of new plant life, accumulate and harm our health as well as the health of the planet's ecosystems. Full review and summary in English. 

Whose Crisis, Whose Future?
Susan George, 2010. Social justice activist Susan George explains how the world’s human society is run by the rich and for the rich—a reality that conflicts with almost everyone’s sense of fairness. The neo-liberal ideology of deregulation, free trade, minimum government interference, and globalization has been successfully sold to the public as the road to freedom and wealth for everyone, but after 40 years it has led instead to increased concentration of wealth, more poverty, more hunger and to an impoverished natural resource base—depleted farmland, forests, fish, minerals, fresh water and a climate that makes things worse. Democracy and freedom have suffered, too. Policies of the IMF, World Bank and major funding nations led not to development in the South but in actual fact to greater indebtedness and greater inequality in many countries. The green revolution of the 1970’s concentrated more land in the hands of the few, creating a totally dependent class of landless poor. George explains how the economic crisis of 2008 as well as earlier crises came about as a natural result of the almost total deregulation of the finance industry through heavy lobbying. The industry is still not regulated (2011) so more trouble can be expected. George emphasizes that our only hope is in cooperation based on fair relations—not dominance and competition. Rather than revolution, George sees “an ongoing process of transformation fueled by constant public pressure…that forces governments to rein in the private sector…and put people and the planet ahead of accumulation and profit in a far more cooperative social context”. Whose Crisis,Whose Future-full review.

Climate Wars: The fight for survival as the world overheats, Gwynne Dyer, 2010. An excellent overview of the climate change situation (updated through Copenhagen 2009), along with the author’s interviews with leading politicians, military advisors and government planners, who are  preparing for the resource conflicts that are now being aggravated by climate change. Includes scenarios that help us visualize how future politics in the world might play out. Climate Wars-full review.

Storms of My Grandchildren, James Hansen, 2009. One of the most authoritative descriptions and analyses of climate change and its implications by one of the world’s leading climate scientists. Besides climate change science, Hansen describes his problems with what can only be called censurship in an effort to downplay the seriousness of climate change by various American political administrations during the 1980’s, 1990’s and 2000. Storms of My Grandchildren: full review.

Plan B 4.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization, Lester R. Brown, 2009-10. (See also his more recent book Full Planet, Empty Plates 2012 and its accompanying film and presentation) This excellent book concisely describes and analyses the world’s major problems (energy, water, air, food production, soil loss, deforestation, desertification, overfishing, climate change, etc.) and then outlines solutions, area by area, for solving them using existing technology. After convincing us of the seriousness of these problems and that business-as-usual, free market economics will not implement the solutions quickly enough, Brown proposes a global-wide mass mobilization of capital and human energy of the kind that usually only occurs during wartime or after catastrophic events. The key tools needed for this are regulation (for example, bans on cutting down forest), removal of tax subsidies (to oil, to water, to agrobusiness, to airlines, to fishing, etc.), removal of trade barriers (that work like subsidies to keep the price of resources artificially low) and taxes on critical resources (carbon dioxide, gasoline/petrol, etc.). Such policy tools require political decisions at all levels to implement, so our important part is to support and vote for the necessary policies, even though many cheap things such as transportation and food are going to become more expensive. What is the alternative? “Business as usual” leads to continuing destruction of our resource base, hunger, disease and political instability, eventually to what many call collapse. Better to pull in our belts now while we still have our strength, economic institutions and political organization. And that is what Lester Brown argues so well for and why he gives us hope. Hope, that is, if we use our power of choice to vote for the needed regulations and tax increases now.

