Local Politics of Global Sustainability

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Prugh, Thomas, Robert Costanza and Herman Daly. 2000. The Local Politics of Global Sustainability. Washington, DC: Island Press.


CED commentator: Mick Newkumet

This terrific book explains the dynamics of politics in terms of sustainability, and how we can work to make more positive changes in the future. The book starts by explaining how our vision of "saving the earth" is a bit skewed. When we talk about how we need to save the environment and "Go Green," we are really, in essence, panicking. It is humans of the present and the future that we need to save, not the Earth. The Earth will be here long after we are gone. What we must figure out is a way to keep the Earth in a state in which we can still survive and prosper here for centuries to come.

So how do we do this? Can an individual make this change on their own? Will it take all of us? Prugh, Costanza and Daily, in true CED form, explain that we must change the way that we look at politics before we can truly make change for the better on the sustainability front.

The authors set up the political state of our country by giving us the example of a conversation between former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich and his fellow Clinton advisors. Reich was looking to change the landscape of how politics is done. The response he got was a resounding "No." There was too much at risk to have change. Too many people who might not get re-elected or not receive financial backing. The authors stressed that if we were to bust up this way of looking at politics, we could start to make better changes.

Benjamin Barber's "strong democracy" is what they proposed, and supported quite well. Using a CED lens, strong democracy encourages engagement and empowers citizens to participate directly in community decision making. The book goes through many different examples of how this has worked in different ways across the country. The goal is for it to spread everywhere and help people to enact change through involvement, a true CED principle.

I believe this book is a very good read for any CED student or professor, especially those who are interested in environmental change and local politics. It gave me a much better insight on what needs to be done in order to start on the path to sustainability. 

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When I was younger, I had the idea that I would help change the world and our country. My idea was that I would get involved in politics and make a change that way. Well, I grew up and now have never been interested in or trusting of politics because of the organization and landscape of our system. I definitely agree with Prugh, Costanza and Daly and their message within this book. I think the system of funding political action and the individual concerns over re-election and political standing are huge obstacles for creating the type of changes we CED students would like to see. When something is not always easy or cheap in the short-run, it seems politicians are hesitant to get involved, even if the long run outcome will be well worth the time and financial investment. Based on your summary, I think this is a book I could relate and learn from.

So this book is almost 12 years old now. Not ancient, but not hot off the press. Do they still "nail it" on the local politics of global sustainability? What points that they make still seem completely relevant to our situation today? Are there other points or examples that seem more dated from where we stand in 2012?

The first comment you make reminds me of the George Carlin skit called "save the planet" in which he tells us that we don't need to save the planet, because it has been here for a long time and will continue to exist for eons. Instead, we need to save ourselves, and to do so we need to take care of the environmental systems we rely on to live. It's an interesting reframing. Link at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eScDfYzMEEw
Another thing your review reminds me of is Switzerland. In the book I read (The Geography of Bliss by Eric Weiner), the chapter on Switzerland concludes that their system of direct democracy adds to national happiness. Swiss people also have a feeling that they are all, at heart, outdoorsmen (and women). I think these two sentiments (giving greater value to our democracy and nature) would be a valuable mindset change for the American people that politicians might respond to. My cynical side reminds me that change is hard, and market factors are the best instigators of change in the USA. Maybe a better idea would be to get the money out of politics so that politicians would truly have to serve the people.

This book seems very interesting because it seems to put a new look on environmental preservation. Instead of looking at it as saving the world, it makes you see why we are actually trying to save it. Not for the overall health of our environment, but for the environment to be healthy enough to sustain the human race. I feel very intrigued and now want to read this book. I really enjoy how you described it and it has definitely sparked an interest in me.

I was going to make a very similar post based off of what Claire said concerning George Carlin's skit. I find myself on the fence sometimes when it comes to sustainability practices. This seems like one of those books that might confuse me even more. I always thought of myself as being more "green" than most but after reading your blurb and having read literature, plus Carlin's video, I still wonder what the point is, or if our efforts are even effective. What forms of "strong democracy" proved to have worked across the nation? BTW, good summary.

I really like Dr. Hinrichs' comment on does it still nail it, when looking at sustainability now compared to 12 years ago as stated. For me it is a different view. I couldn't agree more with the statement of we have to save the earth, not the earth saving itself. Over my years here at Penn State and being involved in the CED program we learn ways to be more sustainable and "go green". In my opinion, having a sustainable earth is just more than recycling, driving more fuel efficient cars, or even walking to school or work. In order to accomplish our goals as CED students and the goals of many others policies, regulations, "teamwork" around the globe is the only and most important way we can reach our goals of perfect sustainability.

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