books

Book Review: A Finer Future

The Club of Rome is best known for its reports on environmental limits, and in particular the warning that the world is on a trajectory towards collapse. The combination of water, soil and resource depletion, combined with growing population numbers and higher consumption, threatens to slow and eventually reverse development so far.

Their findings are largely common sense: if you don’t change direction, you’ll end up where you’re going. But to those making money now, this must be refuted, denied or ignored, and so it has been for forty years.

This report starts from a different place: if collapse is likely, what would it take to avert it? A Finer Future: creating an economy in service to life describes the steps humanity needs to take to avoid disaster and create a better future for everyone instead. Like most Club of Rome projects, it has several authors, all of them among the world’s foremost sustainability experts – L Hunter Lovins, Stewart Wallis, Anders Wijkman, and John Fullerton.

At the heart of the book is a vision to move from a narrative of what I’m going to call divergent individualistic materialism (DIM), to one of regenerative economics. Better than ‘sustainability’, (a term that the Club of Rome invented, incidentally) regenerative systems take a leaf out of nature’s book and re-circulate energy and resources. Everything has its place and exists in balanced relationships.

The first step towards this is to delay the decline and buy ourselves time. Don’t dismiss ‘green solutions’ that only make things slightly less bad, they argue. “By delaying the crises, we give the regenerative economy time to take root.” There are chapters on efficiency, the circular economy, and green buildings.

More substantive measures are necessary, and they include more democratic finance and more inclusive businesses. Inequality is a major cause of collapse, history tells us. There’s a great chapter on agriculture, profiling many case studies of regenerative farming techniques that store carbon and restore landscapes. Like Chris Goodall in his book The Switch, the authors see solar power as the future of energy. Nature runs off solar power, after all. And we are part of nature.

Among the strengths of the book are the way that it combines social as well as environmental sustainability, and it demonstrates a genuinely holistic approach. There’s a sense of possibility throughout, particularly in the section where they talk about the power of cities and regions. The diverse experience of the authors gives it real credibility. Fullerton spent 18 years at JP Morgan before formulating the theory of regenerative economics. Lovins has experimented with regenerative farming principles, alongside many other things. These are people who know what they’re talking about.

On the other hand, it does sometimes get a bit fragmented. As well as multiple authors, there are lots of excerpts, some of them quite long. It can feel a bit copy-and-pasted at times. It’s all good stuff, so that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Think of it as the difference between listening to an album or an artist’s ‘best of’ compilation. It might not be as cohesive or artistic, but you will hear the biggest hits.

One comment

  1. “A Finer Future” is an invaluable handbook, packed with facts and insights. But it lacks a unifying story – probably because we humans are on two journeys at the same time. One is a journey from a civic ethos of corruption to a civic ethos of integrity, and the other is a journey of industry-by-industry redesign. The two stories cannot easily be combined, and yet they have to be. Because only by blending these two adventures – the battle against institutionalized corruption, and the struggle to reinvent yesterday’s business models to make them sustainable – can we create the story we need. Our civilization is in a struggle for redemption – redemption from the grip of corruption, and redemption by reconnecting our way of living with the imperatives of Nature. But it’s not just a struggle; it’s also a journey of discovery. We redeem our civilization by discovering and embracing its enduring promise. A promise that transcends corruption, a promise that transcends yesterday’s unsustainable habits.
    Let’s assume the authors will have more to say. Their challenge is to nest their mastery of detail within the larger story of humanity’s quest for redemption. A regenerative future won’t just happen; it will be the fruit of a redemptive journey. Lovins, Wallis, Wijkman, and Fullerton will have a wonderful story to tell once they learn to describe our redemptive journey in all its fullness.

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