The Politics of Climate Change, Anthony Giddens, 2009. This book offers to the climate change solution discussion the considerable informed experience of a renowned social scientist, political adviser and modern thinker. The short summary of this book is that national carbon taxes are the way to go, not carbon trading based on big international agreements like Kyoto. Climate action and agreement at the international level, like Kyoto, is unlikely to succeed or to produce significant results. Most fruitful is work at the national level, followed by the regional and bilateral level, where action can be based on self interest and targeted to specific needs and local conditions. New forms of collaboration may well be needed. International universal agreement, as the World Trade Organization has shown, is too hard to reach and too watered down to be meaningful. Going deeper, practical politics needs to be based on the key driving forces on the world scene: economics, energy and security. Projects that can combine two or more of these forces have greater potential, for example, the energy saving work in Germany and Sweden give both energy security and economic advantage. Finally, population control (reduction) and conflict resolution/stability can only be achieved in a convergent world, where poverty is eliminated and nations feel an equal responsibility. Until that time, the rich nations (and the rich segments of poorer nations?) must take the lead and solve their self-created problem. Corollary to this is that Kyoto CDM activities, in which rich nations get credit for carbon reduction projects that they finance in poor nations, are insignificant. What is needed is a complete restructuring of the existing developed nations’ own economies to low carbon societies. The author speaks from the practical experience of top political circles. Politicians and business leaders, who are probably the main intended audience, are well advised to listen.

The Rough Guide to Climate Change, Robert Henson, 2011-14.  A very thorough guided tour of this enormous and complex scientific field, well organized and well told. Presents in lay language the major climate theories and their background as well as hundreds of minor issues along with related and unanswered questions. By providing historical background on the scientific research and thinking concerning these issues, Henson helps us understand the complexity and why it took so long for science to come to general agreement that the climate is warming and that mankind is behind most of the change. Good graphs depict earth’s climate history. Excellent diagrams show how climate mechanisms work. Photographs and maps make climate change concrete and real. Having read this book, I am determined more than ever to reduce my impact; I am also a little more humble, both as a human being and as an “earthling”, for the planet is very big and I am very small.

The Economics of Climate Change—The Stern Review, Nicholas Stern, 2007. When a world class economist says we need to get moving on climate solutions, you listen. This monumental, extremely well organized, thorough and detailed work describes (based on IPCC reports) what will happen as the climate warms in terms of food, health, poverty, water, land, environment, migration, conflict, etc, and analyzes governmental measures to lessen climate change (carbon trading, taxation, etc). Highly technical in parts, but full of summaries, research results and a wealth of relevant information gathered into one place. Available free online, including a 27 page Executive Summary.

Something New Under the Sun: An environmental history of the 20th century, John McNeil, 2000. A broad, systematic, extremely thorough and readable history of humanity’s re-shaping of the physical planet during the past century, with detailed examples from major cities and regions worldwide. Told with an historian’s keen eye for the social and political currents behind the events, we get a feel here for the conflicting historical interests that operate within our societies and that make agreement on solutions difficult, slow, and full of compromise—and not the straight-forward solutions proposed by engineers and scientists. We understand how the twin forces of industrialism and population growth rolled incessantly forward, reinforcing each other and inevitably led to problems of clean air, clean water and health during the past century, first on a local level, then regionally, and finally at the planetary level. For more environmental history, see Water: a natural history by Alice Outwater and Collapse by Jared Diamond, both reviewed below.

Water: A natural history, Alice Outwater, 1996. If I were going to recommend only one background book on the environment, this would be it. It is a beautifully told history of the environmental degradation of North America by the Europeans beginning in the 16th century, with water as the unifying theme. How the beaver, bison and prairie dog created moist, species-rich life habitats, and when they were exterminated, the dust bowl began. (Europe, Africa, the Middle East and Asia probably have similar stories to tell in earlier times). Written by an environmental engineer with a broad knowledge, a sensitivity for ecology and an almost poetic expression, this story helps us understand how our wants and desires coupled with population growth and technological change have unwittingly led to centuries of gradual, unregulated growth and a complete transformation of the original landscape that no one foresaw or planned and perhaps few would have wanted. This is an excellent introduction to human ecology, filled with abundant historical examples of how one change here creates another change there. The author writes with a soft, low-key reverence for nature that strikes a deep chord in the heart of the reader.

