Books That Explore Sustainable Futures

The future of our planet is in our hands, and the time to act is now.

Books That Explore Sustainable Futures
Photo by Martin Neuhold on Unsplash

The future of our planet is in our hands, and the time to act is now.

According to IPCC, global greenhouse gas emissions must be reduced by 45% by 2030 to avoid catastrophic climate impacts. 

The World Economic Forum estimates that environmental degradation costs the global economy $4.7 trillion annually, highlighting the urgent need for a transition to more sustainable practices. 

Whenever I come across such stats, I can’t help but wonder where we’re going as a society. It’s frightening how nature sends so many signals that it’s time to heal our planet. 

As individuals, what can we do for a better future? Would our efforts make any difference?

A sustainable future is possible only if every person alive today takes responsibility to bring a change. We need to study how economic reforms can be made and educate ourselves in this matter. 

Here are four books that explore sustainable futures and target various topics such as economic reforms, circular economics, and the role of different social groups in achieving sustainable growth.

1. Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer

Image: Goodreads

With modernization and perfecting the urban dream, we humans have been disconnected from our land, rich culture, plants, and other living beings. We need to remember to hear the whispers of plants and notice the behavior of animals around us. We aren’t yet able to see a sustainable future that includes both humans and other life forms. 

If you also dream of a future rich in culture and healing nature, Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer is an eye-opener.

A series of essays discussing nature, indigenous culture, and the interconnectedness of all living beings taught me that nature has provided us with everything we’d ever need. But humans think of nature as a commodity to exploit. We should think of Mother Earth as a gift and protect it at any cost to keep receiving her gifts. 

I especially enjoyed the author’s journey to reconnect with her Potawatomi heritage and beautifully narrated indigenous stories. The book also dives deep into ecological science and explores the complex intelligence and communication systems of plants.

Along with preserving nature, a sustainable future means revitalizing indigenous languages, stories, and traditions. Through examples, Braiding Sweetgrass has shown successful restoration projects that prioritize indigenous wisdom and practices. It’s high time that we collectively work towards ecological restoration and stop human activities that damage the environment.

My favorite quotes from Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer

“In some Native languages, the term for plants translates to “those who take care of us.”
“Action on behalf of life transforms. Because the relationship between self and the world is reciprocal, it is not a question of first getting enlightened or saved and then acting. As we work to heal the earth, the earth heals us.”
“The land knows you, even when you are lost.”

2. Doughnut Economics by Kate Raworth

Image: Goodreads

Our world is going through an economic crisis; the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. 

Resources are highly mismanaged and the traditional policies have several loopholes that can threaten holistic growth. This book that has a roadmap in seven steps to fix this economy where everyone’s needs are met within the means of the planet. Doughnut Economics by Kate Raworth addresses the global economic challenges and provides a Doughnut model for 21st-century economists.

The book argues that Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is an inadequate measure of societal progress as it doesn’t take into consideration environmental degradation, inequality, and other social factors. The Doughnut model, on the other hand, consists of two concentric rings: 

  • The inner ring represents the social foundation, ensuring that all people have access to essential resources such as food, water, healthcare, and education, 
  • The outer ring defines the limits of planetary resources and environmental stability. 

We all would agree on the importance of replenishing natural resources for economic growth. Doughnut Economics includes practices such as regenerative agriculture, renewable energy, and sustainable urban planning.

The book discusses Distributive Justice which includes 

  • progressive taxation, 
  • universal basic income, and 
  • equitable access to education and healthcare. 

I liked the concept of a circular economy which aims to regulate waste and maximize the reuse and recycling of resources. The book also introduces collaborative governance and partnerships between government, civil society, and businesses.

Doughnut Economics has the power to completely reform the world economy and create a better future for all. If we could bring to life the economic reforms mentioned in this book, it would be the biggest achievement of mankind in the 21st century.

My favorite quotes from Doughnut Economics by Kate Raworth

“Here’s the conundrum: No country has ever ended human deprivation without a growing economy. And no country has ever ended ecological degradation with one.”
“Economics is the mother tongue of public policy,”
“In the words of the systems thinker John Sterman, ‘The most important assumptions of a model are not in the equations, but what’s not in them; not in the documentation, but unstated; not in the variables on the computer screen, but in the blank spaces around them’.”

3. Small Is Beautiful by Ernst F. Schumacher

Image: Goodreads

With the vast economic changes over the past few decades, we’re constantly exhausting natural resources and creating inequality in resource distribution. Small Is Beautiful talks about a more sustainable and equitable economic system.

The book is divided into four parts, each addressing different aspects of economics and development. The most interesting part, according to me, is scaling which promotes the small-scale, decentralized economic structures more responsive to local needs and values. 

I liked the Buddhist economic approach in which human well-being, spiritual fulfillment, and ecological sustainability go hand in hand. 

The book also throws light on the hidden social and environmental costs of industrialization and economic growth, such as pollution, resource depletion, and social dislocation. Small Is Beautiful emphasizes a very important point that material wealth alone is insufficient for human fulfillment. We as a society need values such as compassion, generosity, and uplifting the weaker sections for collective economic growth.

My favorite quotes from Small Is Beautiful by Ernst F. Schumacher

“Wisdom demands a new orientation of science and technology toward the organic, the gentle, the elegant and beautiful.”
“An attitude to life which seeks fulfilment in the single-minded pursuit of wealth — in short, materialism — does not fit into this world, because it contains within itself no limiting principle, while the environment in which it is placed is strictly limited.”
“An ounce of practice is generally worth more than a ton of theory.”

4. The Great Pivot by Justine Burt

Image: Goodreads

The Great Pivot is one of the best socioeconomic books that not only talks about the problems but gives detailed solutions with case studies. 

We’re living In a society where people are dissatisfied with their jobs and there’s a huge economic disparity. This book appeals to each individual, government, and entrepreneur to start working towards building a sustainable future and explains how to do so.

The author explains the importance of meaningful work which goes beyond financial rewards and status. Your work should be aligned with your values and give you a sense of purpose. 

At an organizational level, entrepreneurs should include sustainability in job roles and take initiatives like renewable energy sources and circular economy. A great change and sustainable future needs collaborative action. The Great Pivot encourages us as members of the society to take small steps towards sustainability.

My favorite quote from The Great Pivot by Justine Burt

“The circular economy is a worthy goal to get us to our goal of climate stability. Instead of the current take-make-waste economy, a circular economy reuses and recycles.”

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