Limits to Growth—The 30 year update, Dennis Meadows, Jorgen Randers and Donella Meadows, 2004. Three system scientists at MIT build a complex computer model of humanity's total resource usage and project the world economy into the future to see what may happen under differing assumptions. They gather data, study the interactions, follow new research and refine the model for over 30 years. The key conclusion: humanity has already surpassed the sustainable physical limits of this planet and is still able to expand only by consuming the planet’s capital of farmland, forest, fish, minerals and fresh water, etc. In the future, humanity will have to spend an ever-increasing share of its money to obtain energy, metals, chemicals, water, etc and on environmental cleanup and health. This will leave less and less money available for investment in new technology and production facilities and, eventually, for food production. Long time lags and many interdependencies mean that we do not see that we have overshot the planet’s limits. Instead we use up important resources to the point of scarcity, extinction and in some cases permanent destruction (such as soil erosion, salt-drenched land, permanently polluted groundwater and lost species), then go into dramatic population decline caused by disease, lack of food, poor health care and a polluted environment. These studies are broad, thorough and sobering in their conclusions. You can download a roughly ten-page summary of their work at

Collapse, Jared Diamond, 2005. The compelling story of how a number of earlier human societies collapsed due in part to climate change and environmental degradation, with parallels drawn to current places on the globe where people’s livelihoods are threatened today by exhausted resources, overpopulation, climate and/or environmental damage. Multidisciplinary researcher Diamond investigates Easter Island, the Greenland Vikings, the Mayas and others. He asks what these societies did wrong and what other societies that have survived did right, so that we can learn from the past. Those societies that succeeded made conscious choices to change, either through popular participation or by central dictate (bottom up or top down, as he puts it). Those that failed simply carried on until they had chopped down the last tree, eaten the last animal, polluted the last bit of farmland and died off (or moved elsewhere, if they could). Inter-class and inter-group conflict were both a cause and an effect of failure to effectively deal with resource problems—the worse the material situation, the more conflict (and vice versa). Some societies clung stubbornly to values and a lifestyle that no longer fit the circumstances, and eventually collapsed. Other societies recognized their problem, accepted necessary changes, and survived. The choice is ours, Diamond reminds us again today, in the politicians we elect and the way we live our lives.

The Collapse of Complex Societies, Joseph Tainter, 1990. Examining many historical examples of collapsed societies, Tainter presents the (new) theory that collapse depended on the decreasing value of increasing complexity, to a point where the complexity becomes an overhead burden whose expense cannot be supported by the outlying provinces that provide basic food and resources to the central society.

Rethinking Environmental History, Alf Hornborg, J.R. McNeill, Joan Martinez-Alier (editors), 2007. Anthology with a examples of society-driven environmental change. Presents different theories to explain how and why the society was driven to develop in the way it did, with the environmental effects that then occurred. One general theme is of the central state such as Rome commandeering resources from peripheral colonies, a theme that has persisted to our day in the unsymmetrical (and unfair) developed-developing nations relationships. 

Heat, George Monbiot, 2006. This book argues for a 90 percent reduction in carbon emissions by the year 2030 (for the UK specifically, but also for other countries), significantly more ambitious than the current UK, European Union or Kyoto goals—a reduction the author believes necessary to avoid human catastrophe on the planet. Monbiot first convinces us (if we need convincing!) that global warming is in fact a fact, that it is largely man-made, that rising sea levels will destroy farmland and groundwater and flood cities, and that these problems are already here. To stop global warming, we must act now and forcefully to reduce energy usage and emissions. A key method is world-wide rationing of energy and carbon emissions based on equal shares for all humans on the planet, with national governments implementing the rations, for example, by individual and industry rations that are applied to and accounted for on the individual’s home energy and electricity bills. Monbiot then critically and practically analyzes the possibilities for carbon reductions for major categories of energy production and use (such as home heating, appliances, automobiles, air travel, etc.), and suggests the most likely and least painful ways of achieving a 90 percent reduction. For air travel, he can find none except less travel. By laying many previously proposed solutions to rest, often with simple calculations, Monbiot forces us to see that we cannot hope to continue to lead our lives as we have up till now. The major projects that will need to be legislated and implemented are, among other things: rationing (to reduce consumption compared to today), energy efficiency and carbon sequestration—they will not come by themselves or through voluntary action. Monbiot thus puts the responsibility on us to elect politicians who will give us this bitter medicine that we need but have been hoping to avoid. The sooner, the better, he concludes, for our newborn children are depending upon us.

The Man Who Planted Trees, Jean Giono (circa 1955). Inspirational modern fable of how one person’s faithful action, a little every day, made a truly big difference in the world. Great for children as well as adults!

So Shall We Reap, Colin Tudge, 2003. This is an extensive, systematic and detailed analysis of human food production methods and their consequences by an experienced and very concerned British agricultural journalist and biologist. Thought provoking and full of detailed background information, it provides an encouraging, practical vision for future farming and eating habits, based on solid scientific and agronomical experience as well as on common sense. Tudge describes agriculture’s history as going from local craftsmanship rooted in practical experience and the biology of the earth to large-scale corporate business, rooted in money. He explains the efficiency and robustness of mixed animal and crop farms (as in the family farm) and of traditional diets that are high in grains, fruits and vegetables, and low in meat. He proposes such diets and farming practice as our way to guarantee human well being long into the future. Highly critical (with a well-founded case) of agrobusiness.

Diet for a Small Planet, Frances Moore Lappé, 1971, 1991. A pioneering work on the efficiency of vegetable proteins that feed most of the world. Points out the great productive resources required for the high meat/fish/fowl diet in modern societies, for example, a kg of meat requires 16 times the land needed to grow a kg of grain. Explains how we can get the protein we need from primarily non-meat sources by combining foods in our diet. Gives simplified yet extensive nutrient tables and teaches how to combine foods, for example, rice and beans or grains and milk, to insure all the necessary proteins when we eat a non-meat meal. Very practical with many such combinations and a few suggested recipes. For more recipes based on these principles, see Recipes for a Small Planet by Ellen B. Ewald, 1973-1985, Laurel’s Kitchen by Laurel Robertson et al 1976-1986, or other books from your own country and culture.

The One Straw Revolution, Masanobu Fukuoka, 1985. Biochemist Fukuoka tells how he began questioning the existing agricultural paradigm, thinking differently, experimenting and gradually developed a new way to farm and live peacefully that was more efficient than modern farmers, using no chemicals and not even a tractor. This is a popular, easily read account of his pioneering contributions to organic farming and his vision for self-sufficiency, peace, and harmony with nature. His questioning, inventiveness, and reflection will inspire your own!

The Bottom Billion, Paul Collier, 2007. Oxford economist Paul Collier purposely does not divide the world’s nations into the rich and the poor but into the rich, the middle (who are growing) and the poor (who are stagnant or declining). This book analyses the problems of the poor in economic and human terms (for example, corruption and the failure of aid) that we are all familiar with from other writers, but uses empirical, statistical research to uncover the actual causes of poor nationhood, and then comes to partially new and different recipes for action. Briefly, analysis reveals the following four main factors or “traps” that have locked poor countries into stagnation and/or decline over the past 40 years, while the middle nations and the rich have grown enormously: 1) conflict, 2) richness in natural resources, 3) being landlocked with bad or poor neighbors and 4) bad/corrupt governance. Some countries have more than one of these severe problems. Analysing each factor in turn and with numerous practical examples, mostly from Africa, Collier shows how the situation is self-perpetuating, often exacerbated by external aid, human egoism, national self-interest and misguided international intervention or pressure (for example, by well-meaning NGOs or by the IMF). Based on his own and others’ extensive experience in the field (not only research), Collier outlines the purposeful use of four instruments by the international community to support the poor nations: 1) aid, 2) military intervention (mostly in the form of peace-keeping for countries in the conflict trap), 3) trade policy and 4) laws and charters (including international charters as well as legal infrastructure that can be copied by nations in need of reform). While these instruments are not new, their prescription for use is, in each of the typical diagnosed “traps”. Key to real, effective solutions are an integrated use of these four instruments that requires cooperation between agencies at the national level (for example, between ministries for aid, trade and finance) and cooperation within international bodies such as the G8 countries, EU, and the United Nations. Collier does not mince his words when criticizing NGOs, major private enterprise, and national governments based on empirical statistical research and illustrated with anecdotes from his own broad experience. He reminds us that the world is full not only of crooks and villains (who pocket foreign aid and monopolize contracts), but also of good people and heroes, and that it is our duty as well as self-interest to support the good people and heroes in the poor nations. What can we do? Educate ourselves on the economic issues and pressure our governments to use the four instruments appropriately. The better we understand the problems—both practical and theoretical—the better we can do this and so avoid the mistakes of misguided fair trade, aid, intervention and left-hand taking back what the right hand gives. This book is current, with frequent reference to Iraq, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Sudan, Chad and many other countries, and you will probably learn a lot that you may have suspected goes on behind the scenes, but didn’t know. Read the book, study the economics and make your own judgments! See also The Mystery of Capital by Hernando de Soto (who studies the instrument of legal infrastructure on the national level).

The Mystery of Capital, Hernando de Soto, 2000. Based on extensive field research and analysis of history, internationally acclaimed Peruvian economist de Soto says the reason why Western capitalism hasn't worked for the developing countries is quite simply that they don't yet have the infrastructure (laws, regulations, formally defined documents, courts, etc) for handling private property. Without formal instruments and practical, functioning routines that apply to the whole country and all people, everything is based on local knowledge, local contacts and possession of the physical assets themselves. You can't use your home for a loan (to start a business, for example) if you don't have a standardized paper document that everyone accepts giving you title to it. Like paper money, it has to be something everybody agrees upon and backed up by the government and the courts, not just by local groups or religious figures (for example, in India, there are different court systems for each major religion). Studying the instrument of legal infrastructure on the national level, de Soto shows that reform that includes the whole of the population is vital to harnessing the energy of the people and making it productive. See also The Bottom Billion by Paul Collier who discusses the case for international charters and legal infrastructure that can be copied by nations in need of reform.

Small Is Beautiful, E. F. Schumacher, 1975. Economist and fellow human Schumacher reflects deeply on the seemingly efficient globalized economy and compares it to the efficiency of small-scale, local activity to meet our needs and satisfy our hearts, given that we have other values than just money and cheap goods. Schumacher inspires us to reflect on how we live and what we are doing with our lives.

The Life of Mahatma Gandhi, Louis Fischer, 1951, or Non-Violent Resistance, M. Gandhi,  and/or other books by and about M. K. Gandhi, describing his life of service improving the lot of his fellow man. A man of awesome integrity, he taught by example, practicing what he preached. Key values he taught were the search for truth, freedom, and peaceful resolution of conflict through respect for the other person’s needs.

The Impact of Inequality, Richard G. Wilkinson, 2005. (See also Wilkinson's more recent book The Spirit Level: Why equality is better for everyone, 2010, together with Kate Pickering, with the same basic message.) Social epidemiologist Wilkinson asks, “Why do societies with large inequalities have worse health and shorter lives?” Bringing together research from around the world, Wilkinson first convinces us that the more equal societies really do have better health. For example, the people living in the state of Kerala, India, known for their egalitarian state, have a life expectancy only slightly less than Americans, despite an average annual income per capita of no more than about $1000. We learn that it is relative income, not absolute, that affects health and our physical biology, through the mechanism of stress caused by low status and low self-esteem. Wilkinson develops his health thesis carefully and slowly, and along the way we find out that equality generates not only better health in a society, but also less violence, more trust, more involvement and generally a more cohesive community. He is really interested in the larger question, why is modern society such a material success and yet a social failure? Everywhere he looks, he finds the key to be inequality, and the underlying cause to be man’s social nature and need for belonging and respect. In his last chapter, Wilkinson touches on the implications of these results for worldwide peace, prosperity and being able to come to agreement on environmental issues. Full of statistics and written for public health professionals, it is fully understandable to laymen.

Development as Freedom, Amartya Sen, 2001, Nobel Prize winner in Economics 1998. This treatise on development economics seeks to use theory to find answers to very practical human economic problems. Sen’s main message: development is not simply a question of a raised national average income, it is a question of raising human welfare on a variety of fronts (health, education, work opportunities, etc) and of raising these for all members of society, not just raising the national average (which may hide wide disparities between the rich and the poor, men and women, different geographical regions, different ethnic groups, etc). Bringing together the research of many others as well as his own, Sen analyzes a whole spectrum of issues from statistical measures of welfare, to equality and fairness constraints that do not exist in law but are imposed by tradition and culture. Key points are that population growth stops when women have the freedom to decide to work or have children, that famine is not the result of crop failure but of lack of sharing and never occurs in a democracy, and that the South East Asian economic boom was based on the earlier provision of public education and healthcare for everyone. The theme underlying this work is that we all want freedom to pursue our life dreams. Some of this freedom/capability can be created by raised income, other is created by laws such as the right to vote or own property, and still other by health and educational programs, labor laws, and so on. Sen discusses where the economic marketplace is a useful mechanism and where it fails to solve the problem, thus advising politicians to think in broader terms than simple economic growth. This book is very philosophical and not easily read (it was written for economists) but its message of directing developmental programs toward greater practical freedom and opportunity for those who lack—and not just greater GNP—is clear and simple and can be understood by all. Some of these ideas may be applicable to disadvantaged minority groups in industrialized countries. Compare Sen’s ideas with those of Collier (The Bottom Billion) and de Soto (The Mystery of Capital).

Gaia, 2000 and The Ages of Gaia, 1988, James Lovelock. These well known books by renowned scientist Lovelock tell the two billion year story of life on planet Earth, evolving and maintaining itself as an interdependent whole. He describes how the plants came first, when there was no oxygen, and provided the atmospheric oxygen that allowed animals to evolve—and many other ecological, chemical and system interdependencies.

Silenced Rivers, Patrick Mc Cully 1996 and 2001. This comprehensive, popular description of modern large dams and their ecological and social consequences is an excellent critical introduction to large dams and water supply systems. The book overviews the problems and limitations of large dams and their accompanying reservoirs, irrigation systems, flood control components and power generation equipment. It includes dam construction types, a short history of dams and other traditional water supply methods, dam safety, displaced people, ecological disruption (to fishing, farming, water supply, transportation and river delta economics) as well as the economics and power politics of large dam projects. Using a broad array of case histories, both in developed and developing countries, the author makes a strong case against large dams, with key arguments being: dams are of dubious economic value (partly supported by the fact that few large dams are privately financed), that dam value is short-lived and unsustainable, that dams generally use public lands, rivers and finances to enrich the few at the expense of the general public, with particular hardship to the people displaced by the dam reservoir, and that the disruption of human communities all along the river basin affected is unfair and inexcusable in a modern democracy (that such dams are built at all, Mc Cully argues, is due to personal political motives, corruption, pork-barrelling, old-boy networks and powerful lobbies—all indications of democracy not working). We learn for example, that dams seldom provide irrigation and water for all the small farmers and communities promised—the water goes mainly to large farmers with influence. Similarly, electricity is often much less than promised and often sold at subsidized rates to large industries. Silt accumulation behind a dam limits its useful life to 25-100 years. Arid land that is turned into highly productive farmland lasts similarly only for a few decades before being destroyed by salt build-up from the irrigation water. In summary, both water and power can be obtained by other means (often smaller scale) more economically, more sustainably, more equitably and with far less disruption to human and natural systems. This book gives the case against large dams—Mc Cully leaves to others the telling of the positive use of dams (for example, small dams) and provides extensive, footnoted references for the reader who wants to delve deeper. A shorter, more accessible account of dams and waterways is given in Water: a natural history by Alice Outwater.

Dictionary of Environmental Science and Technology, Andrew Porteous, 2008 and 2000. This comprehensive, detailed and educational work explains a large number of commonly encountered environmental terms and issues, including many chemical names, in both layman’s language and technically. Full of illustrations, diagrams and data. Gives solid technical description, background, and examples for each term, as well as explanation of and key data for understanding and working with the concept. Non-technical readers will find clear, practical explanations. Technical readers will find that plus a wealth of data, industrial practice and detailed description of processes.

Copyright 2017 Archie Duncanson, Pokalvägen 6-5tr, 11740 Stockholm, Sweden.